In the last week or so, I found myself gravitating towards Solange’s sound. This album—”A Seat at the Table”—got me through my freshman year, and it looks like it’ll be serving the same purpose as I wrap up my sophomore year.
In the past year, the world has had the opportunity to learn more about Solange Knowles. With her third and most popular studio album, “A Seat at the Table,” Solange has been propelled into the public eye for more than just being Beyoncé’s sister who attacked Jay-Z in an elevator. She is known as a passionate, soulful, creative, beautiful and lastly unapologetic black woman with the gift of self-reflection and the ability to articulate her experiences to where they are relatable. “A Seat at the Table” has a cathartic effect for the audience, especially for black people, so I can only imagine the impact it had on Solange.
Solange starts the album with a simple beat that allows the listener to focus mainly on the soothing and soulful tone of her voice. “Rise” allows the listener to ease into the album. “Fall in your ways, so you can sleep at night. Fall in your ways, so you can wake up and rise.” With the repetitiveness of her words, Solange is able to create a space for the listener to relax, to start accepting who they are and live in their truth. The whole album is an open space for Solange and her listeners to work towards self-expression, self-acceptance and self-love. As we move through the album, she addresses feelings of losing herself and looking for the ownership and rights to her physical being. “I’m gonna look for my glory/I’ll be real soon.” While being vulnerable, she is simultaneously giving strength through solidarity.
Audre Lorde writes, “I feel therefore I can be free” in her piece “Poetry is not a Luxury.” Lorde provides a viewpoint that is different than the white, European canon we are forced to subscribe to. Instead of allowing our pain and trauma to silence us, we embrace them and allow them to produce our “dreams or visions.” We produce our work through a particular lens, or “light,” as Lorde would say.
“A Seat at the Table,” as a project, gives a name to the nameless so that they can be thought of and considered. Black people, male and female alike, hear their voice in this piece. Representation is important.
Solange put an emphasis on reclaiming black culture and assessing black mental health. Addressing the binary of gender is inevitable, but this project was made for the entire black community. At first listen, it can be perceived as a project solely made for black women. Contrary to popular belief, dealing with trauma and hurt is not exclusive to black women. Black men also deal with pain, but often do not have an outlet or safe space for them to process their emotions. Being constantly gunned down, disrespected, stereotyped, emasculated and hyper-sexualized takes a toll on the black community as a whole. By placing labels such as the “mad black woman” and “hyper-aggressive black man” on the community, the responsibility of the oppressor gets lost in the mix. All of a sudden, it’s our fault. Society has given reason for the black community to be “mad” and “aggressive,” but refuses to address that truth.
It is much easier to blame a community for their faults than address how they got to be in the position they are currently in—especially when your people and your beloved country is the one to blame.
I appreciate Solange for not only confronting the issue that has been brought upon the black community by mainstream society, but also confronting the effects of internalizing how “they” treat and see us as. “Where’d your love go?/Where’d your love, baby?” It is hard to channel/feel love when your people are the nation’s most hated. With the amount of centuries we have spent internalizing the hateful sentiments towards ourselves and our people, it’s no wonder we are left feeling confused and heated.
Internalizing feelings of hate for yourself and your people often leaves black people confused and heated. As a black person, it takes years of ridding yourself of white Eurocentric ideologies to reinvent your mindset into one that allows you to love yourself and your community.
Can we also give props to Solange for inspiring Lil’ Wayne to write a good verse in 2016? This is definitely a rare occurrence and should be highly regarded.
It took her brother-in-law almost 20 years to evolve from a hypermasculine expression of emotion to real emotional maturity. The evolution of emotional maturity that Jay was able to obtain, from “Song Cry” to his whole “4:44” project, is something a lot of black men do not have the opportunity to achieve. It is hard to heal from your trauma when you do not have the resources or chance to wallow in your feelings.
From “Don’t Touch My Hair” to “F.U.B.U.,” Solange achieves an aggressive but soulful reclaiming of the exuberant, rich and deeply-rooted force that is black culture. Non-black people love to claim the “good” parts of black culture when it is convenient for them, your “faves” included. However, when it is no longer cool, convenient or profitable to be black, we are left alone with no support from outside of the community.
“Don’t Touch My Hair” is a direct request for people to simply not touch Solange’s hair without permission. People tend to forget that black people are not animals in a zoo that can be pet without consent. On a deeper note, this song showcases how important hair is in the black community. Hair is an extension of one’s being and identity. It is not to be policed, regulated or purified. Black people are often stifled in their expression when it comes to how we wear our hair naturally. The black community is told that our natural selves are unacceptable, unsanitary and unprofessional. The “natural hair movement” is in its infancy; perms have only recently stopped flying off the shelves. Imagine it taking centuries for your people as a whole to begin fully embracing the hair that grows out of their heads. When you tell a people that their natural being is lesser for centuries, it is hard for them to find love for themselves. Thankfully, there is a large movement in place to restore that love and appreciation for one’s natural self.
Solange features many respected people who have played a role in her becoming the artist that she is today. Her mother, father and Master P all feature on the album and are able to showcase what it is to be black to them. All three speak on experiences they have had throughout their lives and the listener gets a sense of how they navigate the world while being black. Master P is a prominent feature on this album. He features on the interludes of the album. In “Interlude: The Glory Is In You” and “Interlude: This Moment,” he speaks shortly, but makes a lasting impact on the listener. The interludes are swift but profound and fundamental to the progression of the album. He speaks on not selling out and owning his artistry, stating that if a white man wants to pay him one million, he must be forty to fifty million. He embodies the idea of keeping and reclaiming black culture and artistry.
“A Seat at the Table” is a melodic and soft album with a hard-hitting message. Solange was able to encapsulate the rage and hurt the black community is feeling in today’s social climate and make a beautiful piece of art. Her rich take on R&B allows for the message to be sent clearly.
Junika Hawker-Thompson is a second-year student majoring in English literature with a minor in African and African American literature. ✉ JT867629@wcupa.edu.