Solange's ‘A Seat at the Table’ Is the Black Empowerment Album We Needed

Solange just dropped what feels like the smartest, most vital album of the year.

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Complex Original

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In creating her latest album, A Seat at the Table, Solange Knowles set a simple, but ambitious goal. Solange was asked to describe A Seat at the Table (out today), in a fan Q&A on Twitter. Her last release, 2012’s True EP, was intended to “provoke joy” and “to challenge what we know as Pop,” but with this new album Solange intended to “provoke healing” and lead the listener on a “journey of self-empowerment.”

After just one day, it’s clear that she succeeded. A Seat at the Table is an incredible album.

Opener “Rise” directs the audience to “fall in your ways so you can’t crumble,” and then makes good on its own command. ASATT is an insider’s conversation in the form of a gorgeously sung, perfectly sequenced, and well produced album, an LP made in the spirit of Aretha Franklin’s Young, Gifted and Black.

ASATT’s lyrics often read like the Twitter timeline of a smart Black person. There’s so much being said here that’s voiced, day in and day out, by anyone who is Black, aware, and trying to maintain sanity and a positive sense of self in a society that constantly tries to strip us of both. If the visual component of Beyoncé’s LEMONADE is a celebration of Black womanhood, ASATT is an album addressing the Black community at large. ASATT speaks to the angst and frustration shared by all of us—and doesn’t shy away from the root of the struggle.

This album was made to heal and encourage Black people, not explain to white people why Black people need healing and encouragement.

For the first time, it looks like we’ll have both Knowles sisters with albums worthy of year-end top ten lists. LEMONADE and ASATT complement each other, a one-two punch from the most powerful family in music today. We deserve our Michael and Janet and, in 2016, Beyoncé and Solange have ascended to the thrones.

A third voice guides the album. Master P recounts the tale of his New Orleans empire, No Limit Records, across many of the interludes on ASATT. In particular, his recollection of a fight with his brother over an offer of $1 million from a white executive for his label on “For Us By Us” stands out. Master P explains he rejected the money because he knew he was worth much more than that.

Percy Miller remains an icon to many because of what he accomplished with No Limit and beyond (Foot Locker stores, gas stations, real estate, and a sports management company)—all while maintaining ownership and without pursuing a mainstream audience. He made music for his people, and now there are southern Black artists like Solange to follow his lead, as well as document the oral history of one of the most storied Black entrepreneurial icons.

ASATT chronicles many facets of the Black experience in its interludes alone. As Master P puts it, "Black kids have to figure [it] out—we don't have a rehab to go to. You gotta rehab yourself." Her father, Mathew Knowles, describes the anger created by segregation and his experience as one of the first young students to deal with integration efforts in the South on “Dad Was Mad.” Her mother and Queen of Instagram, Tina Knowles, elegantly explains why celebrating Blackness and Black culture is not anti-white. White fragility often interrupts Black affirmation. But, just like her mama, Solange won’t coddle white feelings.

On “Mad,” Solange and Lil’ Wayne articulate Black folks’ righteous indignation. Solange explores it further, and more pointedly, on “Don’t Touch My Hair.” And again on “Junie.” On “F.U.B.U.,” Solange takes a moment to address her white listeners directly: “Don’t feel bad you can’t sing along/Just be glad you got the whole wild world.” My heathen ass wanted to shout.

The phrase “unapologetically Black” has often been used to explain things stereotypically associated with Blackness (dancing, eating chicken, etc.). Its primary concern still tends to be how white people view us. I’m tired of that. The term is better for something like ASATT, because on this album, Solange centers Black people, Black feelings, and Black culture. She addresses racism and the annoyances of whiteness, but that’s never the focus, nor the lens through which she views herself or her people. This album was made to heal and encourage Black people, not explain to white people why Black people need healing and encouragement.

When the ability to breathe air in this country feels like a privilege, it’s hard not to get emotional when someone creates a piece of art that speaks truthfully to our harsh reality. On “F.U.B.U.,” Solange sings about hoping she is making her son proud. I can certainly say I'm proud. And grateful.

Thank you, Solange, for making this shit for us.

We needed it.

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