In times of political unrest, artists are the first to voice their dissent. The past few years has seen a remarkable shift in hip-hop and R&B; the music has become more idiosyncratic and the lyrics are more politicized. And that’s not to say their success is undercut by their newfound creative spaces. In fact, when I think of three of the most successful albums last year (LEMONADE by Beyonce, Black Messiah by D’Angelo, To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar), all of them were marked by their audacity. A Seat at the Table succeeds in its ability to capture the cultural zeitgeist and imbue it with some resonant personal and creative energies.
Its namesake sets the tone for the album. A Seat at the Table doesn’t refer to a current sociopolitical position. Instead, it’s a seat at a table that Solange is making all on her own; a curation of black excellence, per se. It makes sense when you take into consideration the sheer amount of talent brought into the album’s folds: Q-Tip, Lil Wayne, BJ the Chicago Kid, Kelela, Moses Sumney, Sampha. What follows is a meditation on black personhood and contemporary womanhood.
Songs like “Weary” and “Don’t Touch My Hair” are quiet, yet stormy. Solange sounds fatigued by a world that continues to implement discriminatory hierarchies. Subsequently, “Mad” and “Cranes in the Sky” divulge visceral emotional reactions; dissonance and anger in particular, to existing as a black woman in American. But, it’s not all wrought with somber tones. “F.U.B.U.” and “Ode to Self-Care” both explore the means to which Solange reconciles her existence: in the former, it’s an anthem to black people and in the latter, it’s acknowledging the need to balance radicalism with self-preservation.
Interwoven with the album’s tracks are a series of touching interludes pulled from a bevy of people. Sometimes, it’s Beyonce and Solange’s mother explaining the importance of “Black Lives Matter.” Quite a few times, it’s Master P discussing how he created a black-safe space for himself within music. St. Charles Ave even gets mention in one of the interludes. Other times, it’s plaintive melodies, monologues and harmonies that set up the tone for the track that follows. In passing, it may look like an overstuffed record. But, it’s still lean. What the interludes do is elevate Seat from album to poignant soundscape; a record that’s actually the sum of its parts because it’s attempting to deliver an important message.
It’s not hard to see how Solange arrived at this place in her music. America is more wrought with divisiveness. And when artists like Solange create pieces of music like this, they aren’t meant to fire up more tempers. Instead, consider it like any piece of art. One that attempts to capture a small moment of time; in particular, Solange’s existence as a black woman in contemporary America. Its power shines in its poignancy, sophistication