Thank you, Solange
The colder months have always been times of transformation for me. I slow down, retreat into myself, and survey the whirlwind of situations I found myself in during the spring and summer so that I can learn and grow. This year, in particular, has been a shit show.
A Seat At The Table came along at a time where the frigidness of depression overtook the familiar taste of anxiety and plunged me into a hole so deep, I couldn’t see my hands in front of me. It grabbed me out of dark void, pulled up a chair, and forced me to sit and deal with all the miry shit I was trying to bury.
When I entered therapy for the first time, an assessment was administered.
“Why are you here?” “What is bothering you?” “How do you think therapy can help?” I didn’t have all the answers immediately, but I knew I was here for a reason. Afterwards, I was told what to expect; it would be challenging, but worth it.
“Rise” sets this same mood for the album and much like a therapy session it urges the listener to dig deep and offer ourself genuine transparency. Leave superficial thoughts and notions by the wayside and really examine the depths of one’s feelings and beliefs. It’s the centerpiece of the album.
From the first time I heard it, I instinctively knew that this would be an album of purging and renewal on multiple layers of my being. “Fall in your ways. . .” being repeated multiple times leading into “Walk in your ways. . .” being sung once evokes the spirit of resurrection and awareness after clearing old ways; examining what’s not serving you and getting rid of it over and over again.
As black folk, we’ve historically worn perseverance and tenacity in the face of chronic violence as a badge of honor.
Themes of black anger, frustration, and desire for a place in this world are palpable in every bassline. For the better part of two years, I’ve been walking around with a heaviness in my chest. The murder of Mike Brown and the seemingly interminable cycle of black death being levied on my soul via Twitter posts and news outlets left me feeling like I’ve been on autopilot.
Enter “Weary” — an anthem that flies in the face of the often quoted James Cleveland line, “I don’t feel no ways tired.” As black folk, we’ve historically worn perseverance and tenacity in the face of chronic violence as a badge of honor.
Having someone, specifically a black woman, the pillars of our community, stand up and say, “my nigga, I’m tired. Very tired,” is a level of empathy that can sometimes be found missing from conversations around activism and black life. Solange is a master of creating imagery through sound. With the blunt keys and drums, paired with her almost breathless undertone, you can virtually picture the heaviness of her spirit while recording.
From the first line, “I’m weary of the ways of the world,” it felt as though that succession of simple words was the only thing I’ve heard that could connect with how I was feeling. I sat in my bedroom with darkness enveloping me literally and figuratively as tears welled up and fell from eyes. Just that day, I had dealt with multiple instances of microaggressions.
“And do you belong? I do.”
The overwhelming sense of empathy enveloped me like a clean, warm blanket fresh out of the dryer. Even with the exhaustion, being able to proclaim and own a sense of belonging within oneself —“And do you belong? I do.” — as the society in which you find yourself sees you as undeserving of basic agency is inspiring. Tiredness is often a precursor to anger, and “Mad” beautifully underscores the issues raised in “Weary” – being treated as disposable and unwarranted.
Anxiety, depression, and anger are by-products of oppression
In “Mad,” Solange validates the ire we carry around as righteous, but also notes that you need to find healthy ways to let it out.
“You got the right to be mad, but when you carry it alone you find it only getting in the way.”
It’s no more evident than in Lil Wayne’s verse. It’s an ode to “Mo Money Mo Problems.” With all his fame and riches, he still has issues and deals with his set of problems, on a daily basis. He implores us to “let it go before it get up in the way.” By the end of the song, Solange expresses a sentiment that many of us are familiar with. “Fuck it.”
I’m tired of explaining why I’m mad. I’m tired of not having the luxury of being mad without being perceived as an angry black woman. If you can’t see why after all of this, stay from ‘round me.
Solange proudly puts southern blackness on full display
The journey of self in the realm of introspection and uprooting is ever-present. “Cranes In The Sky,” arguably one of the most vulnerable and honest songs on A Seat, narrows the purview to more intimate conditions.
“Cranes” set up shop in my backyard and tapped softly everyday on my buried bones. I was forced to deal with tender self without any preparation. The ambiguity of “Cranes” is something to behold. Though it’s clearly about a relationship, the “metal clouds” can be anything you’ve tried to run away from or ignore. Healing and revelation took place whether I like it or not.
“If you don’t understand my record, you don’t understand me…”
The interludes are the yokes that bind each track together, cementing A Seat as a record of emotional upheaval and healing. Solange called upon her parents to provide their perspective. Her father speaks on his encounters with racism coming up in the Jim Crow south, and her mother expressing the extreme pride she has in her blackness and black folk while admonishing those who refer to her pride as racism.
The highlights, though, are from Master P. With a deep NOLA drawl, Percy offers words on self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as issues of gentrification and access to resources. Often, people like Master P are berated as “low-end blacks” because of the way they articulate themselves, but Solange proudly puts southern Blackness on full display.
