In my last review for Drive-By Trucker’s American Band, I discussed how in an election year so polarized with political and racial tensions this is a seemingly perfect opportunity for artists to release music that takes a stance on various issues. It appears that Solange Knowles, younger sister of Beyoncé, is also taking a part of making her voice heard, especially on racial issues.
This is where I can see plenty of people finding disconnect with this record. A Seat at the Table does not try and appeal to everyone, it is very much an album that is meant to connect to those who have been effected by racism, in any form. As someone who is Middle Eastern, but still definitely white, I know this record is not directly for me and I do not have an issue with that, as long as I can connect to it in some way and I can easily say that I did.
Solange makes this message apparent on songs like “Don’t You Wait” and “F.U.B.U.” The first of these songs, playing as a plea not to bother waiting for her to make something that will play for everyone. It is an empowered track, showing Solange will sing about whatever she pleases, regardless of how uncomfortable it might make someone feel. Similarly “F.U.B.U,” or “For Us By Us” is exactly what it sounds like. This song is saying that it is for the black community, made by the black community. It is telling critics who might be upset about the fact that they might not understand the feelings of Solange that maybe the music just is not for them. The track also has some excellent orchestration courtesy of former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanjali.
It is a little difficult to pick up on this deeper emotion after one listen because of how soft the production is for Solange’s angelic vocals. The record is not meant to have catchy beats and instead chooses to have quitter, more sparse instrumentation to accompany Solange in a more subtle way than on something like her sister’s album Lemonade earlier this year. This works in A Seat at the Table’s favor as this lavish production adds a layer of beauty that really shines on each of the tracks here.
The lyrics on this record are what really sell it, in my opinion. A song like “Cranes in the Sky” shows Solange dealing with pain of being disconnected to a predominately white society and culture. The track is the best on the record with its smart metaphor of comparing Solange’s experiences with being a metal construction crane in a skyline. It shows her feelings of being an eyesore against a beautiful work and really sells this feeling. The multitracking used on Solange, as well as the high falsettos work together to paint a vulnerable image of a group, and is handled excellently.
“Mad” is another great track that addresses why she feels mad about issues of race, especially after being questioned about it. Solange repeats “Where’d your love go” as she questions why people are seemingly constantly attacking her on the legitimacy of her anger. The track also comes with one of the best Lil Wayne verses in years, as he gets personal about the anger and frustrations in his own life, evening bringing up his suicide attempt as a child.
The frustrations are direct on the song “Don’t Touch My Hair,” diving into the issue of the titular micro aggression. This song hit me pretty heavy, as someone who never really understood the anger against hair touching outside of the fact it is just weird to have strangers touch you period. Solange makes a strong argument comparing her hair to her pride and soul, representing something greater about her culture, and to have someone view it as a novelty or a play thing is pretty offensive to her. Sampha’s backing vocals continue to show how interesting of an artist he is becoming.
The following track “Where Do We Go” is a personal story from Solange’s childhood where her family was split as a result of half of them being let go from a salt mine in their town. The song has little closure, showing the confusion that Solange and her family had during this complicated time. Another one of the more memorable tracks on here is the upbeat “Junie” which features some guest vocals from Andre 3000 who pops in and out of the track, adding to it’s energy.
The record is also sprinkled with several interludes with various people giving their thoughts towards many of the themes on the album. Solange’s mother and father have their own interlude, with her father reflecting on the racism he experienced as a child and her mother explaining her black pride and how silly it seems to compare black pride as being “anti-white.” The most notable person who makes a few appearances is Master P who details his opinions on similar issues while also discussing his rise with No Limit Records.
Regardless of your personal background, this is an album that I feel can be appreciated by all types of people and will undoubtedly be quite special to some. It is R&B and neo-soul at their finest and I appreciate the passion from Solange that can be felt in this record’s content. I do not know how often I will personally be revisiting this album, as it does drag at times, and the production does get a little too spacey for me but that does not negate the overwhelming qualities of this record.
Best Tracks: Weary, Cranes in the Sky, Mad, Don’t Touch My Hear, Where Do We Go, F.U.B.U., Junie
Worst Track: Borderline (An Ode to Self Care)