[By: Travon Bracey]
It is finally here. Solange has released her third (overall fourth) studio album entitled A Seat At The Table (Saint Records/Columbia Records) digitally everywhere via Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Google Play, and Tidal. The album hasn't been out for more than 48 hours and is already getting numerous prays and positive responses throughout the internet.
Album Rating: 9.4/10
My Personal Experience
I started listening to the album just 15 minutes after it released after coming home from work. I am already a huge fan of Solange and because of that, I've heard small snippets of some of the tracks on the album, such as 'Rise', 'Weary', 'Don't Touch My Hair', 'F.U.B.U.', and 'Junie' just following her on Snapchat and Instagram. 'Rise' was the only song on the album that I knew fully due to her performing the song around October of last year at an HBO premiere event. But, I was so thrilled to listen to the album. After finding the album on Spotify, I listened to the whole album on a stereo to get a feel of the instrumental elements and sounds. I prefer listening to a new album that way because I want to be able to understand the genre mood and melody vibe of an album before I got deep into listening to the music in my ears to focus on the lyrics. I stayed up until 4 in the morning and woke back up around 9:30 a.m. and continued to be on cloud 9 by Solange's masterpiece.
Songs such as 'Cranes In The Sky', 'Don't You Wait', 'Don't Touch My Hair', and 'F.U.B.U.' spoke to me lyrically first, because I was able to relate to them.
In 'Cranes In The Sky' the lyrics, "I tried to keep myself busy, I ran around in circles, think I made myself dizzy, I slept it away, I sexed it away" caught me off guard as it relates to something that I recently went through with myself while dealing with a previous long-term relationship that I was in last year while battling as a black, gay, educated individual in today's society.
The hook of 'Don't You Wait' had me repeating proudly, showing me strength and courage without regret.
'Don't Touch My Hair' made me think twice about my afro wig that I own. I told myself two weeks ago that it was time to rest my wig and fade away from it. The song helped remind me the purpose of why I own the wig in the first place.
While listening to "F.U.B.U.", I shared a few tears because I felt that Solange was speaking directly to her fans that's been there with her for a long time since the journey of her Solo Star era. The song spoke to me because it's about not giving a fuck that we are misunderstood, artistically and reality wise.
As far as the entire album, the lyrics and music draws you into an anonymous universe that she'd created that you can't get out of. Superior and addictive, the album's arrangements are purposely set up to analyzing every song from Track 1 to Track 21. Each interlude is like a short commercial that was selling you "hope", "independence", "empowerment", and "love". The hidden vocals of Tweet, The Dreams, Moses, Raphael Saadiq, and Sean Nicholas Savage had you so in tune with the songs that the sound was permanently glued to your memory. The different bass and drum sounds had me feeling like I should have been smoking weed and drinking a small glass of Jack Daniel's honey whiskey. I felt like this album was a personal, deep church service for my ambitions. The explicit language made me want to curse proudly and scream "all my niggas in the whole wide world" with zero fucks given because I felt proud to be a black person.
If you are a frequent Solange listener or a heart-loving fan, then you will know that Solange has a creative impact on her music. Since 15, she's been incredibly creating songs with deep, sensitive, dance-fever feelings with no regrets. She released her first album, Solo Star (Columbia Records), in early 2003, but co-wrote the album based on her weird experiences of love and teenage lifestyle. It definitely was an album for the teen weirdo. But, for some reason, we weren't expecting Solange to step out of that phase when she released Sol-Angel & The Hadley Street Dreams (Geffen Records/Music World) in late summer 2008 with Motown era vibes of the 1960s & 70s influences spontaneously exploring the European sounds of electronica and dance. She didn't stop there with the old school inspired era as she reintroduced us to indie pop sounds of the 80s and 90s with her EP, True (Terrible Records), in 2012 that she collaborated with Devonte Hynes.
But, let's talk about A Seat At The Table. Unexpected, once again, Solange has taken us to another world, but directly made it "for us". I got really surprised to see that Raphael Saadiq was the other executive producer for this project. If you know Raphael's history of music, then you will know that he doesn't just create or produced simple, R&B-influenced music. In many cases, he was the perfect guy to be part of this project with Solange. It's hard to say that this collaboration was even a better choice than True EP's production with Blood Orange (also known as Devonte Hynes). As far as the songwriting, this is Solange's first album that is written completely by her without any co-writers involved. This is excellent for her because only her true fans know how her pure writings are prior to A Seat At The Table's release. Now the world can understand why she's known as one of the best songwriters in today's music society.
