“It’s been a hell of a journey,” Solange told the crowd of fans and invited guests at the private listening party for her fourth full-length studio album, A Seat at the Table (via Saint Heron/Columbia Records), at the Underground Museum in Los Angeles, Calif. on Thursday night (Sept, 29). Founded by painter Noah Davis, the creative space is frequently used to house visiting exhibits, and has also hosted previous gatherings by Black Lives Matter supporters, a fitting location for the occasion. (Earlier this week, Solange invited 86 fans to grab a seat at the table and sent out personal invites in the form of a hardcover book filled with poetry, photos and lyrics, which can be viewed online here.)
Guests took in the current exhibit on display, “Non Fiction,” featuring work by artists like Kara Walker, Deana Lawson, and Robert Gober. Tina Lawson, mother to both Solange and Beyonce, then delivered an eloquent introduction before letting the sounds of the album fill the room. Spanning 21 tracks including eight interludes, the project finds Solange detailing the experience of being Black in America. Features on the album include Kelly Rowland, The-Dream, Tweet, Lil Wayne and BJ The Chicago Kid, among others. The album was also narrated by No Limit Records CEO Master P, who discussed his journey making it in the industry and not forgetting his worth.
“To be able to make Forbes and come from the projects, Top 40 Under 40, which they said couldn’t be done…” he rhapsodized on on “Interlude: For Us By Us.” “Had 20 records on the top of Billboard at one time — for an independent company, a Black-owned company…” He also offered, “If you don’t understand my record, you don’t understand me, so this is not for you.” Solange also saluted Master P for “never selling his shit,” and being a self-made boss.
In the time since Solange began working on A Seat at the Table in 2013, racial injustice and killings of unarmed Black people at the hands of police have turned names of victims into hashtags. In a conversation with her mother and writer Judnick Mayard, Solange said she was compelled to make music to speak out against inequality: “I knew that I needed to create this album to get rid [of] and work through the anguish and the grief that I was constantly digesting. Then, the ugly backdrop of the state of America constantly reconfirmed that.”
“In a sense, I feel like the album wrote itself,” she continued. “When I felt afraid, or when I felt like this record would be so different from my last, I would see or hear another story of a young Black person in America having their life taken away from them, having their freedom taken away. That would fuel me to go back and revisit and sometimes rewrite some of these songs to go a little further, and not be afraid to have the conversation.”
After the last song played, a beaming Solange proclaimed, “I’m overwhelmed with joy and empowerment.” Tina Lawson also suggested everyone take a second listen of the record and pay attention to the lyrics.
She also called Solange’s A Seat at the Table “her Waiting to Exhale,” referring to the classic 1995 drama about friends triumphing over shortcomings, starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett. “We go through paper cuts everyday,” offered Lawson, explaining that the project reminded her of the days she used to meet with friends to listen to music and discuss their daily lives. With this album, Solange gives us all not just a seat, but an escape, to reflect and to persevere.