#312: A Seat at the Table, Solange
We’ve jumped 50 years into the future, but in some ways it feels like we’ve jumped 100 years into the future.
Solange, otherwise known as the coolest person in every elevator, and also every one of Beyonce’s rare personal interviews. Also, I loved a few of her earlier hits. I usually think that people are kind of unfair and dismissive towards her, like they think she’s secretly a huge Bey wannabe. Even her Wikipedia page says that Solange has “claimed that they have different aspirations and are musically different,” which implies that she might be lying, which is so stupid it’s hilarious. Why would she lie about that? “My sister and I are different.” LIAR!
There are some comparisons to be made, for sure, just like me and my sister make the same jokes at parties with slightly different punchlines. Solange says that her record “feels very, very Southern in my storytelling,” and there’s definitely elements of both in every song. “Junie” is a funky song named after Ohio Players/Parliament Funkadelic keyboardist Walter “Junie” Morrison, featuring the Dirty South’s own Andre 3000. “Scales” complicates the myth of the drug dealer by showing his mother and child’s point of view. Southern funk and cutting social commentary? Both traditions that her sister honors as well.
The key difference between Bey and Sol, for me, ended up being all in the ambiance. That might sound silly but it’s actually critical — Bey is Destiny’s Child’s child, poppy and popular. This album is a peer of FKA Twigs and Enya, with mesmerizing harmonies and basslines on intro songs “Rise” and “Weary.” Her vocals are easily as good as Bey’s, she’s just less show-offy about it, and mostly lives in her airy head voice. It’s kind of breathtaking, especially on the record’s hit “Cranes in the Sky,” where she takes such a small amount of air and makes it epic, major, everything.
Leaving B behind: A Seat at the Table is a beautiful essay by Solange about her Black identity. She stands up for right to not laugh at jokes at her expense on “Don’t You Wait,” then Lil Wayne shows up and gets justifiably “Mad.” The standout is “Don’t Touch My Hair,” and not just because of the music video with those beautiful beads and Solange proving that she’s as great a dancer as she is a singer. It’s because it’s a goddamn groove. She sounds like Donna Summer.
This is the first time I’ve ever thought that the interludes were almost more beautiful than the songs. The ones with her parents moved me to pieces. “Dad Was Mad” is frank and unhappy, and “Tina Taught Me” is a tearjerking argument about the right to celebrate your own culture, full stop, without having to apologize for it. The rest of the interludes are mostly from No Limit Records’ mastermind Master P, who is unabashedly dramatic and proud of himself on “The Glory is in You,” “This Moment,” “No Limits,” “For Us By Us,” and “Pedestals.” “Closing: The Chosen Ones” is maybe the best, a beautiful perspective into Black heritage: keeping the rhythm.
I get that this record wasn’t made for little white me — she says so pretty explicitly with “F.U.B.U.” Don’t feel bad if you can’t sing along/ Just be glad you got the whole wide world … Some shit is for us. But I think the exciting thing about the pop music scene post-2000 is that artists are so eager to share who they are and where they came from, and that fans are so willing to embrace music from people of all walks of life.
Recall when the celebrity rumor mill did Lauryn Hill dirty. She was accused of saying that she would “rather die than have a white person buy one of my albums,” and was forced to clarify this vicious lie later on: “My music is universal. … What I did say was that I love my people, black people, and I will continue to make music for them. … [I]f I communicate to them [young black girls] they’re beautiful, no white person should find fault in that. It doesn’t mean that young white girls aren’t beautiful.”
None of that needed to be said, of course. The media made her answer a question that was unfair to begin with. Solange answered the question before it was even asked. Or rather, Tina did.
Least Favorite Songs: I suffered through the Heyo heyo heyo part of “Where Do We Go.” Also, “Borderline (An Ode to Self Care)” because of the a schmaltzy title.
Favorite Line: This concrete don’t have no love for me on “Don’t Wish Me Well.”
Best Track: The interlude she does with Kelly Rowland and Nia Andrews! “I Got So Much Magic, You Can Have It.”