Photos from Solange's 'A Seat at the Table' digital book.
There are multitudes of black truths: freedom comes with caveats, prejudice is systemic, and black creativity – along with black death and black rebirth – drives the topic of conversation in America. 2016 has lent itself to reflection within the black community; and like other movements defined by suppression, the marginalized have found their voice in the arts.
Bold portraits of blackness in America have found their way to the forefront of American music culture. The nuances are distinct, brazen, explicitly and wholly black.
Lemonade exalts the notion of a virtuous, complex black woman embracing her femininity and blackness in an oppressive society. Coloring Book embraces black roots; the white man planted our people here and now, like the most wily of trees, we will sprout and bloom … all while rocking and shouting to lively church percussion. Blonde acts as a glimpse into the psyche of the most unlikely of black superstars: a queer, black man toying with the numerous dichotomies of race, class, and sexuality in America.
Now Solange looks to throw her voice – her phenomenal, earth-shattering voice – in the mix. She wants to give us, Black America, what no one else will: A Seat at the Table.
More than an olive branch. More than platitudes aimed at appeasing the black condition.
Solange wants to give us a voice.
A Seat at the Table starts abruptly. Lofty opener “Rise” sees Solange delicately singing over atmospheric synths and airy piano chords advising a notion of falling in our ways, acknowledging our truths, and being unapologetic about it. The lush guitars and organs found on “Weary” belie a worldview of inherent distrust and worry for the fate of the world.
For what 22-second interlude “The Glory is in You” lacks in verbosity, it makes up for in power and inspiration. Here lies the central theme of the album: be secure within yourself, within your beautiful black body no matter the stifling nature of the world surrounding you.
Next comes the world-altering “Cranes in the Sky” – a foray into the world of a woman trying to suspend her problems through the practice of repression by any means necessary. Where on “Rise” Solange advocates a policy of staying firm in one’s reality, she now reflects on the tendency of humans to run away from pain and suffering.
That’s the story of the black condition in 2016.
Here we are, surrounded by black death and police brutality; there’s nothing more overwhelming than the constant sprawl of black corpses on our TV screens. Nothing more overwhelming than the wall-to-wall coverage of Black Lives Matter protests being shut down through the use of violence. Nothing more overwhelming than black oppression.
In a sense, death looms over our heads like cranes in the sky.
But A Seat at the Table isn’t 2016’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Solange’s 21-piece portrayal of the black condition isn’t solely for the effect of dredging up feelings of anger at the hand we’ve been dealt. Rather, A Seat at the Table is an attempt – and a successful attempt, at that – to provoke self-reflection and acknowledgement of our identity as both a people and a person in America.
A Seat at the Table builds on what Solange did with her EP True. Both pieces straddle the line between pop and r&b; Solange does it like no other, with collaborations from alternative r&b sweetheart and visionary Kelela, producer Dev Hynes, rapper Master P, and countless others only helping to seal the deal and drive Solange’s vision further.
As Civil Rights activist James Forman said many decades ago, “If we can’t have a seat at the table then let’s knock the fucking legs off.”
A Seat at the Table is available for stream, download, and purchase on Apple Music, Spotify, and other major streaming services.
channelle “chei” russell is a writer from jamaica. she enjoys music, cinema, and any combination of the two. her writing explores the impact of the speculative worldview on the marginalized. she is prose editor of kerosene magazine. she tweets @cosmicblackgirl.