BY JAHIYA CLARK ’20
Singer-songwriter Solange Knowles released her fourth studio album, “When I Get Home,” and accompanying 33-minute video, “A Texas Film,” on March 1. From black cowboys to afrofuturistic visions of her hometown of Houston, Solange constructs her album in praise of black Southern life. She uses sounds from today’s mainstream music that are easy to sing and dance along to, while her style and lyricism create something completely new. Complex Magazine calls Solange’s primarily self-produced and directed creation an “interdisciplinary performance art film.” Listeners hear a range of vocal and production features on the 19 tracks of “When I Get Home,” including the voices of Tyler the Creator, Pharrell, Earl Sweatshirt and more, adding an array of styles from contemporary influential black artists to the album.
“When I Get Home” is an album that should be played through in order, allowing it to tell a story about where Solange came from and where she’s going. She pays homage to her influences of home and family while telling stories that haven’t been traditionally told about black people in the South. In the album, Solange references specific nostalgic places in her hometown, from the titles of the songs to the neighborhoods shown in the film. Promoting her new album at an event in Houston, Solange explained that “obviously with ‘A Seat at the Table’ [her third studio album] I had so much to say. With this album I had so much to feel. Words would have been reductive to what I needed to feel and express. It’s in the sonics for me.” While on tour for “A Seat at the Table,” Solange’s health deteriorated and, at the same time, Houston was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. The tragedies she experienced during that time inspired this album as a form of healing, for herself and her city. She described the accompanying film as “an exploration of origin, asking the question, ‘how much of ourselves do we bring with us versus leave behind in our evolution?’”
The album is punctuated by interludes and intermissions that move it through Solange’s tribute to Houston and reference key moments in her life. The segues feature culturally significant clips, including one of sisters Phylicia Rashad (“Creed”) and Debbie Allen (“A Different World”) reciting a poem written by their mother on the interlude track “S McGregor.” Another interlude includes an iconic clip of Southern rap artists Princess and Diamond from Crime Mob (“Can I Hold the Mic”), and others include clips from YouTube on spiritual healing and Vagina Power (“Nothing Without Intention” and “We Deal With the Freak’n”). These interludes help hone the message Solange conveys to her audience about the importance of female artists, African spirituality and Southern life.
More or less, Solange followed a very specific mainstream aesthetic with “When I get Home,” yet with her trademark atypical style and flow beat. The Texan “Chopped and Screwed” sound that she employs in her album is heard through the layering of jazz, electronic beats and R&B, especially in “Almeda.” The film and album is animated, black and white, glittery and hypnotic. It’s filled with sounds, whispers, repeated lines and sporadic lyrics with poignant visuals.
“When I Get Home” is a long anticipated album that exceeds the expectations of current fans and attracts new one to Solange’s signature mesh of neosoul, trap and funk. This album rightly deserves Pitchfork’s rating of 8.4. It is not an entirely new sound for Solange, but a new dimension that shows the reality and potential of her craft.