Solange’s “A Seat at the Table” Successfully Comments on Society


Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons.

Solange Knowles’ album, “A Seat at the Table” has established her as an outstanding artist and successfully comments on society.

By Dani Miller, Production Editor

Following in the footsteps of her über-famous sister Beyonce, Solange Knowles’ new album “A Seat at the Table” infuses neo-soul and poetry to sonically share the story of Black America in a way that demands to be heard.

For most of her career, Solange Knowles has been stuck in the shadows of her older sister’s success. Her last two full length studio albums have been widely recognized as lackluster. In the past, most people knew her more for her last name than her art. However, Knowles’ rocky beginnings only add to the beauty of the success story that is ‘A Seat at the Table.’

With ‘A Seat at the Table,’ Solange has managed to make history. Knowles’ and her sister are only the third pair of siblings to have their albums debut at the top of the Billboard Charts at the same time, a feat previously only achieved by Michael and Janet Jackson, as well as Master P and his brother Silkk the Shocker.

There is nothing in this album that is not purposeful. Everything, from the falsetto, to the interludes, to the structure of the record has an intent, and reason for being the way this is, including the title of this record itself.

Solange’s’ use of this phrase is meant to symbolize how black people haven’t been given a seat at the table that is America, due to their political, social and economic disenfranchisement. The title alone is as much a part of the art as the music, and it sets the precedent for the political commentary that is to come.

‘A Seat at the Table’ exceeds the hype. Rarely does an artist achieve what Solange has achieved with her new record. Rarely does an album tell a story so universal and familiar in such a fresh and uniquely personal way that it reignites every human emotion, and inspires in ways music should.

The first song off of ‘A Seat at the Table’, “Rise”, asks the question that Solange attempts to answer throughout the entire piece: Will you crumble because of your failures or will you rise above them?

Although this question is posed to her listeners, Solange is asking it to herself as much as anyone else. This song serves as an impeccable opener. It introduces Knowles’ intimate exploration into her own identity, and how her flaws, circumstances, and emotions affect who she is.

The next few songs are most definitely a stand out. Between hypnotic vocals, mellowed base and powerful content, this middle bulk of the album is near perfection.

The next track, “Weary” expands on the exploration on Solange’s identity that began in “Rise.” Solange immediately opens up with the admittance that she is “weary of the ways of the world.” Perhaps, this is due to all the ways that the world has betrayed her and left her with no place.

Regardless, Solange directly acknowledges her journey to find her place, as she decides that she’s “gonna look for [her] body” and “her glory.”

Solange has many epiphanies throughout the album that help her grapple with her emotions and her identity, but “Weary” might hold the most profound, as she acknowledges “a king is only a man with flesh and bones, he bleeds just like you.”

The knowledge that even the oppressors are just people and nothing more is what keeps Solange grounded throughout the entire album, and it is a poignant commentary on America’s power structure.

As the album progresses, Solange’s emotions progress too. She quickly goes from a state of self doubt to a state of rage, as she alludes to the word of James Baldwin: “To be a negro and to be relatively conscious in this country is to be in a state of rage all the time.”

The portion of the album defined by rage begins with her dad’s words in “Interlude: Dad was mad,” in which her dad tells the story of how racism and segregation forced him into a virtually constant state of rage.

In the next track, “Mad,” featuring a brilliant verse from Lil Wayne, Solange describes an encounter she had with a woman, who asked her why she is always mad, in which she responded “I have a lot to be mad about.”

This song addresses the stereotype of the “Angry Black Girl”–Solange literally says “I’m really not allowed to be mad”–. These lyrics, ironically being accompanied by delicate vocals and a mellow beat, symbolizes the fundamental flaws of confining black women to one thing.

Solange’s rage continues with the next track, “Don’t You Wait.” This song, which directly addresses the critics who would rather hear her write love songs than politically conscious music, is faster paced to symbolize her moving forward, even though many critics are uncomfortable with progression.

As Solange continues to find herself, the album continues to share different messages and parts of the black experience. Beginning with “Interlude: Tina Taught Me,” in which Solange’s mother discusses the fundamental beauty in being black, the album takes a turn into a new direction.

Solange starts on her journey to self love in the song “Don’t Touch My Hair,” where she talks about the importance of her braids, equating her hair to “the feelings [she] wears.”

The pounding bass and infusion of jazz acts derive from the sound of much of the album, but it works nonetheless.

Solange’s message of black pride and self love continues in her next few songs, “F.U.B.U” (For Us By Us), in which Solange encourages the ownership of black art and culture, and “Borderline (An Ode To Self Care)” in which Solange takes an “intermission” from fighting for black lives in order to take care of herself, because she’s experiencing an exhaustion that many revolutionaries have and can relate to.

As the album comes to a close and Solange continues to grapple with her identity, the sound of the record derives into uncharted territory.

The next track “Junie,” which discusses how non black people tend to appropriate black culture without having to experience the struggle of being black in America, is the most upbeat song on the entire album. Junie incorporates old school funk and techno with R&B to create a sonically pleasing track that one rarely experiences on an album of any genre.

‘A Seat at the Table’ comes full circle with the last five songs on the album. Solange finally comes to terms with her identity, every kink and nuance included, as she makes the decision to let go of her resentment, rise above society’s standards like the first song, “Rise,” asks her to do, and move forward, knowing her beauty and her worth.

In the last two decades, there has been very few, if any, pieces of music that outline every facet of the black experience in America as well as ‘A Seat at the Table.’ In just 55 minutes, this record manages to tackle stereotypes, highlight all the nuances of the black struggle and take a story so uniquely Solange’s and make it universal, while also telling a story so universal in a way that it is uniquely hers.

‘A Seat at the Table’ is resilience. It’s the “we’re still here” hollers. It’s the hope that motivates people to keep fighting. And most importantly, as Master P says in ‘Closing: The Chosen Ones,’ it’s the idea that “[black people] came here as slaves, but [they’re] leaving as royalty.”