A Seat At The Table, the third full-length studio album by critically acclaimed singer, songwriter, and style icon, Solange Knowles, invites listeners to engage her and each other in conversations about our capacity for love, the power of healing, and our collective quest for freedom and liberation.
Turning thirty-years-old just a few short months before its release, Knowles opens up in this autobiographical exploration and takes us along her considerably spiritual path of transformative growth and self-(re)discovery. Setting a table decorated in the pink and yellow sparkles of her tender tones, Knowles invites us to pull up a chair, open our souls, and listen closely to what she has to say.
Affirming the complexity of her identity is at the core of A Seat; Knowles acknowledges her anger, vulnerability, fear, and pain while embracing her triumphs, joy, and Black girl magic in her most intimate and personal project to date. With a few assists from Charlene Keys (b/k/a recording artist Tweet), Knowles’ delicate vocal arrangements occasionally pay homage to the late Aaliyah (“Don’t Touch My Hair”) and recall another gone-to-soon whimsical singer, Minnie Ripperton (“Where Do We Go?”). Knowles shows herself to be more comfortable in her range as she vacillates between sticky sweet and downright intoxicating, floating over highly synthesized tracks.
“I got a lot to be mad about.”
“Rise”, a song of solidarity inspired by the deaths of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown, opens with a call to the protestors in the streets to press on, even when they fall. Knowles has been vocal on social media and in interviews about the latest iteration of Black Liberation protest movements, her experiences with anxiety and panic attacks, and the nuances of experiencing motherhood at a young age and in such a volatile time of enduring state violence, increased racial tensions, and the fights for freedom happening on streets across America.
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Her disillusionment with sexism and erasure is evident in “Weary” in which she questions where women fit in liberation narratives. By answering “I do” to the lingering question of whether or not she belongs, perhaps in an industry that constantly compares to her older sister, Knowles takes her own seat at “The Table,” arguably a metaphor for both the various spaces Black women are denied access and her own rightful place as a highly-acclaimed, respected individual artist. She lets us know that she is both tired of the ongoing oppression of Black people and inspired by those who, like her, choose to resist and rebel.
“Mad,” one of only five songs on the 21-track album that has a featured guest, reconnects listeners with New Orleans rapper, Lil Wayne, who opens up about suicidal ideation and his own fight to stay alive while learning to let go of the things holding him back. And where “Mad” confronts external accusations of Black women’s perpetual anger with an assertion of her (and our) right to be mad, “Cranes in The Sky” presents a more internal reflection on her reliance upon potentially harmful vices to escape consciousness as she manages the obligations of intimate relationships, mounting professional stress, parental responsibilities, and bouts of mental distress.
She subtly lures us into intense lyrical conversation and complex subject matter without leaving us wanting and waiting. The answers to our most pressing identity questions are within us and the mellow Q-Tip production “Borderline”, which contains a sample of Aaliyah’s “More Than a Woman”, reminds us of the importance of prioritizing self-care and finding balance between the demands of others and our obligations to ourselves. In “Don’t Wish Me Well” Knowles’ commits to carving out her own lane, despite naysayers and those who want from her something other than what she’s willing to give.
“I’ve always been proud to be Black.
Never wanted to be anything else.”
A Seat has several interludes, two of which feature each of her parents, separately, reflecting on their Blackness. As dad, Matthew Knowles, shares an early experience with racism, mom, Tina Lawson, talks about her pride in being Black. These brief infusions of Black consciousness weave together the overall themes as cohesively as can be done with the artistic eccentricity of Solange Knowles.
In a May 2014 interview with Essence, Knowles said that she draws inspiration from her son’s fearlessness, and A Seat aptly reflects Knowles’ almost signature rejection of the mainstream and convention. “Scales” is the most romantic, soulful, loving dedication to a local dope boy and “F.U.B.U.” is the ultimate “F**k you!” to White people who co-opt and appropriate Black culture for their own personal gain. Knowles made the song virtually impossible for non-Black people to sing along to by using the “n-word” at least ten times. It is an intentional act of defiance that revokes the access culture vultures have been given for far too long; “Some sh*t is for us… some sh*t you can’t touch.”
Four years in the making, A Seat at The Table is the homegrown fusion of sweet vintage soul, revolutionary Hip-Hop, and bout it, bout it southern trap culture. It is undeniably a Black album (“Don’t feel bad you can’t sing along. Just be glad you got the whole wide world.”); Knowles wants us to see pieces of ourselves in what she shares about her own journey. Play it for your children. Play it for your Big Mama. Play it for your homeboy that just got home after doing an extended bid. Play it beginning to end and find yourself not skipping a single track, as there is something for everyone. As Knowles has surely become a permanent fixture at the table, what’s next for her? For us? Perhaps we can take a page from her book, recognize that we are superstars, and continue to push boundaries as we claim our rightful places in this world.