Soprano Beyoncé is back. With her first Billboard #1 record, the older Knowles sister takes her “seat at the table,” and comes out from under the shadow of her younger sister. You can say you were a Solange fan, maybe you really liked True, but if you’re like most of us you probably only liked her on Janelle Monaé’s “Electric Lady” (as background vocals) and maybe even on “Sex Karma” by of Montreal (even though that song uncomfortably compares the joys of sexual attraction to that of a playground–Kevin Barnes’ lyrics, not hers).
None such concerns exist on A Seat at the Table however, a deeply personal record about being a black woman in America, the weight it carries, and the struggle of mental survival that comes with it. Told through interludes from her parents and Master P., a 4x platinum selling recording artist and “business, man” (as her brother-in-law and elevator boxing partner Jay-Z would put it), Solange’s record is as powerful as it is soothing. Giving others the voice to speak for her as well, Solange shows that it’s not just a personal record, but for every woman (or man) of color in the world. With such a long list of collaborators, especially none that overlap with Beyoncé’s Lemonade, I like to think that her and Queen B had a bleacher-style draft of their friends for who would be on who’s album, and I honestly can’t decide who won.
A Seat at the Table, regardless of what you think of it, is one of the most consistent and cohesive records of the year, flowing almost perfectly from each song to the next (even with the sheer amount of interludes). Solange doesn’t write the kind of “Freedom” or “Don’t Hurt Yourself” pop-bangers that her sister writes however, with most of A Seat at the Table consisting of down-tempo R&B. The subtleties of her vocals add to the personally mature nature of the record’s meanings, and the music acts as a stage to spotlight the lyrical content. Although it is a musical album, and very much so at some parts, A Seat at the Table is way more an album of words.
From amazing comparisons found in “Cranes in the Sky,” to utterly real songs like “Weary,” “Don’t Touch My Hair,” “F.U.B.U.,” and “Borderline,” Solange’s record is a clear example of how great records can be when you put the time into it, having taken four years to complete. A Seat at the Table isn’t just as powerful as other records this year like Jamila Woods’ or Beyoncé’s, but a welcome addition to strong woman of color making true and real to heart albums that have been dominating music in 2016.