It’s hard to make your mark on an industry so undeniably dominated by your relative. Just ask 3T, the boyish trio consisting of Michael Jackson’s nephews, or Kylie’s younger sister Dannii. Even Daniel Bedingfield, who came to the fore years before little sister Natasha, saw his star outshined when she came trotting out to the sound of delicious noughties pop hits like These Words and Unwritten.
Solange Knowles, younger sibling of Beyonce, has shoehorned a lot into her young life: she soundtracked a Disney Channel series (The Proud Family), acted in the direct-to-video cheerleading film Bring It On: All or Nothing, co-founded fashion label House of Dereon and has released three albums dabbling in genres from the retro Motown-inspired to ultra-modern neo soul.
She hasn’t produced a pop banger or anthem for the masses, though – although arguably should have. 2013’s Losing You was a seminal moment. Slick and stylish, the song heralded a new, mature direction for Solange. She famously performed the track at Coachella where she was joined for an impromptu dance-off with her big sis. The song came accompanied with a stunning music video which saw her traipsing around Jamaica in a variety of high-fashion ensembles and was part of a modern, neo-soul movement that also showcased the talents of Miguel and Frank Ocean.
Does new long player, A Seat at the Table, feature her long-awaited smash hit? No – nor does it attempt to. But it does have a lot to say. Covering issues as serious, and more relevant than ever, as feminism, racism and most prominently the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Solange has a strong political voice. It features interludes from US rapper Master P, as well Solange’s mother, Tina, who delivers an empowering statement on being proud to be black. Such interludes make the album feel like more of a conversation with melodies, than a record. It should be listened to as a whole piece, rather than track-by-track, as it is thematically unified. Chronicling the modern struggles facing black women, it not only touches on the recent tragedies of police brutality against the black community, but also the history of violence directed towards Knowles’ ancestors.
Opener Rise is a striking jazz number that shows the beauty of her voice, and Don’t Touch My Hair specifically confronts the way black women are devalued in society, whilst Cranes in the Sky unashamedly documents her self-coping mechanisms like drinking and sex:
“I tried to keep myself busy/ I ran around in circles/Think I made myself dizzy/I slept it away, I sexed it away”
Where Do We Go and Weary are also favourites of mine. More up-tempo than the others, the latter features lyrics about really trying to find your place and make a mark on the world. Scales is the highlight; a duet with Kelela, it is a critique on those who hold superficial things in higher regard than spirituality:
“And that armor in your mouth/You’re gonna shine/ Your wrist talking/ Boy, it’s only time”
The thing that makes the album so special is how it interlinks throughout. The aforementioned interludes really do paint a beautifully poignant portrait. It is spiritual, sensual, mature and artistically coherent, and demands those listening to be confident and true to themselves. There is little more a modern R&B album should be.
She’s had more column inches in recent years for her elevator antics, where she (literally) laid into brother-in-law Jay-Z at the Met Gala in 2014 and the subsequent photos that followed appearing to show them playing happy hip hop families again.
But it’s time we listened to the music. And not only that, it’s about damn time Solange received the high praise from the masses said music warrants. Ignoring her contemporaries’ penchant for sex, bottle poppin’ and being ‘drunk in love’, she could be one of the most relevant pop stars singing today. Take your seat, Ms Knowles – you’ve earned it.
A Seat at the Table is out now.
Watch the video for Don’t Touch My Hair below:
Watch the singer’s songwriting process and the sessions that shaped her new album below: