by Nicole Riddle
At a time when violence has afflicted the lives of black citizens across the country, fewer people are standing complacent to these atrocities. Some rightfully aggressive, others cooperatively placid. Very rarely do we see a work that compromises and caters to both attitudes, while relaying the message that desperately needs to be heard.
Solange’s third studio album, A Seat at the Table, is the fruit of a labor that has been felt throughout her community. Compiling spoken anecdotes, dreamy pianos and sultry harmonies, she celebrates facets of black identity while working through her own vulnerability. She proves to us these are not mutually exclusive, in a poised fashion that commands you to listen. Eight years in the making, this album has developed into an integral piece in helping to explain the current state of our nation. Artists before Solange have expressed their perspective on intercommunity issues, from Al Green to her sister, Beyoncé. However, she builds a narrative in which each track develops into a pathway of thoughts that reflect true reactions to these issues; the result becomes a concise version of some listeners’ reality, or to others, a necessary wake up call.
A notable track is the lead single “Cranes in the Sky”, a heartfelt confessional that translates into a pensive ballad about one’s insecurities. As this is the second track, it feels as though she is giving us access to her journey through womanhood, and the added stressors of black womanhood throughout the album. No details are off limits, creating a haven for those to whom this album as made. A powerful lyric in verse 5 reveals the heart of her feelings of despair: “Thought if I was alone then maybe I could recover / To write it away or cry it away.” As an artist, Solange can decide whether to release her demons in order to make use of creative freedom, or simply process it in an average way. She has courageously decided to speak not only for others, but to herself, and renounce this negativity and figure out the roots of life’s troubles. In my opinion, this line could also represent the difficulty of showing an audience emotion she would have processed behind closed doors. She channeled it into something that would benefit others, as commonality in dealing with problems helps us all to cope well. Whether it be falling out of love, losing yourself or coming to terms with circumstances, Solange is willing to admit she’s nothing less than human.
Since this album helps to illustrate the experience of a young black woman, the single “Don’t Touch My Hair” focuses on a misjudged component: natural hair. Often shut down by euro-centric beauty standards in the U.S., Solange utilizes this metaphor to politely ask others to not infringe on her personal expression with negative prejudice. Too often, the masses try to claim features that were criticized when introduced by minorities (black women and cornrows, afros, etc.). With this response track, Solange is reclaiming her identity as well as establishing her confidence. She no longer wants to associate herself with ideas that deter women from accepting their beautiful, black
features. She challenges these social conventions in lyrics such as “Don’t touch my hair / when it’s the feelings I wear”, emphasizing the connection between identity and physical appearance. Similar to wearing her heart on her sleeve, Solange is unapologetically representing her ethnic background. Her hair, in this sense, represents her microagressions toward the majority of people who misconstrue her culture. Throughout this album, Solange debunks any misconceptions about the misinterpreted facets of black individuality.
In summary, one could write pages and pages dissecting the atmosphere that Solange creates in this well-timed album. Her smooth, entrancing vocals paired with poignant themes creates an impactful album. Although this is the first I have heard from her discography, it feels more like a revival; the passion and expertise that she employs is not to be overlooked. The production and lyricism have proved this was well worth the wait, because it eloquently presents the opinions that others choose to ignore. If you have the chance, give this album a listen, and hear what she has to say.
Other Notable Tracks: “Mad”, “Where Do We Go”, “F.U.B.U.”