Solange Knowles’ push to experiment and sidestep the structure of R&B has always been a part of her motive, ever since her timid yet boisterous stance on 2003’s Solo Star. While in the early part of the 2000s she remained relatively low-key, overshadowed by the sheer success of her sister, this decade she has proved to be a force to be reckoned with in the pop and R&B world, drifting heavily into the world of experimental and utilizing the unique talent of so many producers while simultaneously giving them a platform via her determined and alluring voice.
Solange doesn’t go the typical neo-soul route of overt jazz and displays of talent the way artists such as Badu and the late Roy Hargrove on her new album, When I Get Home, but instead focuses on feel, emotion, and context. More importantly, Solange is aware of the softer current of sound that is being presented in the spectrum of black music makers. From Pierre Bourne’s style of minimal trap to Dean Blunt’s moody hypnagogic pop, and the ever-growing scene of New York experimental jazz and rap musicians, she throws it all on this album, taking major cues from her last album and adding them up into a fresher style.
The list of producers is a mosaic of talent, from the virtuosic French composer Chassol to the off-kilter jazz-hop stylings of New York City’s Standing on the Corner, Solange picks her team wisely, filling it with poignant choices that are there to support the music and not flash a title. The exception being the obvious rap features such as Carti and Gucci, which are sparsely peppered throughout the album, asserting that this is indeed a black person’s album and not some slick crossover album by some indie goddess. Solange has a unique talent for taking these voices and recontextualizing them around a simpler, muted instrumental.
The song “Time (Is)” is a climactic saturation of the feel of this album. Spacious, simple, groovy, and placed with whispers of some familiar voices, all centered around a barely audible ProTools click track. The tracklist, filled with interludes, rounds out the album and grooves it like nothing else. It floats along, staying consistent and flowing tracks into one another with some Miseducation-style takes. They don’t detract from the album in the way that typical interludes do, and serve as more tasteful additions, standing their ground as solid tracks. The subject matter of the songs themselves retains their familiar themes of blackness, beauty, love, and religion. Solange wavers between a half-defeated delivery and an empowered, carefree manner, as seen on the dynamic shift between “Jerrod” and “Binz.”
2016’s A Seat At the Table raised more than a few eyebrows and brought Solange a mass of respect in the pop underground alongside mainstays such as Frank Ocean and D’angelo. This album is no different, and a deeper step into the personality and unique style that Solange has built for herself. However, it was her 2012 collaboration with Dev Hynes on True that pushed her tenderly into the world of more independent, artistic experimentation. She had parted ways with major labels and not looked back, and the R&B world has been better for it.
Listen to When I Get Home below.