By Jasmine Grant
Nina Simone once posed the question, “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?” It’s strange to think that with Black Americans being brutalized by the police at such an alarming rate, only a handful of Black artists are using their music as an outlet for change. Who better than Beyoncé and Solange Knowles to carry the torch from the greats like Nina Simone and Mavis Staples and use Black beauty, Black rights and most importantly, Black survival as the basis for their art.
The theme of Solange’s highly-praised third studio album A Seat At The Table, executive produced by Solange and Raphael Saadiq, bears striking resemblances to Lemonade – the visually-out-of-this world and extremely woke album/film released by big sister Beyoncé earlier this year. Comparisons between the Knowles sisters don’t happen often. They’re in two completely different lanes in everything from their image, musical styles and social media presence (Solange is very transparent on social media while Bey likes to maintain her mystery). But one common thread we see is the pride they display in their Blackness. “It shouldn’t be a surprise that two people who grew up in the same household with the same parents who are very, very aware – just like everyone else is – of all the inequalities and the pain and the suffering of our people right now, would create art that reflects that,” Solange told The Fader the comparisons between their projects.
In Beyoncé’s visual project Lemonade, she acts as the Black woman’s mirror, reflecting familiar narratives like abandonment, the absence of the Black father figure, sacrifice, disappointment, self-worth and family curses begging to be broken. Songs like “Formation,” “Hold Up”, and “Sandcastles” take us on a journey through the cycle of denial, anger and eventually, healing. Solange layers onto this with her 21-track album that looks outward. She describes it as a “confessional autobiography and meditation on being Black in America.” Here, we see Solange create a forum for the anger that bubbles over when Black people suffer from existing in White spaces. A “For Us By Us” place of refuge with which to tell ourselves…we have a right to be angry. And for once, we are human.
The debate that often keeps Black people divided is: who should be blamed for suffering of Black people in America? One side says we should be uplifting ourselves and break the cycles in our community and households which keep us stagnant. The other says we should hold White America and the justice system responsible for decades of violence and injustice. Beyoncé and Solange, ironically, tackle both sides – providing a blue print on how we must heal ourselves from within and protect our beauty and pride against outside forces that devalue Black lives.
That struggle to redefine the Black experience in America is at the core of the unrest bubbling up across the nation. The engine for a second Civil Rights movement is revved up and roaring. A new generation of freedom fighters are in the driver’s seat and their pulling up to a protest near your with music from the Knowles sisters booming out the car speakers. You’re going to hear the message from these powerful Black voices one way or another.
Master P said it best on the “Pedestals” interlude: “Black kids have to figure [it] out—we don’t have a rehab to go to. You gotta rehab yourself.” Maybe the seats at the table Solange imagines are 100% occupied by Black bodies coming together for healing and a sense of belonging. It’s amazing to think that 20 years from now, these two amazing bodies of work might be our generations’ version of Pastel Blues: a reflection of the history, pain, struggles, ingenuity and beauty that makes being Black so very dope.