Reflections on A Seat at The Table (Album Review)
“If you’re really going to look at poverty, you are going to have to start looking at greed…are these structures set up from greed? Does greed stimulate poverty? It’s your distribution of wealth. If you are not at the table, you become the meal.” – Linda Stringfellow in an interview with NPR
Linda Stringfellow is a community advocate in Cleveland, Mississippi. As a native of the Mississippi Delta, Stringfellow has made her life’s work addressing the social and economic inequities in Mississippi. Much like many other places in the Delta, the racial divide is geographic just as it is economic. Train tracks divide where blacks and whites live; impoverished and wealthy; stifled social mobility and upward mobility. In an interview with NPR, Linda Stringfellow poignantly states the pervading structures that reinforce inequality in the Delta, and more broadly across the United States as the following: “If you are not at the table, you become the meal.”
A Seat At The Table, Solange’s fourth album, takes us through an intimate conversation that is both introspective and communal. Filled with messages of hope and pride, as well as pain and grief, Solange moves us from the mountain top(s), to the valley(s) of black life in America. Wrapped in funky, soul stirring bass lines and punctually placed interlude conversations, Solange’s message – like Linda Stringfellow’s – pushes back against continually being the perpetual meal on the table. So, in an effort to no longer be the meal on the table, Solange opens a conversation, an open letter of resistance. Aptly put, the album begins with Rise, a charge to fall in your ways, and then to subsequently walk in your ways, so you can then wake up and run. To walk in one’s truth in the preservation of self. A message of self-pride.
Following in the traditions of Gospel and Soul music, Solange offers a spiritual message. A message of fear and faith (Weary and Cranes In The Sky). Opening to the sound a faint kick drum, arpeggiated bass chords, and a Rhodes piano, Weary, speaks of the emotional turmoil that’s felt as a result of racism – the feeling of being alone and afraid. In a feeling of desperation and hopelessness, Solange turns to a list of things that many of us have used to cope: drinking, reading, sleeping, shopping, crying, running. Cranes In The Sky serves as visual imagery of the methods by which she ran – and we all run to escape the emotional turmoil of racism. The cranes hanging in the sky that hover above us in creating a metal sky that block the sun.
Following an interlude from Matthew Knowles, Solange’s Father, telling his experience as being one of the first black children integrate in Alabama, the album changes gears. Moving from a place of fear and sadness, the album begins to take on a tone of anger and frustration. Mad, which features Lil Wayne and Tweet, is both an introspective and communal conversation. A conversation that validates the anger and frustration that is felt, yet not letting that anger weigh you down. Moving from Mad, Solange goes into the electro-funk of Don’t You Wait. Led by the pulse of an electric guitar, and drum pad, Don’t You Wait explores the duality of being black in America, having built the table, yet not having a place at the table. Having built the table, yet not having any control over the table.
Now I don’t want to bite the hand that’ll show me the other side, no/
But I didn’t want to build the land that has fed you your whole life, no/
Don’t you find it funny – Don’t You Wait
Following Interlude: Tina Taught Me, a discussion of black pride, black joy, and black culture, Solange ventures into Don’t Touch My Hair. Once a symbol that was shamed by popular culture, Solange uses black hair and its representations – a crown, glory, a symbol of ownership – as a mark of pride. Joined by Sampha on the hooks and accompanied by horns and tight hi-hat claps on the 2 and 4, you can’t help but to be locked into the groove. And in the most humble forms of a clapback, the song closes by repeatedly asking “What’d you say to me?”
You know this, here’s my shit/
Rode the ride, I gave it time/
But this here is mine – Don’t Touch My Hair
In this last movement of the album, Solange beautifully captures pain, emotional turmoil, and anger, turning them into declarations of ownership, and a message of hope for the future. F.U.B.U. (For Us By Us), inspired by the popular Black-owned clothing line, plays like an anthem for black ownership, black pride, and black hope. A message to those that critique black culture, stating “Don’t feel bad you can’t sing along, just be glad you got the whole wide world…” While there is a remarkable sense of resilience that we, as black people, display, there are also times where we have to unplug. Turn off the gruesome videos of police killings, turn off the court trials, foolish talking head “news coverage”, all in an effort to preserve self; a message Solange conveys in the infectious groove of Borderline (An Ode To Self-Care) featuring Q-Tip. Protect your magic. Seamlessly transitioning from Borderline, Junie – an upbeat dance song reminiscent of some of Stevie Wonder’s finest synth bass lines – brings to mind memories of [black] joy at a summer cookout, a gathering with family and friends, and times of celebration.
All my niggas in the whole wide world/
Made this song to make it y’alls turn/
for us, this shit is for us/
Don’t try to come for us – F.U.B.U.
A Seat at The Table is a declaration of pride, ownership, and hope; an open letter of resistance. Beginning in a place of fear and isolation, Solange beautifully moves through a range of emotions, treating each emotion with care. A Seat at The Table is anything but a request to merely sit at the table; rather it is a message of resilience and a message of ownership of the table.