A reflection on Blackness and Black womanhood in America, Solange’s third studio album rightfully exclaims, “Tell them niggas that it’s all our turn/This us, some shit is a must/Some shit is for us” on the thirteenth track “F.U.B.U.,” which features The Dream and BJ the Chicago Kid. Both a personal and collective journey, “A Seat at the Table” is an absolutely necessary declaration of Blackness and healing. For white audiences, “Don’t feel bad you can’t sing along/Just be glad you got the whole wide world.”
Solange, known for the longest time as Beyoncé’s younger sister, has continuously proven that she is an artist and individual in her own right. From her absolutely stunning wedding to collaborating with Alan Ferguson on the videos for “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “Cranes in the Sky” to sharing the racism she and her family experienced at a Kraftwerk concert in New Orleans back in September, Solange is not one to keep quiet, and speaks up unapologetically. Her vocalizations of her truths and realities often means she is labeled as the centuries old trope of the “Angry Black Woman,” but as she beautifully sings in “Mad” featuring Lil Wayne, “I got a lot to be mad about.”
She is right, there is a lot to be mad about. Back in May 2015, Solange debuted “Rise,” the opening track on “A Seat at the Table,” “for Ferguson, for Baltimore.” In the midst of the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the murder of Eric Garner caught on tape, and many other brutal and unnecessary killings of Black men, women, and children, Solange reminds Black people to stay true to ourselves “so you can wake up and rise.” These killings are nothing new. “A Seat at the Table” was released Sep 30, roughly a month after the killing of Korry Gaines, who was murdered in her own apartment near Baltimore while holding her 5-year-old son. Songs such as “Rise,” “Mad,” and “Weary” give space to the pain, confusion, anger and resilience present in these moments of tragedy, and talk through the individual and communal pain of being Black and seeing our own slain.
The “Angry Black Woman” trope is further dismantled and complicated in the song “Cranes in the Sky.” In it, she sings of isolation and all the things she did to make it go “Away, away, away, away, away, away.” But depression, much like metal construction cranes in the sky, is always present. For Solange to sing of depression in such a raw, clear and honest way matters in two ways. First, it is an acknowledgement of mental health and depression for Black women, a reality given very little space if we are always “angry,” “strong,” or “sassy.” Second, it contributes to a collection of songs that speaks to depression and suicide within in the Black community at large. Lil Wayne’s final verses on the track “Mad” are, “And when I attempted suicide, I didn’t die/I remember how mad I was on that day/Man, you gotta let it go before it get up in the way/Let it go, let it go.” Both this line and this song are in conversation with the works of artists such as MC Captial STEEZ, Kid Cudi, Nas, Tupac, The Notorious B.IG, and many others whose subjectivity and experiences in the world have been rife with feelings of depression and suicide.
But within these moments of collective and individual suffering and pain, Solange works hard to highlight that there is also strength and joy in being you and in being Black in America. In “Borderline (An Ode to Self-Care),” Solange sings “Baby, you know you’re tired/Know I’m tired/Let’s take it off tonight/Break it off tonight/Baby, I’ve been more than a woman,” referencing singer Aaliyah, and talking through how necessary it is to take out time for oneself in wake of the other experiences of Blackness. Continuously creating a dialectic of pain and healing, suffering and strength, the song “Weary” answers the question, “Do you belong?,” with “I do, I do.”
With musical and interlude contributions from Pimp C of UGK, Master P, Raphael Saadiq, Lil Wayne, Q-Tip, Raphael Saadiq, Kelela, Tweet, André 3000 and many more, Solange’s representation of the nuances of Black experiences extends to the forms of music represented. Tracks such as “Junie” and “Don’t You Wait” make you want to get up and dance, and the combination of Funk, Neo-Soul, Rap and ’90s R&B production tracks the history of Black people’s contribution to music and culture.
I shy away from saying this album is simply political, because yes, to be Black in America means that the political is infused in our identity, whether we want it to be or not. Rather, this album and project are more so a conversation and a moment for Black people, particularly Black women, to be human; to be both powerful and vulnerable. The interludes are distinct places for the nuanced experiences of Blackness. In “Interlude: Tina Taught Me,” Tina Knowles shares, “I think part of it is accepting that there is so much beauty in being Black,” and Master P shares in “Interlude: This Moment,” “If you don’t understand us and understand what we’ve been through, then you probably wouldn’t understand what this moment is about. This is home. This is where we from. This is where we belong.” In addition to the conversations across musical genres, the conversations between generations furthers the subtle differences and similarities of Black experiences.
As 2016 comes to a close, “A Seat at the Table” has rightfully earned its seat among albums such as “To Pimp A Butterfly,” “Black Messiah” and “Lemonade,” and the conversations they produce about the multi-faceted experiences and meanings of what it means to be Black and to do so unapologetically. It has helped construct a completely new table for Black folks to simply exist.