When Solange (Knowles) released her EP True in 2012, there seemed to be an incredible sense of symbolism about it. Not only did it mark a shift away from her Motown soul sound towards a darker, dancier vibe, but it also cemented Solange’s artistic ideals and ethics.
Having followed the rather explosive single Fuck The Industry (Signed Sincerely), which name-checked among others her own sister, Beyoncé, (“I’ll never be the picture perfect Beyoncé/Fly like J-Lo or singing Baby like ‘Shanti”) while talking about the pressures of working at the top end of the music industry, it was unsurprising that she parted ways with her label in favour of recording and releasing her music independently. True was meant to be her very first, full length, independent release.
Throughout her entire career, Solange has worked across major, corporate entities. Beginning in 2001 with perhaps the largest of them all: Disney, when she was the lead singer on the theme song for their animated series The Proud Family (backed by Destiny’s Child).
She also contributed her voice to an episode of the show when she took on the role of Chanel. Like her sister and Destiny’s Child, she was managed by her father Mathew Knowles during these early stages of her career. It wasn’t long before she was working on her debut album, Solo Star, putting to rest the rumours that Solange would be replacing Farrah Franklin in Destiny’s Child.
At just 14 years of age, Solo Star had Solange working with industry juggernauts The Neptunes, Timbaland, Jermaine Dupri and Linda Perry on an R&B album with pop, rock and reggae influences. While the album, eventually released in 2003 when Solange was 17, received mixed reviews, the fact that the young Knowles co-wrote and produced a number of the album’s tracks spoke volumes of her as a young artist.
As did her desire to draw from a number of influences – something which has been continually reflected throughout her career. Following the release of Solo Star though, Solange turned her focus to the screen, taking on a number of acting roles and eventually culminating in her appearance in the straight-to-DVD third instalment of the Bring It On series All Or Nothing. Arguably, she was the closest the film had to a saving grace.
It was following this run of film and television roles that she turned her attention back to songwriting, earning credits for writing the singles Get Me Bodied and Upgrade U. Her work as a songwriter continued to flourish as she wrote songs for Destiny’s Child as well as the group’s individual members Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams and her sister, earning credits for writing the aforementioned two singles on Beyonce’s album B Day.
Her work on Upgrade U won her an ASCAP Award in 2008. It was during that same year that she went to work on her second solo album, the ’60s and ’70s-influenced, Mark Ronson and CeeLo Green-produced Sol-Angel And The Hadley St. Dreams. The album, more mature and focused, dealt with a number of issues close to the singer’s heart including personal relationships, her divorce, the deaths of her friends and wider world issues.
In an announcement made on her blog, Solange suggested that there was to be a series of mixtapes released to coincide with the album. None of the mixtapes were released though, perhaps due to the fact that the very first one was tellingly titled I Can’t Get Clearance… and featured the aforementioned Fuck The Industry (Signed Sincerely), which was eventually released as a single in 2010.
It didn’t take long after the release of her second album for Solange to distance herself from the trappings of a major label, quickly parting ways with IGA Records and headed to Australia to begin work on her third album. During that time she began writing and recording with Midnight Juggernauts and Solange experienced emotional, mental and financial exhaustion which eventually resulted in panic attacks and a breakdown.
While the idea of an independent release felt authentically Solange, the pressures of having to put one together with little to no financial backing were no doubt immense. Instead, she eventually released True, an EP consisting of seven beautiful tracks. True is a dark-dance album, heavy with R&B influences and recorded across five cities, it was at once cohesive and eclectic, just as Solange is.
Releasing music independently, having artistic control and being able to oversee the direction of her projects entirely, while tiring, seems to be where Solange fits most comfortably. It made sense then that in 2013 she launched her own record label, Saint Records. The same year it was announced that Solange would be launching Saint Records, the label released its first compilation album featuring, among others, Jhené Aiko, Cassie, Jade De LaFleur, Kelela, Sampha and Solange herself.
Now, three years and a website revamp later, Solange has confirmed that her third full length album will finally reach the ears of her fans. Following the website makeover earlier this week, Solange offered a special edition lyric and photobook to the first 86 people to sign up to the new mailing list. The marketing tool of offering something exclusive and personal worked, with the mailing list having 15,000 people sign up in just the first day. A digital version of the book, which toys with text placement in a sort of visual poetry experimentation, is also available to view via the website.
When she performed her song Rise at a HBO-sponsored event last year, it was clear that Solange’s primary concerns artistically were issues of empowerment and activism, stemming from the racially-motivated killings of African Americans at the hands of police in Ferguson and Baltimore.
Described by Solange as a project on “identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing”, it seems that her new album A Seat At The Table will follow along similar lines. Among the notable names of contributors across the 21 tracks include Lil Wayne, Devonte Hynes, Kelly Rowland and Kelela.
Due out this Friday, the album sees Solange pull from her experiences in expressing and exploring identity among other issues. Along with the digital release come the visuals for Cranes In The Sky (directed by her husband Alan Ferguson).
Between True and Solange’s personal activism – from supporting and promoting black-owned banks to discussing institutionalised and everyday racism – there is little doubt that Solange’s upcoming third album, which will be released via Saint Records with distribution from Sony, will be nothing less than something truly wonderful and perhaps confronting to behold.
A Seat At The Table Tracklist:
- Weary (Additional Vocals blessed by Tweet)
- Interlude: The Glory Is In You
- Cranes In The Sky
- Interlude: Dad Was Mad
- Mad Ft. Lil Wayne (Additional Vocals blessed by Moses Sumney and Tweet)
- Don’t You Wait
- Interlude: Tina Taught Me
- Don’t Touch My Hair Ft. Sampha
- Interlude: This Moment (Additional vocals Devonte Hynes of Houston Texas and Lu ofCarolina)
- Where Do We Go (Additional vocals blessed by Sean Nicholas Savage)
- Interlude: For Us By Us
- F.U.B.U.” Ft. The Dream & BJ The Chicago Kid (Additional Vocals blessed by Tweet)
- Borderline (An Ode To Self Care)” Ft. Q-Tip
- Interlude: I Got So Much Magic, You Can Have It” Ft. Kelly Rowland & Nia Andrews
- Interlude: No Limits
- Don’t Wish Me Well
- Interlude: Pedestals
- Scales Ft. Kelela
- Closing: The Chosen Ones