Announced on the last day of Black History Month, Solange Knowles’ fourth studio album, When I Get Home, surprise released at midnight as a digital drop and experimental short film. A method originally pioneered by her sister, mega-superstar Beyoncé, many other artists have since adopted the technique of the ‘surprise drop,’ eschewing the popular single. But Solange elevates it to high art with Home, a thought-provoking concept album that’s as much video installation and interactive performance piece as music.
It was accompanied by a reintroduction of early 2000’s Black social network ‘Black Planet,’ where you can sign up for an account, create a profile, and even watch a 24-hour live stream showcasing interviews and places Solange grew up in and finds meaningful in Houston, Texas. Similar to how we are viewing places important to Solange’s childhood in the present-day when we watch the live stream, the album, set and recorded in Houston, listens like a futuristic archive of her memories of growing up. If that sounds abstract, it’s because it is — when Solange won her first Grammy, for “Cranes In The Sky” off 2016’s critically acclaimed A Seat At The Table, she expressed the importance of Black women creating avant-garde art. She demonstrates that purpose here.
There is virtually no album structure on Home, as two-minute ‘songs’ bleed into minute-and-a-half ‘interludes,’ interspersed with clips of recorded audio from Solange and her friends as well as cribbed from online videos and poetry. Verses, chords and tones all repeat and overlap, along with occasional static that resembles the sound of an old television changing stations. Sprinkled liberally through the album in the form of breaks and hooks is the inclusion of audio from her life and time recording the album in Houston, making it a piece where you hear the finished work and the process of making it all at once. The gun-clicks of gangsta rap are utilized alongside gospel church organs, jazz pianos, and Minneapolis funk guitars, an example of how the genres present on Home are ever shifting. Jazz, however, is by far the most prominent stylistic choice. This could easily be considered an experimental jazz album with undertones of rap, r&b, funk, gospel, country and screw (a Houston-specific sub-genre of rap where songs are slowed down).
Many of the tracks push what can be done in terms of song structure, and question how far the concept of a ‘song’ can be deconstructed. Can it be pushed until the cumulative pieces, linked by interludes and audio that feed directly into one-another, are just one long melody? Home boasts an impressive 19-song tracklist, but clocks in at a succinct 39 minutes. Beginnings and endings are experimented with so that you think you’re listening to one song, only to find it has shifted into another. Lyrics are often repeated, and during a live-streamed presentation on Black Planet, Solange discussed the importance of such repetition, and how something you say to yourself grows stronger in power each time. When she trills on the opener, “I grew up a little girl with dreams… dreams… dreams… dreams… I saw things I imagined,” she convinces us she really did. When she repeatedly chants, “Black skin, Black braids, Black waves, Black days… These are Black-owned things… Black faith still can’t be washed away… Not even in that Florida water,” on “Almeda” — named after a neighborhood in Houston — it is reminiscent of a prayer. The lyrics across the board on Home are sparse, which only seems to magnify their gravity when repeated. Their subject matter covers various aspects of Solange’s Black American experience in Houston, from the mundane to the divine.
“Almeda” itself is a trap-meets-screw-meets-jazz banger produced by Panda Bear, of the alternative pop group Animal Collective; another standout is the crooning ‘Jerrod,’ which has some truly beautiful melodies and vocal arrangements reminiscent of Brandy on her excellent “Full Moon.” (Remember that time Solange told white male indie writers they didn’t know shit about Brandy’s deep cuts?) When “Jerrod” segues into “Binz,” the two songs momentarily share the same baseline. And on the percussion-heavy “Binz,” super-producer The-Dream, from Atlanta, lends vocals that float effortlessly over the beat while Solange scat sings in the background.
Fellow ATL-ien Gucci Mane has what can only be described as a rap/spoken word duet with her on “My Skin My Logo,” which is a title that works on two levels: first in that the visibly Black skin of a Black person is, indeed, their logo, brand, and descriptor. It will impact every facet of how they are seen by the world. And second in that the influential trap rapper Gucci Mane, who adopted the designer moniker in the early 2000s as a rap name, is also tattooed in Gucci’s distinct double Gs, making his skin literally his logo. . .
To read the rest of this review, go to Riot Material magazine: https://www.riotmaterial.com/solange-knowles-when-i-get-home/