Last month, Solange penned an open-letter about what it feels like to be a black person in a predominantly white space. In it she wrote about an incident at a Kraftwerk concert where her and her family were told to sit down by someone behind them who later said nasty things and threw a lime at them. The letter poignantly captured feelings of anger, confusion, displacement and sadness culminating with the sentiment, "you do not dislike white people but dislike the way that many white people are constantly making you feel."
It's not planned but somewhat perfectly timed that Solange's third album A Seat At The Table comes less than a month after this letter was published. These four feelings - anger, confusion, displacement and sadness - are the same ones that drive the record which is a poignant and personal project that manages to speak more universally about the way the world treats black people and their history.
As a white male responding to this album, it seems inappropriate to slap this with a score after a few listens and move on. A Seat At The Table deserves to be listened to and thought about with more respect than that. I won't pretend to know how Solange or her family felt in that moment at the Kraftwerk concert nor will I try and get inside her head to over analyse these lyrics. There's no need for that. This record will resonate powerfully with black communities but there's also an opportunity for it to educate.
The interludes that weave their way through this album all come with pieces of knowledge whether it be from Matthew Knowles, Tina Knowles or record exec Master P who Solange spoke with extensively to piece together the narrative of the record. There's one line that really highlights the essence of educating and that when Tina Knowles says, "It's such beauty in black people, and it really saddens me when we're not allowed to express that pride in being black, and that if you do then it's considered anti-white. No! You just pro-black. And that's okay."
She further says that white people ask why we don't have white history month when there's a black history month to which she responds, "all we've ever been taught is white history." If Tina taught Solange, then Solange is now teaching us and A Seat At The Table is one of the most vivid depictions of how it feels to consistently have your pride stomped on and in a much less vocal but just as potent sense, be looked at like you don't belong.
Using a palette of beautiful neo-soul textures constructed by both Solange and producer Raphael Saadiq, Solange gives us an aesthetically flawless and lyrically poetic album that lays all her personal feelings on the table but also reflects the state of the world in a wider sense. ""Do you belong?" I do, I do," she sings on Weary, an early album highlight juxtaposing feelings of pride with a sense of invisibility. Vocally, Solange is delicate using beautiful harmonies over an organic, spacious instrumental.
Interestingly, while she's mad at a number of points on the record, sonically she's patient and careful which ends up being far more powerful. On the Lil Wayne-featuring Mad she creates fury with swelling harmonies and lays her feelings down by asking, "Why you gotta be so mad," in the third person. Wayne sounds more composed and eloquent than he has in a long while, playing a beautifully juxtaposing Solange's silky tones with his gravelly raps.
If you're looking for True, you'll ultimately be disappointed by this record on first listen. There are no immediate pop moments like Losing You or Lovers In The Parking Lot but on each listen every song reveals itself to you more and more. Suddenly, Don't You Wait sounds slinky and groovy and Junie has a communal spirit that calls you to the dancefloor. Actually, as it turns out, there's nothing more infectious than music that bleeds with genuine spirit and emotion. As such, the album's glorious, accessible highlight Cranes In The Sky is a subtle yet soaring cut about dealing with feelings of displacement.
In the same way, the Sampha-featuring Don't Touch My Hair is the most likely to get under your skin with its funky bassline and careful throwback synth work. At the same time, Solange teaches about the connection between hair and pride. "This hair is my shit," she declares while also proclaiming, "don't touch my pride". This moment is a turning point in the record, where things move from being gentle to becoming weightier. The keys on Where Do We Go rattle the speakers and F.U.B.U. claims an anthem that's celebratory in tone.
She comes so far over the course of the record that she asks for no permission in moving forward on Don't Wish Me Well. "I'm going all the way and you're almost out of view," she sings in one of the more triumphant moments of the record. Solange's journey that's laid out on the album is one that moves from grief and anger to healing and while it's difficult to change the behaviour of people surrounding you, she's skewed her view and rightfully justified her pride.
I give this album a 10 not because I can completely understand what she's been subjected to or claim this project as my own. I give it 10 because it's a spectacularly pieced together project that teaches black history and tells a story of what lies between anger and pride. It's devastating, furious and triumphant, all backed by one of the most cohesive sonic backdrops of the year. It's truly one of the albums, if not the album of the year and that's before you even dig into the lyrical content.
"If you don't understand us and understand what we've been through, then you probably wouldn't understand what this moment is about," Master P says on the This Moment interlude ending it with, "we have to show them the evolution of where we come from." As much as A Seat At The Table is a personal record and a record about her community, it's a lesson and one that shouldn't be ignored.