When you hear the name Solange, the first idea that probably pops in your head is her sisterhood with Beyoncé. Both are fashion novas, voices for racial equality and feminism, but Solange’s popularity is in no way whatsoever contingent on her sister’s.
She doesn’t utilize empowering, mainstream melodies like Beyoncé, driven by arduous belting and pop synths. Instead, Solange establishes a sound of her own by exploiting the rococo atmosphere developed from soprano descants and minimalist yet resplendent instrumentation to exemplify the ease of discussing change. When juxtaposed next to the profound lyricism of Solange’s newest album “A Seat at the Table” though, for which she recently finished a tour, the result is an eye-opening must-listen.
“Rise,” the opening song, begins the journey with a choir of Solange’s voice accompanied by down tempo drums and sparse piano. It’s simplistic, and so is its message to preserve individuality. The song progresses while more and more instruments start to pile on to transform into something grandiose, reflecting the momentum ideas can gain as they start to metamorphose from fantasy to reality, and by the last refrain, the beliefs Solange articulates in the next 50 minutes are seeded in the listener’s mind.
There is no other song that could follow “Rise” except for “Weary,” in which Solange addresses the global phenomenon that is inequality and a unmemorable legacy. She resolves fear and ascertains her status as an icon for social reform, however, by responding with a simple question and a simple answer: “And do you belong? I do.” The line reverberates throughout the album without explicitly being sang again, and that’s part of Solange’s magic. She weaves an underlying theme throughout “A Seat at the Table” without a trace of redundancy to help listeners realize that change comes in many forms, and this album is one of them.
The interlude “The Glory Is in You,” which is another distinguishing factor between Solange and her sister, brings “Weary” to a close while opening the doors to “Cranes in the Sky,” an ode to the inescapable pain from which celebrities aren’t immune. The fourth track sheds light on how everyone is connected through a mortal DNA of imperfection, misfortune, and, above all, fear as Solange beings to end the song with echoes of the word “away,” referring to the means in which people distance themselves from a universal flaw. But she finally brings the song to a close with random high notes sung on incomprehensible vowels, a vocalization that probably could have been pulled off of a Mariah Carey track. Initially, the conclusion seems out of character for the R&B singer, but there’s depth behind the classical technique Solange deploys. There’s physis behind it, a sense of freedom to say the least, that glorifies running from the pain and makes it seem natural to the point where she subliminally reminds listeners that the pain is only temporary, like everything else in the world.
Another key track is “Mad,” which depicts reactions to racial injustices, ranging from frustration illustrated through rhetoric and accounts of suicide in Lil Wayne’s second verse to the mere title of the song. The sui generis aspect of “Mad,” though, is Solange’s repetition of the line “Where’d your love go?” The sonorous vibrato of Solange’s voice as she sings higher on each chorus surmounts to something angelic that captures the raw emotion of how difficult love can be when all you face is a barrier to acceptance due to worldwide societal standards. She simplifies the existential crisis many people have at one time or another to a single line, and reasserts herself as a phenomenal lyricist.
Of course, Solange speaks in glossolalia at certain points in her album. “F.U.B.U.,” or “For Us, By Us,” and “Don’t Touch My Hair,” are insurmountably “odes to blackness,” as Genius, a lyric-recording company, would say. Made obvious through Solange’s application of slang and her references to the renown hair stylings of people of color, Solange smiles from ear to ear and, not only embraces her culture, but makes a statement that would be lost on those who are oblivious to the equality all human beings warrant: “The color of my skin does not enable you to discount me but is who I am, and every part of who I am makes me proud.”
There’s an omnipresence of unconditional respect on each track of “A Seat at the Table,” illuminating the reason why Solange chose that title for her latest work. The message isn’t a demand or a heat-of-the-moment reaction; it’s a fact. Everyone should have a seat at the table, a certain degree of regard that comes with being a person. But not everyone is getting one.