If Beyoncé was exploring the modern African-American struggle through her own lens on Lemonade, then her younger sister Solange has cast a noticeably wider net with A Seat at the Table—sound, visual and writing all aim to express the opinions of her family, the culture she grew up with and the state of the world for her own people. It’s been a long time coming, too; almost ten years have passed since her last full-length album Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, and considering all that’s happened in the world lately, she couldn’t have chosen a better time to return.
A Seat at the Table is by no means a diverse album, but rather a static exploration of soul and R&B music. The focus is instead the lyrics behind each song, exploring different concepts that have troubled both Solange herself and those within the African-American community: gentrification and its effects on her own family in Where Do We Go, the appropriation of black culture covered in Don’t Touch My Hair that affects all women of colour equally, and even their historically-flavoured lexicon is repurposed in F.U.B.U.—taking slurs and not only reclaiming them, but using them as empowerment. Solange treats herself and her experiences as a conduit, retelling them in a way that listeners of colour themselves can relate to, not just lyrically but in a culturally relevant style as well; something unfortunately missing in current popular culture.
Perhaps the strongest point of the album, and what ties everything together, is its interludes. From the empowering joy of sisters singing in I Got So Much Magic, You Can Have It to her father detailing the racism he faced growing up in Dad Was Mad and her collaborator Master P fighting against the white focus of the entertainment industry in For Us By Us, it’s fuelled not just by theoretical situations she faces in the world, but real situations that her colleagues and family members have encountered throughout their lives, careers and beyond. There are multiple levels of history and suffering behind each song on the album, and it adds an entirely different layer of emotion that gives the collection a total sense of empowerment.
In a few different ways, A Seat at the Table is limiting to who it speaks to and who it’s made for. But in reality, it’s the kind of album that needed to be made, and coming at the time when it’s needed the most. Rather than Beyoncé’s more pop-centric take on these struggles and the world at large, Solange took the bull by the horns and created something powerful, angry, empowering and beautiful all at once, speaking in a way that many may be afraid to in order to get the message across. It may not be an easy album for everyone to experience, but it is one that will leave a lasting impact on those who open themselves up to it.