Solange Knowles—younger sister to musical sensation, Beyoncé—has recently wowed audiences with her third solo album, A Seat at the Table. As a document of the struggles of black women, Solange expresses intense emotions and painful memories while also addressing current race issues in the U.S. After taking an eight-year hiatus to get married, give birth to son Julez, move to Idaho, star in Bring It On: All or Nothing, get divorced and write songs for her sister’s albums, Solange has decided to alter her sound dramatically.
Her previous albums invited influences from the ’60s funk and soul scenes. They aimed to express her individuality and reject the expectations attached to being Beyoncé’s sister. Her 2012 album True mixed the current pop trends with her already established funk and soul-inspired sound.
A Seat at the Table, however, takes her musicality in a completely different direction as she invites discussion about current political, social and racial affairs while utilizing an emotional openness that has not been present on her previous albums. Some listeners have commented that this dramatic change in sound is a direct result of a recent, rather traumatic, event in her personal life, which has led to a growth in maturity.
In contrast to the opening tracks of her previous albums, which demanded the listener’s attention with hard-hitting beats and suggestive lyrics, “Rise” opens the album slowly with a piano instrumental. When Solange’s voice enters, it is barely recognizable as the same artist who sang the theme song for Disney’s animated television series “The Proud Family.”
“Rise” acts as an anthem for black women in this current time of desperation. The lyrics strongly echo sentiments of recent events and the encouraging lines of the melody lay out the album’s central tension surrounding sorrow, pride and pain.
“Cranes in the Sky” details Solange’s desire to escape the rejection experienced in her life, specifically referencing her struggles during her childhood, marriage and divorce, as well as her personal process of coping. The song also features subtle nods to the infamous elevator incident, in which Solange physically attacked her sister’s husband, rapper Jay-Z, for publically unknown reasons.
Toward the end of the song, listeners are reminded of the singer’s strong vocals, which are influenced by the likes of Minnie Riperton, who is famous for her immense control in the upper registers of the voice. In fact, these strong vocals are what allow Solange to remain at the center of the album, rising above the catchy beats in the background, which are created by stars in their own right, Timbaland and The Neptunes.
A subtext of issues surrounding racial discrimination can be read into almost every song on the album, and a discussion about A Seat at the Table is barely complete without addressing these. Solange addresses her own personal disgust at society, while also aiming to encourage black women to strive for success and to reject the social stigmas attached to them.
As a child, her family was forced out of their home in Louisiana due to racial tensions. She uses these memories and, along with current events, sings with a rawness that echoes the sentiments of many across America.
A Seat at the Table strongly confirms Solange’s rightful place within the music industry. It forces her out of her sister’s shadow and allows Solange to present a unique and powerful mastery of vocals, tension, performance and emotion.u