In 2003, when she was 15 years old, Solange released her solo debut, Solo Star, a teen pop collection that failed to take off. Two years later, she married her childhood sweetheart, Daniel Smith. The two met at a party when Solange was 13 and had been an on-again-off-again item ever since. Shortly after tying the knot, Solange’s husband transferred to the University of Idaho to finish college, and the couple moved to the boondocks with their newborn son, Juelz. Lonely and isolated, Solange discovered a state-of-the-art recording studio at nearby Washington State University, where she began writing her second album, the retro-tinged Sol Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams. During that time, she also penned two hits for her sister, “Upgrade U” and “Get Me Bodied.”
She split with the label and later that year leaked a song called “F*ck the Industry (Signed Sincerely).”
Then came what Solange calls her “Houston days.” At 20, she moved back home after splitting with her husband and “wil’ed out for a little while,” she says, finally breaking free from the confines of her teenage years. “Houston’s hip-hop scene was in the forefront,” Solange recalls. “I remember going to all of these shows: Paul Wall, Bun B, Mike Jones, Slim Thug. I enjoyed the freedom and the newness of experiencing people and a world that I had not had much access to.” After that first taste of liberation, Solange was hooked. Upon the release of Sol Angel in 2008, she reached a breaking point with her label, Interscope-Geffen-A&M.
“I wanted to make all of the creative artistic decisions but I wasn’t the one paying for it. And they didn’t fully trust me to make them,” she says. “Every decision was a battle. It was exhausting. I wanted to be in a position where not only was the music fully my body of work, but everything thereafter was also my body of work. I knew that meant I had to leave and that I had to struggle.” She split with the label and later that year leaked a song called “Fuck the Industry (Signed Sincerely).”
“There’s a difference between being an artist and being a performer,” says Solange’s friend Janelle Monáe. She met Solange at the BET Awards and later introduced her to Ferguson in the editing room while he was cutting Monáe’s “Many Moons” video. “We both love telling the truth from our own mouths and being in control of what we do,” Monáe says. “That’s an artist’s job—paint the painting that you’re selling.”
'I have a mother who never took no for an answer when it came to her creative pursuits,' Solange says. 'She started a hair salon in her spare bedroom and four years later had 30 employees.'
Being indie has taken its toll, but Solange seems to embrace the challenge. She explains how she pooled her own frequent-flier miles with her mom’s to fly a crew to Cape Town, South Africa, to shoot the “Losing You” video. “It’s an independent label, so with that creative independence comes some financial independence,” she says, laughing. “I had to get very creative with how I was gonna pull it all together. Having an intimate team makes you much more resourceful. It comes out the way you want it to, and there’s not a committee of thinkers and observers.”
Solange prefers to handpick her fellow voyagers. In the summer of 2009, she and the Brooklyn rock band Grizzly Bear connected via Twitter and planned to meet in person in Osaka, Japan, during the Summer Sonic Festival, where they were both performing. They soon became fast friends. Solange later brought Beyoncé and Jay-Z to a Grizzly Bear show at McCarren Park in Williamsburg. “Regardless of her sister or her family,” says Ed Droste, the band’s lead singer, “it’s apparent that her identity is not a response to trying to step away from someone else’s fame. It’s genuinely her. She follows her visions as they come.”
“I have a mother who never took no for an answer when it came to her creative pursuits,” Solange says. “She started a hair salon in her spare bedroom and four years later had 30 employees. I have a father who was the first black student at his junior high and high school and had to do a lot to get to that point. So it’s really in my bloodline when it comes to having an idea and making it happen.”