Solange Knowles‘ A Seat At The Table may very well be the album that brings the artist to breakthrough-levels of success but for those who have been following her music for the last few years, this 21-track epic is the result of a creative talent that has been thriving and developing outside the mainstream for quite some time.
The album is an unapologetic yet gorgeous illustration of what it means to be black and the challenges that come with being of colour, especially a woman of colour, today. A Seat At The Table also serves as a tool to remind people, especially newcomers, that Solange is much more than ‘the younger Knowles sister’ and occupies her own creative space. The album is a strong and defining moment for the artist who undoubtedly stands as a figure of admiration and strength for many young women and girls of colour and while she may not be twirling baseball bats into the windows of cars, Solange’s messages on A Seat At The Table ring out just as loud.
She urges the listener to thrive and be comfortable in our own uniqueness, despite whatever imperfections we’re born with on album opener “Rise” – the music is soft, a sentiment that is evident throughout much of A Seat At The Table, but Solange’s smoky, almost wispy thread of an R&B vocal streams through and hypnotises. Her calm and warm vocals wrap you up – she’s not aggressive, but she’s defiant. It’s a type of R&B that we’ve seen Blood Orange execute nigh on flawlessly this year and quite frankly, I’m stoked that it’s happened again with this album.
“Cranes In The Sky” and “Don’t Touch My Hair”, the two album tracks that recently had their music videos released are two of the most powerful on A Seat At The Table. Featuring Sampha, “Don’t Touch My Hair” channels the frustration any woman of colour is likely to have felt at least once – issues of privacy and ownership have been rife within black culture for centuries and as both Solange and Sampha chant, “What you say to me?” gently, their response is pretty damn loud. “Don’t touch what’s there / When it’s the feelings I wear”, she warns – this an anthem for anyone who has felt like their culture has been relegated to public property or a novelty to be appropriated.
The interludes inserted through the album serve as good turning points and excellent perspective insights; from her parents Matthew Knowles and Tina Lawson going in on integration of schools in Alabama and reverse racism, to the iconic Master P detailing his own childhood and the formation of the No Limits label, the emphasis on the importance of self-ownership, empowerment and the ability to rise in the face of adversity is stressed in a flawless way.
Kelly Rowland, Kelela, Lil Wayne, The Dream, BJ The Chicago Kid, Nia Andrews and Q-Tip feature on A Seat At The Table, highlighting the diverse range of influence Solange has operating in her circle, all weaving together excellently in this tapestry she’s created. There are moments on the album that hark back to her previous work, with songs like “Don’t Wish Me Well” easily being a tune that could have featured on 2012’s True.
What Solange has done with A Seat At The Table is two things that I can tell at this point: she’s created a record that, in an age of surprise releases and visual albums, stands strong in its subtlety and narrative. She’s also produced a collection of music that younger listeners who feel any less than their peers because of their skin colour can take as an album of empowerment, encouragement and celebration.
As she wrote in a blog post detailing her and her family’s experience at a Kraftwerk concert this year, “We belong. We belong. We belong. We built this.”
Review Score: 9.2 out of 10.
A Seat At The Table is out now.