Before we begin, think back to a meal that you’ve had in your life that truly had your stomach so full that you thought you would explode. Maybe it was during a not so great date at Cheesecake Factory, where you ordered the filet mignon and the Hershey Chocolate Bar Cheesecake for dessert, just to hear your date say that they did not know what “staying woke” meant and that they would be voting for Donald Trump. Or maybe it was after a long night of partying in any Southern city that has a Waffle House, where you and your crew had the patty melt with extra cheese and hash browns? You really wasn’t there for the food, however, you KNOW something is going to go down at the Waffle House so you needed an excuse to sit in the greatness. Well, if you’re like many in Black community, it was always Thanksgiving dinner with “grandma”, “g-ma”, “big mama”, or any other enduring nickname you can think of for this essential person in the black community. You just knew she was going to make all of your favorite items: collard greens (REAL greens with neckbones in ’em), banana pudding (my grandma made the best, I’ve only had one other batch that comes close-shouts to Teresa E.!), macaroni and cheese, and more. I ate so much during these dinners, I had to unbutton my pants and lay out on the couch. I swore Death was waiting on me to pass out from a food coma to claim my life and move me to that deluxe apartment in the sky, but God had other plans. On Friday, Sept. 30, 2016, my spirit, not my stomach,was undoubtedly full. Not full of food, but full of unapologetic, gold grille wearing, highly educated blackness!
I remember it like it was yesterday (actually 2 days ago) when I heard that Solange dropped a new album entitled A Seat at the Table and I was doing some work in my regular life when I decided to give it a listen. Despite this being her 3rd album release, Solange never had the same success as her sister and I believe that she is totally fine with being in her own lane. Solange always seemed to be the conscious,down to earth, cool alternative to her larger-than-life, diva sister, Beyonce and I appreciate it. Many people probably remember her Brawl for it All match with Jay Z back at the 2014 MET Gala when the media was quick to call her crazy without having any context (white media, I see you). We all saw the video and can agree, Solange got them paws and is not afraid to use them! In recent years, she’s gained a good following through her activism and outspokenness on the varied injustices happening within our community while loving/catering to her son and husband.
Four years later and we are in the midst of a tense presidential election season, another Black body is killed by the police, and the Obamas are leaving office in a few months. With all that is happening, Solange decides to drop her album that took close to four years to write and it shows in the messaging, sound, and feel of the entire album. From the interludes to the song titles, its nothing but blackness on full display. It reminds me of how I felt when K.Dot dropped To Pimp A Butterfly last year. Nothing but black sounds, language, and more. Almost like an inside joke that only those in our community will understand. It is refreshing to hear blackness being appreciated by someone who actually GETS it. Solange understands the plight of being Black in America at THIS moment in history and the voice(s) that she decides to utilize speaks to this experience in a manner that I truly love.
I went away this concrete don’t have love for me
I took a day, too much talk and not much to see
I know you always speak on something
So I’ll leave on the mic for you.
-Don’t Wish Me Well
Hearing Solange’s mother on Tina Taught Me lamenting on the beauty of being Black and the levels of suppression that we receive when we want to show pride, hits the nail on the proverbial head. I played the song for one of my students and he was stunned that what she is saying is actually recorded on an album. I found myself asking why should he be surprised that someone is speaking openly and honestly about the black experience? Reflecting on this, I thought about much of music today tends to skirt the issues and give an unrealistic depiction of the Black experience where many of us truly feel each word that Solange’s mother expressed on a daily basis. My stomach is full.
When you feeling all alone
And you can’t even be you up in your home
When you even feeling it from your own
When you got it figured out
When a nigga tryna board the plane
And they ask you, “What’s your name again?”
Cause they thinking, “Yeah, you’re all the same.”
Oh, it’s for us
These words capture many of my experiences being Black in America from a variety of angles. I can’t count the number of times I get questioned about my name at the airport OR how many people spelled my name wrong at Starbucks even when I have my name badge on. Reflecting on the line about “feeling it from your own” is such a real thing that “others” will never understand. The song itself is awesome and is by far my favorite song on the entire album for a number of reasons. For the unaware, F.U.B.U. (For Us, By Us) was a clothing company founded by four brothers that wanted to change the world of clothing that traditionally ostracized black people. When F.U.B.U. was blowing up, I had the opportunity to meet some of them in NYC in the early 2000s because my father was working with them at the time. I’ve never known another company owned by Black men who truly seemed to have a bond and wanted to move our culture forward. It was in the F.U.B.U. office in NYC, where I had my first cappuccino. For a young black kid, this was was pretty amazing. Fast forward 16 years, Solange’s song with the FUBU name was perfect and memories of a forgotten time sprung like spring (you see what I did there?). How fitting did she entitle a song after a company that made an impact on Black culture and was truly “for us, by us”? My heart is full.
“People wanna know what “No Limit” comes from. My Grandfather, Big Daddy, was in the military. And, uh, you know, he always said, ‘Man them people ain’t gon’ do nothing for us.’ So he was like, ‘Grandson, you need to start your own army.’ And that’s where the tanks and the military thing come from…
See, I watched the Avon lady in my hood. She popped her trunk and sell her products. So I put all my CDs and cassettes in the back of my trunk and I hit every city, every hood. My Grandfather said, ‘Why you gon’ call it “No Limit”?’ I said, ‘Because I don’t have no limit to what I can do.'”
I love how Solange knew when to take a step back and let others use their voice to get across her message which was elegantly done through the varied interludes throughout the album. The number 1 No-Limit soldier himself, Master P, chimed in to share little known history about himself and his No-Limit Records imprint. To hear how his grandfather encouraged him to ‘start his own army’ and create something worthwhile for himself because those people weren’t going to let him. Do you understand how powerful this statement is? To hear how he got the idea of selling product out of his trunk from his local Avon lady in the hood (we all had one) is the reality that many of us encountered coming up back in the day. P’s interludes provided a lot of inspiring game for us as a people that we need at this moment in time.