A Seat at the Table is more about the absence of the seat rather than the presence of it. With an ambitious album structure (21 tracks and less than an hour in length), Solange presents the cacophony of the Black-American experience through the music, personas, and commentary of the album.
Solange begins the album quietly with the intro song “Rise.” Delicate yet powerful, it plays out like the opening of a dream sequence perfectly encapsulating what the rest of the album has in store. The next song “Weary” is a beautiful display of her vocal control and range over soulful production from Raphael Saadiq and Sir Dylan. “Do you belong? I do. I do,” she croons in self affirmation.
It isn’t often that interludes or skits have such a positive effect on an album. Solange’s use of interludes is reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album good kid m.A.A.d city, but she improves on his performance. The interludes are masterfully woven into the fabric of the album supplying listeners with insightful words from Master P and both her father and mother. They offer time for reflection all the while introducing a plethora of new ideas to an album that is already jam-packed with a refreshing level of woke-ness.
The first interlude “Dad Was Mad” is a commentary from her father about his childhood being stolen by the combination of racism, segregation and integration and the toll it took on the course of his life. The clip segues into “Mad” featuring Lil Wayne whose signature flow provides a welcome break from the nearly saccharine voice of Solange. She and Wayne trade lines over the first verse. Wayne raps about problems specific to his life while Solange speaks up on a more social level. “You got the right to be mad,” she sings early on in the first verse of the song. By the song’s last line she’s deflated, singing, “but I’m not really allowed to be mad,” acknowledging that although she has this right she’s ridiculed for exercising it. A little later on “Interlude: Tina Taught Me” Solange’s mother has a powerful spoken word interlude about the beauty of blackness. Drawing from some of the most famous black intellectuals and activists, like Carter Woodson and Malcolm X, she alludes to only being taught white history and the misconception of black pride being equivalent to anti-white. Her mother’s words provide a platform for the album’s standout track “Don’t Touch My Hair.” Here, Solange’s voice plummets and soars with a newfound ease as she takes on the issue of objectifying black bodies and the microaggressions that black’s face on a daily basis. Throughout the rest of the album Solange meanders through a landscape of late-80s pop and sultry R&B that shows a blatant disregard for charts and instead focuses on giving a voice to the voiceless.
The album gains momentum quickly and refuses to let up, smashing through racial and political barriers on a quest for identity and self-empowerment. Solange reaches new heights on this album with the restless elegance of Lana Del Rey, the ferocity of Kelly Rowland and the powerful, substantive commentary of Gil Scott Herron.