Solange | Black Girl Magic Personified

For showing us how to be unapologetically ourselves and that, when the time is ours, the accolades will come.

“There is this guy that I’m digging, what I’ve been looking for, don’t know where to begin,” she sings over the reggae beat. It was slightly off, but on beat and automatically made your hips sway. She continued to sing about this guy she was feeling, and I later found out she was Solange Knowles, little sister of Beyoncé.

And that was the beginning of my musical affair with Solo Star, her first album. It was quirky and so was her style, but some of my favorites from that album were “Dance with You” featuring B2K, “Thinkin’ about You” featuring Murphy Lee, “Solo Star,” “Feel Good Song,” “Naïve,” and “Sky Away.” When I heard the latter, I instantly fell in love. The lyrics, the melody, the feelings expressed—I connected with them:

“Whatever happened to the love we gave (with me and you)/ When everyone insisted that our love (wasn’t even true)/ We tried so hard to make sure that we proved (we proved them wrong)/ But now all that has changed and I am here (while you are gone)/ I miss the days miles away on the phone (wishing you were there)/ And all the wonderful things that you said (let me know you care)/ I miss the nights we spent all the moments (no one can take)/ But most of all I miss just being with you (sky away)…”

I’m not sure whom I was missing, but I know I sat many a night in my bed, deep in thought and my feelings. And even though there were songs I really didn’t like from this album, it wasn’t until I listened to her second LP Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams—and saw her perform live—that I became a real fan. [Side note: If you get to see this glorious performer in person, DO!]

The first single, “I Decided,” was a hand-clappy, Supremes-sounding song that made you feel confident because, as the song goes, “I decided that you are the him for me.” This album was about her telling stories of what she had been through over the last few years: marriage, motherhood, and divorce.

This was the album where you could begin to hear the genius and individuality of Solange. She embodied that Motown R&B soul, but also the ingenuity of her very current state of mind and culture. It was different. Of my favorites from Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams were “T.O.N.Y.,” “Valentine’s Day,” and “I Told You So.” (Though not technically on this album, “F— the Industry,” which I adore, also came out around this time.)

As fate would have it, she headlined my university’s (go, Gorlocks!) spring concert. I was beyond thrilled, and having seen her sister in concert before, I didn’t know what to expect; however, it was phenomenal! I still can hear the vocalizing and impeccable harmonies she gave us in St. Louis that warm spring night. The pure range, control, and honesty of her voice radiated just how comfortable she was in her skin. Brown Suga check number one.

And funny enough, just as she was radiating her light, I felt like mine was being dimmed. That spring was a tough one for me—emotionally, I was feeling the breakdown of love and didn’t really know what to do—but every time I listened to “I Told You So,” I felt a little bit better. Her sassiness made it the perfect coping song:

“I know the newness of it all seems right, but baby I’m no fool and I got pride/ This happily ever love shit just lasts a while, whoa/ I know you think you love, but love ain’t never stopped nobody from creeping around/ Every once in a while when things start to settle down/ And so I won’t look like a clown, I’ma call it now/ I told you so, ooh.”

Here is where I have to reveal the honest truth: Of the Knowles sisters, Solange is the better artist. I don’t like to compare her to her sister because they’re not even in the same style of music, but if you must, you have to acknowledge this fact. Beyoncé is an entertainer and a damn good one, but I wouldn’t pay to see her sit down and sing; I would do that for Solange.

For years, Solange gave us glimpses into what she had been working on with the True EP and its singles “Lovers in the Parking Lot” and “Losing You,” which I adored. This was feel-good, dance music, but the lyrics created an oxymoron because they were a little gloomy:

“There’s nothing more I know you’re taking it away from me/ I gave you everything and now there’s nothing left of me/ I’m not the one that you should be making your enemy/ I’m not the one that you should be making your enemy/ Tell me the truth, boy, am I losing you for good?/ We used to kiss all night, but now it’s just no use/ I don’t know why I fight it, really we are through/ Tell me the truth boy, am I losing you for good?”

And if I thought her previous releases were good, Solange turned good into gold with her latest, A Seat at the Table. Timing is everything and it was exactly what we, Black Americans, needed. Historically, we’ve gone through a lot (to put it lightly), but the past five years have been emotionally taxing with all the shootings of unarmed black men, so we needed something to ease the pain and feel proud—and this album did that. From the moment “Cranes in the Sky” was introduced to us with its drums, horns, and bass, I knew it would be special:

“I tried to work it away, but that just made me even sadder/ I tried to keep myself busy; I ran around in circles, think I made myself dizzy/ I slept it away, I sexed it away, I read it away…/ Well, it’s like cranes in the sky, sometimes I don’t want to feel those metal clouds.”

One thing that makes Solange so Brown Suga–worthy is that, with each album, the production improves: vocally and musically. I mean, she tapped the amazing Raphael Saadiq as producer, and with him on a track, nothing can go wrong. Then there’s “Mad” featuring Lil’ Wayne, “Weary,” “Don’t Wish Me Well,” “Scales,” and “F.U.B.U.,” all which capture the emotions many people of color have felt about the world around them. We’ve been mad, weary, resilient, defiant, and proudly possessive. Laced between all those feelings, we’ve had great interludes such as “Dad Was Mad,” “Tina Taught Me,” “No Limits,” “Pedestals,” and “I Got So Much Magic, You Can Have It” to really help put things into perspective, to grieve, but also to recharge and embrace our strength and magic.

Solange showed us that we can and will set boundaries, as laid out in “Don’t Touch My Hair,” which is one of my personal favorites because I deal with it on a regular basis. Someone, mainly white people, put their hands in my head without asking if I mind. It’s so disrespectful and feels so othering—I mean, we don’t just walk up to people and place our hands in their head for the sake of satisfying our curiosity at their expense. It’s mine: It’s for us, by us, and sometimes, you just have to deal with the reality that it’s never going to be yours and you can’t have it.

Solange Piaget Knowles Ferguson, I thank you: For your comfortableness in your skin and its infectious wave to make others feel the same. For your musical brilliance of defying the status quo and creating your own. For making Black people—and especially black women—feel so accepted, graceful, and magical. For showing us how to be unapologetically ourselves and that, when the time is ours, the accolades will come. I thank you for sprinkling your Brown Suga everywhere you go. Please come close to Nashville so I may be blessed in person. | Ashley White

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