Solange’s recent release, A Seat at the Table, is the album I’ve been waiting for. Yes, the piece is musically sound and filled with ethereal beats, enchanting belts, and exciting harmonies, but it’s so much more than that. This contemporary R&B composition so beautifully speaks to the racial inequalities and injustices that impact all of us, especially people of color. Solange perfectly articulates the feelings of anger, excitement, pride, and devastation that come along with being a modern woman of color, and, as a fellow Black American woman, I’m overwhelmingly touched to finally have that representation. Along with some soulful favorites including Raphael Saadiq and Q-Tip, Solange forces us to recognize the importance of provocative art and blends together complex arrangements, powerful lyrics, and spoken word excerpts to produce one of the most stunningly authentic musical works I’ve ever experienced.
A Seat at the Table is comprised of 21 tracks ranging from short anecdotes over simple beats to elaborate ballads with many features. While I could pick out a few highlights to share with you, I truly believe that each track is a significant part of this composition, and here’s why:
“Rise” is the short opening interlude to the album with tight harmonies and a simple backdrop. The lyrics speak to staying authentic and suggests that success and failure are both important parts of life and one’s creative journey.
“Weary” is a neo-soul pseudo-ballad with harmonic vocals in the melodic pre-chorus and earthy and jazzy tones with electro touches throughout. This track makes it clear that this project has a message with lyrics like “but you know the king is only a man with flesh and bones, he bleeds just like you do” that call into question our authorities and provoke the listener to think.
“Interlude – The Glory is in You” is a simple, powerful statement. First of the spoken word interludes, seamlessly integrated into the set list.
“Cranes in the Sky” is the breakout hit of the album, and for good reason, with its tender echo, airy arpeggios, and delicate harmonies. Mostly pretty mellow with a solid beat you can sway along to, but some runs at the end that would make Mariah double-take. // In this piece, Solange seems to embrace her own image instead of conforming to pop standards. She comes out to address the pain rooted in conforming to societal standards or ignoring inequalities all-together as a Black woman. 10/10 would recommend. (“Cranes in the Sky” is featured on the Casulin Hip Hop Hitlist for September which you can check out here! There’s also a dope edit by Kaytranada that you can play here!)
“Interlude – Dad Was Mad” is a spoken word excerpt by Solange’s father, Matthew Knowles, about the racism he experienced growing up in Alabama. Despite only being 46 seconds long, this track is amazingly powerful, especially as Mr. Knowles ends his account with “We lived in the threat of death every day. Every day. So I was just lost in this vacuum between integration and segregation and, and racism. That was my childhood. I was angry for years…angry, very angry”.
To be completely honest, “Mad” brought me to tears. It’s not particularly sad, minor, or dreary, it just so accurately articulates what it’s like to be a person of color living in today’s racial climate. Having to combat the stereotype of the angry Black woman is a task I’m dealt with every day, but Solange explains to her audience what I wish I had the strength to say more often: there’s simply a lot to be mad about if you are an even remotely cognizant person of color today. This is easily my favorite track on the entire album, not to mention the solid feature by Lil Wayne. 11/10 would recommend.
“Don’t You Wait” is a note to Solange’s audience that tries to prevent her from being her best and most authentic self by hindering her exploration of the controversial issues that impact her and her music. Another great song. Another great message.
“Interlude: Tina Taught Me” is a spoken word piece by Solange’s mother, Tina Lawson, about the suppression and misconception of Black pride. She makes the important point that “because you celebrate Black culture does not mean that you don’t like white culture” and inspired me to be proud of my heritage. If this makes you uncomfortable, I’m glad. You’re probably someone who needs to hear this.
Based on the title alone, “Don’t Touch My Hair” is one of my favorite songs on the entire album. I’ve wished for a song to tell people not to touch my hair practically since infancy. Honestly, if every Black woman had a dollar for every time someone touched our hair without permission, we’d probably have enough money to solve this whole “institutionalized racism” thing ourselves. // This smooth R&B tune with muted horns and low harmonies, courtesy of British electro singer-songwriter Sampha (best known for his vocal feature on Saint Pablo from Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo), is über catchy with a phenomenal message about the microaggressions against Black women attacking their appearance. All around dynamite.
“Interlude: This Moment” is a spoken word segment about the dismissal of Black people, lack of appreciation for Black culture, and lack of understanding for the Black struggle by commercial white America. Necessary message. Beautifully done.
“Where Do We Go” speaks to the feelings of many Black Americans as they move from what they call home in response to racially charged threats and gentrification through a delightfully minor post-chorus that resolves into a powerful melody.
“Interlude: For Us By Us” is another anecdote by Master P to talk about the necessity of Black owned businesses to promote Black interests. Nothing to disagree with here.
“F.U.B.U” is inspired by the Black owned apparel company of the same name popular in the late ’90s and early ’00s Hip Hop community. This track is a Black empowerment jam. It makes it clear that this album is content for Black people by Black people, and that it’s our time to feel unified and strong. The feature by The Dream, including the line “don’t clip my wings before I learn to fly”, seems to refer to institutionalized racism, and cultural appropriation is addressed as the verses discuss mainstream culture exploiting Black culture without allowing us to be proud of our own creation and community.
“Borderline (An Ode to Self Care)” is about creating a safe space in the home because the world is so dangerous. While I hate that this is even a story to be told, it’s another example of Solange detailing the good, bad, and ugly realities of being a POC.
“Interlude: I Got So Much Magic, You Can Have It” is a short but sweet and empowering three-part a cappella harmony between Solange, Kelly Rowland, and Nia Andrews that immediately put a smile on my face #BlackGirlMagic
“Junie” also speaks to cultural appropriation and the taking of something without putting in work, but with André 3000’s ever exciting voice in the chorus and a strong bass and piano backdrop. It’s a fun and pleasant listen at first that catches you off guard the moment you start to pay attention to the lyrics.
“Interlude: No Limits” is another snippet of Master P talking about how he was inspired to make it #NoLimits
“Don’t Wish Me Well” has a similar message to “Don’t You Wait”, in that she’s telling people that she’s not going to stick around for their support and approval instead of moving forward with her career. This song is distinctly positive, not spiteful, with an emotional beat and lyrics that reinforce that being pro-Black isn’t being anti-white.
In “Interlude: Pedestals” Master P talks about how white people are innately put on a pedestal so they are not held accountable for their wrongdoings. White people commit just as many crimes as their counterparts of color, they just have the money to get out of trouble and the resources to rehabilitate themselves. Another “elephant in the room” message that needed to be said.
In all honesty, I wish A Seat at the Table concluded on a stronger note, but the minor harmonies and slow, walking bass line of “Scales” have a fading quality that just leaves the listener to think about all that they’ve just consumed.
“Closing: The Chosen Ones” succinctly summarizes the themes that thread throughout the album. Perfect note to finish on.
Most members of oppressed communities will tell you that it’s great to have allies, but horrible to have those “advocates” make it seem like their word is the end-all-be-all stance of that oppressed community. In A Seat at the Table, Solange does a phenomenal job of expressing only her (and her fellow producers’) experiences, but in a way that I feel is appropriately representative of being a modern Black woman in America and absolutely speaks to the experiences and frustrations I have.
If you’re a person of color, please listen to this to hear someone finally on your side. If you’re a woman, please listen to this to hear someone tell you you’re loved and supported. If you’re a minority in any way, please listen to this to hear someone who understands your pain. If you’re none of these things, please listen to this to hear an authentic narrative you should’ve heard a long time ago. Please listen to this.