Solange is a bit of a known alt, radical figure. After defining herself in a separate universe away from her very popular sister and the dregs of 2000s pop confusion, Solange came into the 2010s as an auteur. 2012’s Dev Hynes produced True was a breakthrough and breakout moment, catapulting her into as an alternative voice for contemporary R&B, soul, pop, and the intermix of them all.
A Seat At The Table folds up True, putting it away for something bigger: a full release that sees Solange as a voice box for more than herself. A quick 21 tracks that comes in a few minutes short of an hour, Solange wrote and had a production hand in every aspect of the album. It’s art direction, it’s photography, it’s direction, it’s interludes: it was Solange’s labor of love.
This could be indulgent in the hands of lesser artists. What happens with A Seat At The Table is it’s not about Solange: it’s about the black experience, about what it means to be of color in America now. This is a recurring theme in music this year, from Dev Hynes’ Blood Orange release Freetown Sound to Frank Ocean’s Blond/Endless to Miguel’s “How Many” to Beyoncé’s “Formation” to lots, lots more. It’s a fitting response to the year(s) we’ve had in America, a fitting response to the loss of so many black bodies to police brutality and unsubtle structural racism.
A Seat At The Table covers it all and then some. “Mad” explains how it’s okay to get mad, that you don’t have to be happy, that you can and should get fired up by the world and have dark skin. You should stand up. You should riot. “F.U.B.U.” is a march on the importance of the N word and what it means for the black community. Yes, allies of all races can hum along—but this isn’t your song. It isn’t your word. “Don’t Touch My Hair” is a pointed, loungey statement of ownership and pride in the black body from whiteness, both literally and figuratively. The songs illustrate black pride and the importance of love for yourself and your people. Don’t fit in: stand out.
It doesn’t stop there either: those songs are not exceptions but rules. Every song on the album, every moment, is charged with meaning, infused with a sense of nowness. “Don’t You Wait” relieves her of what society thinks she should be, of respectability politics and the feeling that she should “be a certain way.” “Junie” offers a soulful bouncing ode to standing up, to fighting back. “You want to be the teacher,” she sings. “Don’t want to go to school. Don’t want to do the dishes. Just want to eat the food.”
But it’s moments like “Cranes In The Sky” that are a charged strung mourning, a relaying of how it feels to constantly be at a loss. “Cranes In The Sky” defines A Seat At The Table, illustrating that the effort doesn’t intend to be “some record.” It doesn’t want to be cute. It has a message, a pressing one, that needs to be heard: you can mourn. You can try to ignore the realities of the world but, for many people, this is every day. The goings on in America don’t end after the news cycle is done with it. It keeps happening and happening and happening to the point of mania, depression, anxiety, and more, a phenomena for black Americans that is unfortunately centuries in the making. “Cranes In The Sky” addresses this by putting you in Solange’s mind, to understand how these deaths stay with you.
“Cranes In The Sky” also define a sound for Solange. No, she doesn’t have Aretha’s voice—but she doesn’t need to. She instead falls into the style and sound of Minnie Riperton or Patrice Rushen, whose songs were about soul and feeling over predictable vocal theatrics. Yes, the theatrics are there—but they’re different. They’re more unique. They’re the mark of an individual voice not classic assumptions. Such is the minority experience.
A Seat At The Table is as moving as much as it moves. The songs all build off of each other, interludes popping in to address feelings directly from important persons in Solange’s life. “Tina Taught Me” sees Tina Knowles explaining the beauty in black pride. “Dad Was Mad” has her father Matthew Knowles explaining being black in the South, that that meant being threatened by both the cops and the KKK. “This Moment” addresses those who might have a tough time dealing with the present, who might not “see” what is happening as needing to change. “This Moment” is for the Kaepernick haters and the people who don’t get Black Lives Matter. “I Got So Much Magic, You Can Have It” with Kelly Rowland and Nia Andrews meditates on black girl magic, on it’s abundance and beauty, that these women are so full of joy in the face of oppression that they are willing to give you some, to spread their love.
It’s a stacked album. It’s unbelievably powerful. What ANOHNI did for climate change with Hopelessness, Solange accomplishes for black lives in America with A Seat At The Table. The album is so much more than sitting down too: it stands. It stomps on the table. It breaks it down, building something new, pointing out to everyone how we should be—not how we are. It’s a means toward the future, charged from the recent and distant past, holding us all accountable to get it right. We have to. There is no other option.