On September 30, 2016, Solange Knowles debuted her third studio album, A Seat At The Table. It flows in your ear like honey, filled with fluttering tones and empathic beats. The 21-track album often used soft melodic sounds, reminiscent of old gospel hymns. Meanwhile, Knowles tackles tough topics like racism, police brutality, and mental health — most importantly, she paints a vibrant portrait of Black womanhood. The project was a follow-up to 2008’s Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, which features a Motown-inspired pop sound. In her 80s-inspired True EP, released in 2012, the Houston native again shows off her ever-evolving style.
However, A Seat At The Table offers a departure from her previous works. The project reflects how Black women grapple with life’s ebbs and flows, giving space for rage and empowerment. She also took the time to showcase her peers and industry heavyweights like singer-songwriter Raphael Saddiq, Q-Tip, The Dream, Kelly Rowland, and Lil Wayne, among others. While creating the album, Solange explored grief, depression, and, most importantly, a path to healing and independence.
A Seat At The Table provides an opportunity for Black women to explore not only our pain but the joy in life as well. Despite being the younger sister to global sensation Beyoncé, the project allows the singer to emerge from the shadow cast upon her. The album highlights the full spectrum of Blackness – love, pain, and beauty – a recurring theme in her previous albums. She also bravely confronts her concerns about world ills with lyrics like “I’m weary of the ways of the world.”
Inspired by her southern roots, she traveled to New Iberia, New Orleans, to create the album. “So, New Iberia is where my maternal grandparents are from. And they built their home there, their family life there, they were really grounded there. And there was a series of really, really awful events, to where essentially, in the middle of the night, they got pushed out of town,” she told NPR in a November 2016 interview. She says it “feels very, very Southern” because many aspects of the project are “drawn so much from Louisiana culture.”
Solange added: “I think that there was a certain sense of triumph and glory and radiance and also regality that I wanted to convey with the horn sounds. And so much of that comes from me living in New Orleans and Louisiana and just brass bands and those brass sounds being sort of just the backdrop of the city.” Aside from that, Solange shared stories from her parents as well as putting on display Master P’s skills as a narrator. “I think he tells that through the lens very much so as a New Orleans self-made black man from the South. And I think overall the album feels very, very Southern in my storytelling, I feel,” she says.
Through her personal story, she also explored the treatment of Black people around the world. In the album’s opening track, “Rise,” Solange takes a moment to offer a message of empowerment: you can always rise again, like the sun, and never lose yourself along the way. “Fall in your ways, so you can crumble. “Fall in your ways, so that you can sleep at night, she sings. “Fall in your ways, so you can wake up and rise.” The 37-year-old debuted the song in March 2015 during an HBO-sponsored event, tying it to the tragic deaths of Micheal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland.
Songs like this explain why the album hit a nerve with fans. Police brutality and state violence contribute to the disproportionate amount of Black and brown people in prison. As a result, the dehumanization of Black people has also taken place. Some of A Seat At The Table‘s best moments are tracks like “Mad,” where Solange uses her soulfulness and rage to show how women, mainly Black women, aren’t allowed access to anger. In “F.U.B.U.(For Us, By Us),” inspired by the iconic Black-owned 90s clothing brand, she examines how even though Black people, especially Black women, contributed significantly to popular culture, she explores how we are often overlooked.
At the end of the album, in the interlude “Closing: The Chosen Ones,” the singer allows Master P to highlight the resiliency of Black people throughout history. “Now, we come here as slaves, but we going out as royalty and able to show that we are truly the chosen ones,” the rapper and mogul says. This album showcases the multi-hypenate’s artistic abilities and offers a creative way to discuss complex issues. It’s essentially a playlist for the experiences Black women face daily while at the intersection of racism and sexism. Seven years later, Solange’s gift for storytelling still shines through in A Seat At The Table as she echoes all the pains and joys experienced by Black women.