Everywhere I go nowadays it’s like, cranes in the skyyyy. Like streams of echo, Solange’s enchanting R&B voice keeps playing in my head. Her new album A Seat at the Table, released on October 5th, comes like a hypnotic wave, a fused composition of acapella-like vocals with touches of synth and funk. The production is as stunningly pleasing as the aesthetics of her music videos, all together in a paradise of percussion, brass and strings.
Solange carries an air of soul with a surprising lightness, which is interesting because it sticks somewhat in contrast to the topics she brings across her album. Much attention has been given to themes regarding black experience, most noticeably in its interlude pieces such as, “Dad was Mad” or “The Glory is in You,” where you have excerpts from both her parents talking about racial violence, racial integration and black pride.
Similarly, the song “Don’t Touch My Hair” that features singer, songwriter and producer, Sampha (an African Diaspora artist also mentioned in another Ayiba blog post about A Seat at the Table) brings to light the artist’s defiance and unwillingness to compromise her identity.
The album bounces back and forth dealing with bigger themes and personal struggles. This is more visible in songs like “Cranes in the Sky” and “Rise.” Beyond race, Solange also reveals dealing with what appears to be depression, a foggy relationship, as well as the compromising sacrifice that is being an artist. In an interview with Vibe she talks about going through a nervous breakdown while producing the album: “It’s more than an album to me. It’s a transitional time in my life…I literally gave up my sanity for a while to do this record. […] We literally were waking up in the morning and just making music all day and all night. […] It just started to wear on me in so many different ways. I started having these crazy panic attacks.”
There is nothing more captivating than hearing the beat of drums with the violin and piano reaching highs and lows as she sings in a harmony that is purely magical. In her own words, Solange defines the album as “a project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief, and healing.”
After its times of glory, when we thought the age of electronic R&B and pop were over we are seeing now more and more, artists like Solange, Frank Ocean and even on the other side of the spectrum, the more experimental FKA Twigs, begin to change its face. Unlike the kind we used to know from the 90s and early 2000s—Aaliya, Destiny’s Child, Justin Timberlake, to name few—whose music brought in creative and catchy sounds that made it impossible not to move your hips and sing along, the R&B of today carries more of an experimental touch. Its lyrics engrave deeper emotional sphere and its melodies are adequately lower key; mellow and slow beats are chosen over what was once hyper and catchy. This more experimental progression of the genre allows the listener to pay closer attention to the instrumental techniques in play, as well to the stronger devotion of composing music that tells a story, lyrics that carry struggles of racism (Solange) or abuse (FKA Twigs). These singers are changing R&B in a way that is beyond light and fun but shallow responses to heartache or other personal problems. In contrast to her sister, pop and R&B diva Beyoncé, Solange stands on her own, paving the way for a more challenging outlook of what is perceived as rhythm and blues, thus, making her an ascending yet still understated Queen.