by Dom Jones
I was so excited about Solange’s new album because of how much I enjoyed the Hadley St. Dreams Tour album in 2008. I thought there might be a return to that style, sonically. While that specific wish was not fulfilled, I realized while listening to the album and watching social media react to it, that there was a greater purpose being realized here. In a time where more and more people are feeling ostracized for being who they are, criminalized for living in their own skin, and minimized in their struggle, Solange’s “A Seat at the Table” aims to give voice to sounds and culture that are specific to African-Americans. She does this not by excluding other groups, but rather by speaking to the concerns, joys, struggles, and issues that directly affect this group, in the language that this group will understand and with whom it will resonate. I believe that, in that regard, the album accomplishes its goal.
The interludes with audio from Master P and others and the Lil Wayne feature are surprising, but purposeful (we tend to forget that Solange and Beyoncè are from Texas). Master P is one of the icons in modern black music, known more for his entrepreneurial savvy than for the longevity of the music itself. No Limit Records (and Cash Money Records as well) were spaces and business efforts in the 90s for southern black music that could be wholly true to itself and its region. Not only were people from other parts of the country able to experience the south through music, we were able to see business people engage in the music industry, following the model set by Barry Gordy and Motown in the late 50s. We hear Wayne get vulnerable, and in my favorite interlude, “For Us By Us” with Master P, we hear him address the importance of his entrepreneurship:
“And they offered me a million dollar deal, and had the check ready. Said I wouldn’t be able to use my name. I was fighting my brother, because [he said] “Man, you shoulda took the million dollars!” I said “No, what you think I’m worth? If this white man offer me a million dollars I gotta be worth forty, or fifty… Or ten or something.”
To being able to make “Forbes” and come from the Projects. You know, “Top 40 Under 40.” Which they said couldn’t be done. Had twenty records on the top “Billboard” at one time. For an independent company. Black-owned company. You know, going to the white lady’s house where my Grandmother lived at, and say, “Look, you don’t have to work here no more Big Mama! We got more money than the people on St. Charles Street.”
And I, I took that anger and said, “I’mma put it into my music.” I tell people all the time, “If you don’t understand my record, you don’t understand me, so this is not for you.”
This interlude, combined with songs like “Cranes in the Sky,” which address developing abusive behaviors to cope with the seemingly insurmountable challenges that accompany disenfranchisement or the very straightforward “Don’t Touch My Hair,” which addresses the fetishizing of black beauty and black culture as a whole make “A Seat at the Table” not just an enjoyable listen, but a timely and necessary statement in a very unsure present.
Ironically, I don’t believe Solange is advising her people to ask for a seat at a “ruling class” table, but encouraging them to continue build their own tables, create their own seats, make their own spaces, propel their art and entrepreneurship forward in the face of all of the social, economic, and institutional barriers that have been and are faced on a constant basis. This is not an album of exclusion, but a soundtrack for survival at a moment in our history as human beings when many are being violently accosted just for being who they are. We’ve built doors when opportunity refused to knock, and now – following the lead of Solange and many others making vital artistic statements, we’ll build tables, refusing to sit with hate, bigotry, and division.
HAVE YOU HEARD SOLANGE’S NEW ALBUM? WHAT DID YOU THINK?
SOUND OFF IN THE COMMENTS!