Identity, empowerment and self-care became somewhat of a mantra for many of us in 2016. Solange has embodied this concept through her album A Seat At The Table. The album not only encourages self-care and self-preservation in a world that can be so tough but also includes some black empowerment anthems that give nods to black artists of the 70’s, meanwhile drawing from her personal experiences to paint a lyrical image that vividly and positively shifts your mindset. Her last album was not commercially successful but it definitely gave us a strong indication of how different she is stylistically from other artists she is normally associated with. If hearing soft vocals, harmonies and rhythmic melodies accompanied by dreamy strums and drums are what you are looking for, this album’s vibe is the most relaxing and freeing listen you can immerse yourself in.
What is great about some songs on this album is that whilst it is written from a perspective of a black woman, the lyrics are somewhat general and relatable to anyone experiencing similar struggles. On ‘Cranes in the Sky’, Solange speaks of trying to find several avenues to avoid the suffering and pain she is experiencing internally. The mid-tempo track is beautifully composed and curated. The impactful yet soft bass strums are a perfect accompaniment to the soft vocals of Solange. The song was entirely produced and written by Solange and Raphael Saadiq, who is a notable American producer. Overall the production of this track is impeccable and a fundamental addition to showing us one part of the human condition not explored enough in music. And that falsetto at the end… PRICELESS. Diana Ross would approve.
‘Borderline (An Ode to Self Care)’ is a much-needed song that needs to exist in the world more now than ever before. In a time where everyone is an ‘activist’ or has their opinion about social injustice plastered all over social media, it has become increasingly accessible to view disturbing videos pertaining to certain issues. The Aaliyah interpolated track has a great bass, beat and you can feel Q-Tip all over the production and vocals in here. The vibe of the song is very relaxing and smooth, but still upbeat and uplifting. I would definitely use this song when your twitter fingers get tired.
Another notable track on the album is ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’. A low-key retaliation on cultural appropriation and diminishing your blackness to make others accept you. This is an anthem aimed at black people, especially black women to embrace their identity, history and push away the euro-centric beautify standards black people are subjected to in society. What makes this more powerful is that Solange herself has gone through a journey of redefining her own personal standards of beauty and the lyrics are very straightforward to the point being: Don’t try to make what is mine yours. Sampha is also featured in this through the chorus, which adds an element of support from a black male. Additionally, ‘F.U.B.U.’ featuring TheDream and BJ the Chicago Kid (who also featured on a Chance the Rapper track from The Colouring Book) is another empowerment track that acknowledges micro-aggressions experienced by black people. Made “For Us By Us” is clear also in the production of the track, which draws influence from New Orleans and utilises hip-Hop beats. And another special fact, it features additional vocals from Tweet.
The complexities of the black identity are a common theme in the album. To some extent, this is the only theme in the album. One song that is comical but also very touching is ‘Mad’. Lil Wayne showcases his rap skills here as well, being semi-autobiographical but also contributing to the tensions of being a wealthy and black. Solange speaks of the angry black girl image and being questioned by someone who clearly does not understand (ie a non-black person), why black women are always defensive. Solange uses the album in its entirety to pose questions, display her frustrations and offer solidarity – the main reason some may say the album is produced for a certain listener. However as she declares in ‘F.U.B.U.’ “Don’t feel bad if you can’t sing along/Just be glad you got the whole wide world/This shit is from us/Some shit you can’t touch”. Maybe this will not stop cultural appropriation, but even just those lyrics are a clear display of art imitating reality.
‘Junie’ is the most upbeat track on the album and also the most feel good track. Its production is synth-heavy and the bass line is notably the highlight. The chorus and bridge are infectious and ‘boogie-infused’ – thanks Andre 3000. Conversely ‘Don’t Wish Me Well’ is an eerie and dark track about self-progression, whilst the Kelela assisted ‘Scales’ is dreamy and seductive.
Solange’s A Seat At The Table is not just a dreamy R&B album. The album is very clearly made for a particular group of people. The album is Solange’s unapologetically black claim. Her vocal ability is fantastic. She is able to sound dreamy and soft, yet still establish herself as a grown woman with experiences and a vision for the future. The album is complete with interludes that weave in and out of each track and create a full image of the person she is, and whom listeners can relate to. Each track adds another piece to the puzzle. Having taken so long to create this masterpiece album Solange’s stylistic choice in vocal collaborators, Master P as the narrator (as well as her own parents, which adds an even more personal family touch to the purpose of the album) and the intricate production of each track shows her evolution as an artist who is taking control of her artistic vision to reflect the world and circumstances she lives in.By Kelly Kiesewetter