She showcases the capacity of Black folks to create space for celebration, in the midst of tragedy. Her evolution mirrors that of a lot of us. She sees less reason to conform, and proudly displays and celebrates every aspect of her own blackness and that of others. “Don’t You Wait” sees Solange admonishing those who would rather silence her voice than use it to speak out against injustice.
“Now, I don’t want to bite the hand that’ll show me the other side, no. But I didn’t want to build the land that has fed you your whole life, no. Don’t you find it funny?”
“F.U.B.U.” and “Don’t Touch My Hair” are odes to black folk traversing this emotionally and physically violent world of anti-blackness while attempting to keep some semblance of sanity. Seeing Solange and Sampha transfiguring the violence of swiping agency into freedom and joy via dance (followed by a song literally made for me and my niggas) was needed.
It was a bold statement to invite the world to consume the art that you made as a mode of healing and self-love for your people; throwing respectability out of the window and saying that we will celebrate all of our people that you’ve rejected. “Scales” celebrates the hood nigga as a king, seeing past what society sees as criminality and digging deep into the hows and whys.
“You’re a Superstar. Always shining in the night and your skin glowing in the moonlight.”
The power of A Seat At The Table lies in its ability to convey the wider scope of black experience and culture, without neglecting the significance our own individual journeys. It shows that although Black folks are not monoliths, because of our shared history and dealings, there’s an inherent thread of universal commonality. This album is a journey of self-discovery, pain, anger, and vulnerability — enhanced by love, healing, joy, self-empowerment, and the sustaining power of black girl magic.
Behind the music
The melodies and structures are so forthright that you don’t notice the ambiguity setting fire to veiled “truths” you’ve accepted about yourself. Raphael Saadiq’s production is the sacred ministry on which the album finds its footing. Each chord, each arrangement, each prolonged layered harmony is intentional and serves a purpose. It wraps you up in a full experience.
The help of R&B artists like Moses Sumney, Kelela, and Olubenga, and the sweet-like-honey background vocals provided by Tweet were appreciated because the album is definitely inspired by Southern Hummingbird. The composite of Aaliyah’s “More Than a Woman” present in “Borderline (An Ode To Self-Care)” shows Solange’s deep appreciation and love for R&B.
The depth of the lyricism and Solange’s courage to bare her soul and confess her heartbreaks and hurt inspired me to dig deeper than I ever have. “Weary” allowed years of built-up aggression and sadness to finally find its way out in the form of tears. “Mad” made my anger, sadness, and frustration justified and the feeling of isolation lifted. “Cranes In The Sky” left me bare and on the floor. It made me dig deeper than ever and find the source of my pain. It made me realize that although I went through all of the motions of heartbreak, I’ve never been in love.
The “Cranes In The Sky” I had dealt with in the aftermath of that break-up were not due to being lovelorn, but due to the fact that deep down, I felt nothing. I mentally went through the motions. I willed myself to cry and hurt, but the lack of authenticity troubled me. Cranes made me realize that my anxiety masks itself in multiple emotions to navigate this world of antiblackness and can confuse me; this includes love.
Letting go of things that no longer serve you and taking time to reflect were the themes I meditate on from “Borderline (An Ode To Self-Care)”. Although it reminded me of the importance of self-care, it also reminded me of interpersonal relationships. “Baby, let’s know when to let go. Know when to let go. . .Baby, i know you’re tired; Know I’m tired.” I didn’t have the courage to end a relationship that never served me. I numbed myself to my honest feelings. I went along with things because I didn’t know how to disengage from toxic relationships. To my former lover, I owe you a world of gratitude. Thank you for having the courage I did not.
“F.U.B.U.” enveloped me in love and care. A space for black folks to not worry about anything other than ourselves for a moment. “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “Junie” filled me with the joy of our ancestors. There was something tribal about those instrumentals and those vocals. It was an ancient bloodline present that gave me strength in a time of weakness.
Here’s to persevering
This is Solange’s most intimate project yet.
I’ve never known the power of music to reach down deep, slice you up, and then provide the remedy in the same sitting. It purges the old things that have no place in you anymore, and fills you with newfound joy and peace. I can never repay this black girl for this gift.
Four years after True made its debut, in all its indie experimental glory, Solange released the most cohesive and intimate project she’s ever created. It took a peek behind the curtain of not only the celebration and joy in the making of black girl magic, but also the lows and heartache present in making all of that possible.
My anxiety is nowhere near gone, but it’s more manageable than it’s ever been. A Seat At The Table is the latest tool in my mental health arsenal. So, here’s to joy. Here’s to peace. Here’s to persevering while also realizing that resilience is not a badge of honor, but something developed in the face of the oppressor. Here’s to that beam of light that knocked me on my ass on September 30th, left me on the floor in a puddle of sweat and tears, and then picked me up and dressed my wounds. Thank you for allowing me to exhale that last breath I’ve been unknowingly holding in for the last few years.