I Tried to Write it Away: A Review of Solange Knowles’ A Seat at the Table

By Nakeysha Roberts Washington                        

Editors: Jerod Duris & Shondee Haralson

New music that is as classic and as uplifting as Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is hard to come by. Note that I am not making the comparison between styles of Solange and Ms. Hill, but I am standing ten toes down that I will play A Seat at the Table in constant rotation evermore as I do Tupac, the Fugees and everything Lauryn Hill ever touched. Thanks to Twitter, I have more of an understanding to the woke force Solange actually is, but never did I ever believe I would be making such statements as the aforementioned.

I am also finding that in my older age I am looking for a different set of qualities in many things than I did when I was younger. Late 30s is treating me well, though my students told me middle age isn’t old, but I don’t identify as middle age (I digress.)

Recently, Solange’s album dropped, and it was just the meditation that I needed to begin this Autumn. Considering, especially, that I am in a constant battle to uplift blackness when it is torn down constantly both overtly and subvertly in media. Balancing many sensitive issues, from finding direction in life to what it means to be a proud black person in a world heavily structured with white ideologies and white history as status quo, the melodic prayer knowingly constructs a space in which one can consider what individuality means in this place we exist.

Solange has been in constant rotation in my life. Now I associate hearing the album with peace. While complaining, I catch myself saying, “I want to just go home, chill out and listen to Solange.” I feel like every song on this album is a hit, and I am not the only one. Quickly,  after release, Solange earned the number One album on Billboard this week earlier this month.

If you’re on Instagram, I’m certain that your feed is saying Solange is onto something too. Every time I surf my feed there are posts of her album photo and proud mommas who have chosen to mimic the clips and stoic facial expression in images of their beautiful daughters. Repeat after me: Representation Matters!

It took me a while to come back to this particular piece as I was working on selecting 3 songs that I felt would best exemplify the album best. Now, however, I am not sure that is possible because each song, though all rooted in being proud and staying confident, dances in vastly different spaces. Therefore, I find that cannot be objective and have instead chose to be subjective.  

“Cranes in the Sky” is upbeat; Solange outlines coping mechanisms, which for me was very relatable.  She begins, “I tried to drink it away/ I tried to put one in the air/ I tried to dance it away.” In this song, she affirms the human condition to dealing with our real issues, which in turn causes us to avoid healing because we add another layer, by drinking, by smoking, by any means of distraction. This message here quietly made me reflect upon the ways in which I might be practicing avoidance. Reflection is wonderful for the psyche as it allows process and understanding. With all of the distractions that we have, we miss out on ourselves very often.

Another nugget called “Mad” (feat. Lil Wayne) addresses the angry black woman persona that is so often projected onto black women. Here, though, instead of contradicting the mad black woman stereotype, Solange embraces it placing an early morning blaring sunbeam on the the fact that there are things to be mad about. If that is how one prefers to phrase it: mad. Solange says, “You’ve got the right to be mad.” And she’s right. We’re facing human rights violation after human rights violation, injustice after injustice and black people are told to “just deal” or “it’s not really that bad.” However, we beg to differ. Continuously criminalizing black people and justifying murders prior to trial, should have muthafuckas mad. Shit, I’m mad.

In addition to other songs that you must go listen to, there are monologues from both Mrs. Tina Lawson and Mr. Matthew Knowles. On these tracks, we learn from where Solange’s love for blackness emerges. Compounding that insight, there are also several tracks that feature Master P.  This, my loves is treat for me, a lover of hardcore gangsta rap from the 90s. Pleasantly surprising, Solange shares quite a bit of space on this album with Percy Miller, aka Master P, the owner of No Limit records who brought us such artists as Silkk the Shocker, Fiend, Mac, Mystikal.

I can go on for quite a while as all of No Limit Record’s music set the stage for my late teenage years. In fact, I paid $35.00 to have a picture of me and my three closest friends, at the time, to have a Charlie’s Angels posed picture published in the yearbook with the caption, “How You Do Dat There,” big ups to Young Bleed. On Solange’s album, Master P shares game and a view of his trajectory toward and through success. One line from his monologues that stands out to me is when he shares that he told his grandmother that she no longer had to work for the people that she was working for because he had earned enough money to comfortably take care of his family. I do not know who conceived of this magic that placed P with Solange, but it works for me!

Just this past weekend, on November 5th, Solange performed two songs from her recent album on Saturday Night Live. She performed her songs, “Cranes In The Sky,” and “Don’t Touch My Hair”. Both performances were very moving, and filled with emotion. Her relaxing melodies, and beautiful R&B feel took me to another level. The “Cranes In the Sky” performance was angelic and brought back a sense that music seems to have lost. Solange sparkled, both literally, and metaphorically. In her performance for “Don’t Touch My Hair, she rocked a gorgeous ‘fro. Our hair is a part of who we are, one of the many things we should not let anyone strip away from us with lye. Solange exuded the confidence that she messaged through her songs, into her performances. With such a small stage, she made a large, and lasting impression.

Overall, Solange’s newest album is an insistence upon the receipt of a place card, a seat at the table, if you will, which is the undeniable acknowledgement of the beauty, and the validity of African American culture.