Before I get to the reasons why Solange’s new creative effort, A Seat at the Table, is absolutely mediocre (at best), I have an important question that may very well prove my point for me: Who is still even listening to that album? I know the album dropped a few weeks ago and made it all the way to the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart. So, I decided to save my negative opinions on it and let everyone relish in Solange’s supposed “Black girl magic”, because there was a ton of negativity already circulating; racism, police brutality, Donald Trump and The Birth of a Nation opened in theatres last weekend (there is good news, though: It did poorly). Everyone needed a pick me upper, even if that meant taking a pill called delusion. But time has come for us to be honest now. Black folks, y’all know Solange album just ain’t that hot.
The album is a meditation on Blackness and Black womanhood in contemporary America. In “Don’t Touch My Hair,” Solange tells the proverbial curious, handsy White woman (who most Black women have probably encountered) that her hair is off bounds. Don’t touch my hair/When it’s the feelings I wear/Don’t touch my soul / When it’s the rhythm I know/Don’t touch my crown/They say the vision I’ve found / Don’t touch what’s there / When it’s the feelings I wear,” she sings on the opening verse of the track. In F.U.B.U, the singer warns listeners that sometimes Black art is simply for Black people. The album even includes intimate conversations with Solange’s mother and father on race.
The themes of the album are both excruciatingly timely and necessary. In this historical moment as headlines and video-recorded images of Black men and children murdered by police litter America’s daily and nightly news and racial tensions have peaked, it is important that artists create music that reflects the state of the society. For Black people, things currently seem abysmal. The continued fight for recognition, equality and basic human dignity continues. And we are tired and weary. I get that the music intends to reflect these sentiments.
However, it is important that we separate the vocals from the overall message and themes of the album. Musical art is not merely about intention, it is also about how it impacts the listener. While I appreciate the instrumental music fully, vocally, it is difficult to call this album anything short of a struggle. And struggle vocals are the furthest things from #BlackGirlMagic. Matter of fact, it is the antithesis of it. Black female vocalists have historically always had the most robust and awe-inspiring voices. Especially those that fall within the genres in which Solange’s album does.
Quite frankly, I cannot think of a single female Neo-Soul, Psychedelic Soul, Funk or R&B singer with a voice as uninspiring; a vocal range as limited as Solange’s. After all, other singers whose music fall into this genre include greats like Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Sade, Chaka Khan, Mariah Carey, Etta James, Betty Davis, Lynn Collins, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill, just to name a few. This album has reached critical acclaim merely because there currently is no competition for Solange. So, yeah, relative to its time, it is great. It is, after all, hard to even think of a three R&B songs or artists currently playing on the radio. However, relative to its genre(s), vocally, this music simply does not hit the mark. If this album came out back in the 80’s or 90’s, it would be laughed right out of town.
This must be noted, not to hate on Solange, but because, as Black people, we are charged with maintaining the integrity of Black cultural property. Appropriation and capitalism kills genres– we have witnessed that first-hand time and time again. And we play a role in that death whenever we allow subpar music to parade as a fantastic work of Black art. That is what we are currently witnessing with the popularity of “hip-hop” artists like Uzi Verte, Lil Yachty and many other mediocre Millennials destroying the genre (check out this piece I wrote for the full list) with the aid of the millions who like, share, listen to and are fans their music. Including those who are cultural tastemakers, who are supposed to be more critical like Ebro from Hot 97, who referred to Uzi Verte’s elementary freestyle as “nice.”
Even more problematically, Solange’s creative effort depends so heavily on Blackness that it starts to feel opportunistic. Like the Presidential debates, it is riddled with expected talking points: Don’t touch a Black woman’s hair. An ode to self-care. Appropriation. Black tiredness and being weary. Black rightful anger. That some things are for us made by us. The album is an affirmation of Millennial’s current “Black experience” that feels almost far too intentional. In this way, the art only affirms, offering little to no new insights or interesting perspectives. It fails to push any boundaries or drive the conversations about race and Blackness in America further. It fails to be iconoclastic, revolutionary or even, well, interesting.
Whether or not anyone agrees with my feelings about this album, one thing certainly will demonstrate whether or not it rightfully earned critical acclaim: its longevity. I asked if anyone was still listening to Solange’s album in the beginning of this piece, mostly to be tongue-in-cheek and throw a little shade, but now I think a bigger, more important question is in order: Who will be listening to Solange’s Seat at a Table in ten years? Will her music really withstand the test of time? As the music from other critically acclaimed Black female artists of the genres has?
I doubt. And that will speak testament to the fact that this album was not at all worthy of the hype it received.