Seemingly out of nowhere Beyonce’s lil sister just dropped a timeless album in 2016 (which will go down as an infamous year in history for many other reasons), where here we are in mid November and you can make a strong case that it’s the best album of the year. In her over 10 year career Solange has had more than a few respectable records (T.O.N.Y. likely the most notable), yet she’s never been universally known as a heavy hitter in the R&B genre, and many critics would assume that she’s only a household name thanks to her superstar affiliations. Yet 2016 is the year full of surprises, and right behind electing a circus clown for a President the biggest shock is that despite it also being the year of the Lemonade, Solange lowkey outshined Beyonce with the music by a mile.
In what took over 8 years to make, Solange took her artistry to new heights with her 3rd studio album titled A Seat at the Table, which is 21 tracks of powerful lyrics, infectious melodies, and an overall message that makes it clear that Beyonce’s lil sister is actually a true artist with a purpose.
A Seat at the Table is critiqued track by track below, accompanied by their respective streaming links and music videos
“Fall in your ways, so you can crumble, fall in your ways, so you can sleep at night, fall in your ways, so you can wake up and rise” The introduction to this album certainly sets the tone for what’s to come, described by Solange as an album “meant to provoke healing and journey of self empowerment.” This one has production from Questlove and Raphael Saadiq, the latter of whom has his fingerprints all over this album.
“Be leery 'bout your place in the world, you're feeling like you're chasing the world, you're leaving not a trace in the world, but you're facing the world” This is an excellent record produced again by Raphael Saadiq and company, where Solange questions the social hierarchy of the world while proclaiming equality for all. Again the vibe is mellow but the music is powerful.
Interlude: The Glory Is In You
"You know, but... sometimes you ask yourself 'where's the peace?' " The first of 8 interludes this one has none other than Master P stating what’s perhaps the thesis of the album, where although I’m often impartial to skits and interludes this one feels like it has a purpose. Although the collaboration may seem unusual, Solange was apparently in New Orleans for a nice duration of the recording process (one of many locations in her creative journey), and as a result the No Limit Soldier sprinkles his wisdom all up and down this album.
Cranes In The Sky
“Well it's like cranes in the sky, sometimes I don't wanna feel those metal clouds” The best record on the album without a doubt and potentially the best record of the year, Raphael Saadiq produced a claaaaaaaaaaasic with this one, and along with it’s significant tone and message this one has a melody that will be remembered for years. Check out the video treatment below.
Interlude: Dad Was Mad
“I was just lost in this vacuum between integration and segregation and, and racism. That was my childhood. I was angry for years... angry, very angry” In this interlude Solange’s father Matthew Knowles talked about the discrimination he faced growing up in Gasden, Alabama throughout the Civil Rights Movement, where he was one of only seven black children at the time who had integrated into an all white school.
Mad ft Lil Wayne
“Why you always gotta be so maaaad???... (I got a lot to be mad about yea…)” Another phenomenal record of good music with message, where Solange goes even beyond content with cultural significance to delineate on the overall spirit of the human condition, in essence stating that life is too short to be mad even when you have all the right to be. For added appeal Solange gets a Wayne verse on this one and a good one… and I’m not mad at this at all…
Don’t You Wait
“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?” This is a groovy record but the backstory behind this is even more interesting, as this is a shot at white critics who wrote in the NY Times that she shouldn’t criticize White America because most of her fans her white, thus she ‘shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds her.’ Solange claps back on this record and it’s one of the sleepers on the album.
Interlude: Tina Taught Me
“It's such beauty in black people, and it really saddens me when we're not allowed to express that pride in being black, and that if you do, then it's considered anti-white. No! You just pro-black, and that's okay.” In this interlude Solange’s mother chimes in on what it means to be a proud black woman, and talks about the ignorance of those who wish to claim a double standard that historically isn’t there.
Don’t Touch My Hair ft Sampha
“Don't touch my pride, they say the glory's all mine, don't test my mouth, they say the truth is my sound” As one would anticipate from the title this record is deep… and along with introspective lyrics the tone of the melody is just what it should be… the track is beautifully soulful and Solage definitely delivers… video treatment below
Interlude: This Moment
“If you don't understand us and understand what we've been through, then you probably wouldn't understand what this moment is about.” Percy Miller shows back up to talk more game, and while usually I would call interludes like this pointless, when it’s a cameo from the Ice Cream Man I’m actually all for it.
