Release Date: Sept. 30
Label: Columbia Records
Duration: 51 minutes
Solange Knowles was only 16 when she released her debut album and officially entered into the musical industry as an independent artist. With the release of her third full-length album “A Seat at the Table” over a decade later, Solange has proved that she has grown immensely in her craft as a songwriter and musical artist. This album has proved to be her most socially conscious work yet, during a time when police brutality against African-Americans has been highly publicized. With racial tensions at an all time high, “A Seat at the Table” serves as a powerful narrative about how it feels to be black in America.
“A Seat at the Table” differs from Solange’s earlier albums with its heavy subject matter and low-key sound characterized by funk, rhythm and blues, and neo-soul melodies. In Solange’s debut album “Solo Star," her youthful vocals were overwhelmed by heavy-handed production, and the piece failed to standout in a crowd of similar works. In direct opposition, “A Seat at the Table” is expertly arranged and feels intensely personal to Solange’s life.
With this work, Solange has struck the perfect balance between variety and consistency. All of the tracks are different in message and feel, yet they all tie into greater themes and sound cohesive as a unit.
Many songs address Solange’s personal struggles. “Don’t You Wait” and “Don’t Wish Me Well” speak to how Solange sticks to her conventions and refuses to compromise herself for others.
Other tracks tackle the social and political issues that affect black people in the United States. Songs like “Junie” and “Scales" touch on the topics of cultural appropriation and the criminalization of black males.
A few tracks even speak to the importance of mental health. “Cranes in the Sky” describes attempts at self-medication while “Mad,” featuring rapper Lil Wayne, touches on Lil Wayne’s suicide attempt.
This album is skillfully constructed and involves many thought-provoking aspects. In some instances, the composition of the songs carries its own message, such as the extended repetition in “Rise” that represents the struggle to get up and continue on with life day after day.
The writing is incredibly profound and includes many references to literature, Bible verses and pop culture. A clear reference is the title of the song, “F.U.B.U.” F.U.B.U. is an American clothing line founded by Daymond John, an African-American entrepreneur. The name of the line is an acronym for “For us, by us”, meaning created by African-Americans with African-Americans in mind.
Solange’s parents, Matthew and Tina, in addition to Master P, lent their voices to interludes dispersed throughout the album. Their voices express some of the challenges of growing up black, their involvement in the fight for equality and their pride in their heritage.
While the lyrics of her album are hard-hitting, the rhythms are laid-back and mainly driven by bass, piano, percussion and the occasional electronic beat. Solange’s voice flutters between a soothing coo and a whisper. On some tracks, her vocals are slightly reminiscent of those of her elder sister, Beyoncé Knowles. Overall, the songs are incredibly smooth and easy to listen to.
While this album sheds light on many of the trials that African-Americans encounter, it feels like a celebration of success in the face of systematic discrimination. Master P grew up in the projects of New Orleans, yet he went on to create a hip-hop empire and become one of the highest-grossing entertainers of all time. He says in the closing interlude of the album, “Now, we come here as slaves, but we going out as royalty, and able to show that we are truly the chosen ones.”
This album is a victory for Solange Knowles and everyone who can relate to her story. She has truly come into her own as a black woman and an artist, and this incredible work acts as a testament to her development.