For some reason, it seems as though Solange will eternally live in her older sister Beyoncé’s shadow. Perhaps, it’s her lack of a continued career in the spotlight or her contemporary R&B genre blending of soul, electronica, and funk. But the mononymous sisters couldn’t be more sonically different.
While Beyonce’s Lemonade and Solange’s A Seat at the Table both explored rich themes of black female empowerment, sexual liberation, and political participation, Beyonce took more of an experimental approach, incorporating various genres from hip-hop to country, while Solange continued in her R&B tradition. Both albums realized commercial success and received prestigious accolades from the Recording Academy. However, Solange still seemed to be on the sidelines despite winning her first Grammy for Best R&B Performance for the lead single ‘Cranes in the Sky’ and reaching number-one on the Billboard 200, both unquestionably laudable feats.
Despite the tendency to pit both artists against each other as if they both cannot find success in the industry, it’s time to recognize each for her artistic talent, individual nature, and intellectual curiosities. In hearing Solange’s 2019 follow up album When I Get Home, a beautiful homage to her hometown of Houston, Texas, I think it’s clear that Solange deserves credit where credit is due.
If there’s one word that describes the album in its entirety – it’s smooth. Like unbelievably smooth.When I Get Home has firm foundations in jazz but also weaves in elements of psychedelic soul, hip-hop, funk and, of course, R&B. Lyrically, Solange continues to explore black solidarity and strives to create space for black artists.
“I can’t be a singular expression of myself, there’s too many parts, too many spaces, too many manifestations…”Solange Knowles from ‘Can I Hold the Mic (interlude)’
The album opens with the dreamy ‘I Saw Things I Imagined,’ in which Solange repeats the title to prepare listeners for a journey back to her influential beginnings. The following track, ‘Down With the Clique,’ uses a similar approach to continue to establish a sense of place, offering gratitude for Houston and alluding to a gentle reminder to never forget one’s roots. Oftentimes, repetition seems daunting but Solange makes each phrase linger and produce new meaning. At first, ‘Down With the Clique’ seems to reference rebellious, uninhibited teenage years but the second verse clarifies that her hometown offered her a place to grow. While she may have moved on physically, Houston remains with her spiritually.
Throughout the rest of the album, Solange reaches back to what appears to be visions of her youth. ‘Way to the Show‘ references throwback candy painted cars. ‘Stay Flo’ depicts a rowdy get-together of presumably black Houstonians partying. ‘Almeda‘ serves to remind black people of their unique features such as black braids, black waves, and black skin. ‘Binz‘ pictures big spending in spite of knowing poverty-stricken conditions well.
The final track,’I Am A Witness’ takes the album from the past to the present and delivers a beautiful message of possibility. In one interpretation, Solange stands a successful product of Houston and provides evidence of what being true to one’s roots can do. In another reading, she extends herself to a higher power to find continued success. As always, she leads with love, truth, and respect.
When I Get Home is available on various streaming platforms. The extended director’s cut of the When I Get Home visual album can be watched here.