Where Do We Go
"Hey yo, hey yo, hey yo, ha ha” Solange takes those simple words and creates a beautiful melody… the type of melody that will have you singing along in your head for the rest of the day without a care in the world.
Interlude: For Us By US
“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." Master P talkin that shit!!!! And I’m here for it….
F.U.B.U ft The Dream & BJ The Chicago Kid
“All my *****in the whole wide world, all my ***** in the whole wide world, made this song to make it all y'all's turn, for us, this shit is for us…” This is another nice record that certainly goes with the theme of the album, yet based on the features it actually inevitably falls short of expectations, as The Dream & BJ The Chicago Kid’s contributions are limited and apparently this collaboration was too good to be true.
Borderline (An Ode to Self Care) ft Q Tip
"Baby, it's a war outside these walls..." A very smooth record that Q Tip seems to be more involved with the production than the actual vocals, as unfortunately he doesn’t spit a verse which would have likely been nothing short of incredible. Nonetheless Solange carries the vocals herself and she murders this just like she does throughout the album.
Interlude: I Got So Much Magic, You Can Have It ft Kelly Rowland & Nina Andrews
“Don't let, don't let, don't let anybody steal your maaaagic” On this interlude ⅓ of Destiny’s Child and a Los Angeles based singer on the rise sing a few notes acapella, and like all the interludes they are extremely short in length therefore I truly don’t mind em, and instead I think they actually really work how they’re supposed to.
“You want to be the teacher, don't want to go to school, don't want to do the dishes, just want to eat the food” This one apparently doesn’t formally credit Andre 3000 for his voice on the hook, yet he’s been informally credited all over the internet so in that case I guess it’s official. Nonetheless this is all Solange once again… and ¾ through the album there hasn’t been one bad record yet.
Interlude: No Limits
“People wanna know what "No Limit" comes from, my grandfather, Big Daddy, was in the military, and, you know, he always said, ‘Man, them people ain't gon' do nothing for us.’ so he was like,"Grandson, you need to start your own army," and that's where the tanks and the military thing come from…” the former Charlotte Hornet back one more time to explain the origins of No Limit Records, a continuation of a story where at this point some critics might question its relevance to the artist at hand, yet based on the quality of the music there’s truly no reason to question Solange’s vision or source of inspiration.
Don’t Wish Me Well
“And I'm going all the way, but I'll leave on the lights for you…” The instrumental has an ensemble of producers and it’s flames, and overall this is just another smooth record to add to the list.
“None of us are perfect, we live in an imperfect world, you know, only God can judge me, that's how I look at it. The people that's sitting around pointing their fingers, imagine all the stuff they're probably doing. Whether you're police officers, doctors, lawyers, presidents, whatever, you got good and bad in everything. You know, we're putting people on a pedestal that's just a human like us” Master P saves his greatest truth for last… as these words are nothing but gospel and need to be understood by everyone.
Scales ft Kelela
“The streets say you're a king, the world says you're a failure, and your mother is a queen, but damn she always tells ya ‘You gon' end up like your daddy, ’but damn that ***** fresh, so if it all comes out to plan, you gon' end up like the best.” On the final record on the album Solange collaborates with Ethiopian singer Kelela, who harmonize together in determining status symbols and self worth. Another smooth cut nothing more nothing less.
Closing: The Chosen Ones
“Now, we come here as slaves, but we going out as royalty, and able to show that we are truly the chosen ones” Percy Miller actually comes out for an encore, and perfectly closes out the album behind a sample of the same horn section that blessed Kanye’s classic We Major, which once again showcases Warryn Campbell as one of the best kept secrets in music.
Overall A Seat at the Table is a modern day masterpiece, as somehow the melodies and actual music outshines the empowering message which is more than significant in it’s own right. While many artists would just be satisfied with one or the other, Solange achieves both and does it in a way that feels effortless, yet it wouldn’t be right to not credit her incredible team of collaborators as well. Mark this as another triumph for Raphael Saadiq, as his production on this album is his finest work in years, despite the fact he’s always been consistent and is one of the greatest artists of the time period.
For that reason this album is far better than Frank Ocean’s Blonde (as well as her own sister's Lemonade), and is certainly comparable to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly as well. In fact in the present moment Anderson Paak’s Malibu is likely the only other candidate to perhaps be considered the album of the year, yet if one was inclined to edge it to Solange I could see that as well. In the end all that means is that it’s been a great year for music, and considering the precarious climate of today’s society the people need this type of inspiration more than ever before.