Fashionably Late: A Belated Reaction to Solange's When I Get Home
Evan Dale // Dec 12, 2019
Creative risks taken take great creative courage. More than anything, perhaps they take careful maneuvering. And for an artist whose career has been built on artistic experimentation while simultaneously being weighed against one of the most iconic musicians in history, Solange – boundary-pushing transcendentalist and younger sister to Beyoncé – has utilized her unique position to continue redefining herself and soul music at large. The weights, the comparisons, the absolutisms have no place. Solange creates music hellbent on reaching an audience at a new level, introducing and re-introducing ears to art they’ve never heard or even conceived. And yet, she’s able to do it within a certain spectrum that invites listeners to take a risk themselves. Some of her audience’s willingness is undoubtedly tied to her name and her past, but the simple fact that she has used and continues to use her music and her pedestal to change art at a macro scale and invite inventiveness into every realm she touches says something special about her artistry at large.
The difficulty with risk-takers is that once the risks they take become digested by their audience, utilizing similar experimentation in new music no longer counts as taking a risk at all. And yet, to it, Solange has found a way not only to continue pushing the boundaries of a series of lanes founded in a past of 90’s R&B, but has turned it into something progressively more inventive, experimental, risk-taking, and ultimately influential on music as a whole. Artists from across music, primarily in the scenes that her adjacencies near – hip-hop, R&B, Neo-Soul, jazz, funk – are applauding the genius of When I Get Home.
And they’re right to be doing so. Solange’s 2019 album – her first since 2016’s A Seat At The Table – is every bit as important; even more inventive. If this year in music is to be marked by the grey areas between those of genre’s past and marked further by a rebuilding of music from innumerable diasporic and era-translucent sources granted by internet sharing and its subsequent cultural merging, Solange’s When I Get Home has rights to a place in the conversation for Album of the Year.
Imagine playing pivotal roles in the construction and explosion of 90’s pop R&B, but consistently playing second fiddle to your sister in terms of mainstream consumption, and yet never failing to pursue your passion with as much fervor, intensity, and artistic integrity. Imagine emerging not only an influence on soul music, but an undeniable source of inspiration for the sister that continues to grow as one of history’s most important names.
And even in consideration of all of that, forget about your sister for a moment. Imagine releasing starkly differing projects years apart from one another: the former paralleling in intensity the conversations on race, inequality and underrepresentation similar the most key-mark albums of its time like D’Angelo’s 2014 Black Messiah or Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 To Pimp A Butterfly; the latter utilizing jazz-rooted, psychedelic musical experimentation to push R&B and Neo-Soul even further into the depth of transcendental inventiveness akin again to the projects just listed. You would by the very essence and courage of those two albums have earned the right to be named in conjunction with those two artists.
And with A Seat at The Table and When I Get Home existing as Solange’s entire canon between 2016 and now, she in so many ways fits into that conversation. It’s a conversation circling elusive, yet ultimately iconic names of which D’Angelo and Kendrick Lamar have been the other two that round out a trifecta of indefinable experimentalists on social and artistic scales. D’Angelo and Kendrick Lamar are unapologetic in their wars waged on social issues and music’s power in telling the necessary stories. So is Solange.
All exist in the mainstream in name and shy away from it in reality. All have multiple masterpiece albums that push the boundaries of music’s present and future without adhering to any era whatsoever, while simultaneously exploring and shining a light into the struggles of a black community – American and international – whose cultural patchwork have paved the way for such experimentalists to craft a future as bold and vibrant as the past.
Solange’s When I Get Home can be listened to 1000 times and a listener will emerge from each of those 1000 40-minute sessions with entirely new and visionary outcomes. It’s simply that connected to emotion. Solange herself has stated that while A Seat at The Table was focused on what she had to say, When I Get Home is focused more on what she has to feel. And the feelings she intended to convey and successfully translated through the project are rooted in her many foundations.
They’re rooted in the wide-ranging and influential story of Houston, Texas – her home city – blending the Chopped & Screwed phenomenon of the early 2000’s with narrated monologues from powerful female figures of Solange’s home ward.
They’re rooted in the storied past, present and future of her R&B foundation where the tenants of jazz – both classical and psychedelically experimental, soul – from Motown to a modern London-centric scene, hip-hop – heavily focused on the Southside and modern trap, all play a role in her musicality and how her own path is paving so many differing directions for future generations.
They’re rooted in a transcendent collective of her modern peers – Sampha, Playboi Carti, Gucci Mane, Panda Bear, Tyler the Creator, Metro-Boomin, The-Dream, Abra, Dev Hynes, Steve Lacy, Earl Sweatshirt, and Scarface – all owning appearances throughout its run time.
And they’re rooted in her influences, siting Stevie Wonder, Steve Reich, Alice Coltrane, and Sun Ra as particularly inspirational and granting of courage to make such a unique project.
When I Get Home is patchwork of eras come and gone and yet to be seen; of styles from across music’s spectrum; of geographic influence and a collapse of geography’s importance in an internet era where artists can source inspiration from anywhere, anytime. And through it all, the album materializes into something so difficult to achieve: reflection. When I Get Home is an image of Solange through music, and for that – and for what that idea offers music – it is a masterpiece sure to inspire artists across music for generations to come.