The contributions on this album are unusually put together like no other. With A Seat At The Table, Solange created a community of musical conversation in connecting each musician that was part of this project a dynamic experience. First off, let's explain the elephant in the room here. Tweet and Solange? Really? Yes, really. I recalled when they talked about collaborating together via Twitter nearly two years ago and it seems that fans have finally got their wish. It is still a surprise to see Solange collaborating with Raphael Saadiq for the overall production of the album, but it was even more surprising to see how Tweet was placed on the album. Lil Wayne had previously collaborated with Solange on her 'ChampagneChronikNightCap' track from her Sol-Angel & The Hadley Street Dreams sophomore project, so there's no surprise there, but the chemistry of their previous collaboration had me curious to what Lil Wayne could possibly present on this record. But, his verse is beyond perfect and unimaginable than I thought. Another collaboration that I was surprised about was Terius Nash, also known as The Dream. The Dream had collaborated numerous of times with big sister, but more so on the songwriting and producing side. This collaboration was perfect and different from comparisons of big sis because The Dream's vocals were added in two tracks of the record ('F.U.B.U.' & 'Mad') and set a great concept with his masculine, slickly rough and smooth voice. I wasn't surprise to see individuals such as Moses, Sampha, Kelela, Nia Andrews, Kelly Rowland, BJ The Chicago Kid, or Sean Nicholas Savage to collaborate with Solange for this record, because these are individuals she's worked with before or people that she's admire over the years of her discovery for the love of the independent music trend. Other contributors are Andre Benjamin, Questlove, Olubenga, Matthew Knowles, Tina Knowles, Master P, Q-Tip, Kesley Lu, and Devonte Hynes.
The album starts off with the song 'Rise', being both the introduction of the album and the interlude of 'Weary'. The first lyrics that you hear on the record are 'fall in your way, so you won't crumble,' which directly speaks to the audience as soon as you press play. The powerful message in 'Weary' puts us in a place of a dark, emotional pain as Solange talks about the emotional identity of being black. Track 3 through 7 puts us through pain and expression of anger from Solange secretly asking us "I could've, would've, should've ... but, this is what really happened" type of feel in 'Cranes In The Sky', her father, Matthew Knowles, having a conversation about his racial discrimination experience while growing up in Alabama, expressing the anger for racism in 'Mad' and expressing the movements of life in 'Don't You Wait'. Track 8 and 9 has lots of expressions, from black identity and beauty to feminism. Tina Knowles talks about black people expressing their culture while whites feel that self-care is against white culture. 'Don't Touch My Hair' gives me feel about the time Solange was at the airport and they told her to remove her wig when going through airport security to board the plane. But, it has a powerful message about identity. After settling down with down melodies of 'Where Do You Go', here come to the jump-off the album where Solange is sort of taking us to church with 'For Us By Us' with Master P having a conversation about how he made it without being signed to 'the white man' and being misunderstood, which is the opener for 'F.U.B.U'. Giving up so much explicit language of pride, the track starts off as "all my niggas in the whole wide world" and then saying in a few seconds of repeat "this shit is for us." Afterwards, it dies down to Q-Tip and Solange magically making hip-hop sounds with 'Borderline' expressing self-care and empowerment.
Once I got passed those tracks, the next two tracks just suddenly got me super excited. It's weird because I never had a favorite part of an album before, but this is my favorite part of the album when the interlude 'I Got So Much Magic' and 'Junie' connects. The chemistry between Solange, Kelly Rowland and Nia Andrews was beyond incredible. I visually could see them jamming in the studio together laughing, talking shit, and showcasing their black pride. It was a perfect opener to 'Junie'. 'Junie' is probably my favorite overall track on the album, since I continuously put it on replay on my iPhone. The drums, bass, harmonies, and the lyrical melody got me attached to the soulful and playful sounds of this track. It reminded me of Prince's bass line. I am sure that's what part of the inspiration for this song came from, however, she'd mention it on Twitter a day before the album released that 'Junie' was written in honor of Grammy award-winning producer Junie Morrison.
The rest of the album Track 17 through 21 slows the hype down to focus on what's good in the neighborhood type of feel. In the interlude 'No Limits', Master P sparks another conversation about how he started his own independent record label, No Limits, by selling his music in the back of a trunk of a car. This conversation became the opener to 'Don't Wish Me Well.' The lyrics are simply deep and capturing that you can dive into Solange's mind and just stay there for hours. "I'm going all the way, but I'll leave on the lights for you ... and now you're almost out of view" gives a direct vision of how Solange is identified when a person of out of interest doesn't recognize such greatness. The interlude 'Pedestals' once again is Master P giving a continuing conversation from previous interludes, but pretty much summoning up the talk by stating a powerful message for white people that puts black people on the 'pedestal' when at the end of the day, we are indeed just as human as they are. The last track before the closing interlude is 'Scales' featuring Kelela, an artist that was featured in Solange's compilation album, Saint Heron, in 2013.
Vocally, Solange analyzes her voice through soft-toned jazzy effect. With sparks of soprano and alto, Solange creates a heavenly sound that draws you with emotions of excitement and serenity, making sure that this record gets to not only your mind but to your heart. Lyrically, she showcased powerful messages about black power, independence, encouragement, strength, pain, anger, success, battling of humanity, and most of all, pride. Musically, with the collaboration of Raphael Saadiq being the other executive producer alongside Solange, she brought back something that a lot of R&B records lack nowadays. Live instruments such as the piano, drums, guitar, bass, and horns gave such an organic taste to the concept of this album. She stated that the '24 songs' that she wrote for this record all started as a piano sound before converted into a produced track.