This is a guest post written by Ambrielle Moore
“If you don’t understand my record, then you don’t understand me. So this is not for you.”
It’s been a pivotal, powerful year for black women. This album follows Anti (Rihanna), Lemonade (Beyoncé), and Telefone (Noname). It follows Jesse Williams’ BET Awards shout out. It follows Diamond Reynolds. It follows Solange’s own essay, penned after an experience all too many black women recognized. Most of all, this work follows our country’s ever-intensifying social climate as more black people are killed by law enforcement, and an openly racist, misogynistic millionaire inches closer to the White House. As a black woman, the context of this release feels significant. We needed this album in 2016, a year where, as a collective, it’s become crucial to express (in as many ways as possible) a simple, freeing, unapologetic statement: “I love my blackness. And yours.”
This album–like other black works of art this year–issues a personal narrative that expands a greater story on blackness, bringing to light the depths of our pain and experience rarely seen in the mainstream. Art in 2016 has allowed black people (especially black women) to explore, dissect and express a quiet internal storm that’s been building for some time now. As a conceptual work, then, A Seat at the Table succeeds in depicting a once overlooked but increasingly relevant character: the black woman. It is a complete and detailed exploration of that story, and though I imagine it will be educational to many, it is also a love letter in our own language–it does not pander, nor does it spell out obvious and accepted truths. Solange says quite frankly that this is an album for us, by us (see tracks 12 and 13). There are blanks that as a black woman, you fill in easily. Listening to this album is being in conversation with the artist herself, lamenting a shared struggle. Listening to this work as a young black woman is to be seen.
Other songs on the album, though, are clear messages to non-blacks (from a female black perspective). “Don’t Touch My Hair” is the clearest example when she says, “They don’t understand what it means to be me,” and follows up by equating her hair to a “crown” or “pride,” taking back the dignity and humanity often lost in awkward social encounters with non-blacks who confuse black women with friendly poodles or public property. For the black woman, hair is political and consuming in many ways. It’s not accidental that the cover art for this is a headshot of the artist with hair undone, clips strewn in. It’s vulnerable and purposeful and honest.
Let’s talk about the damn interludes though–because they’re flawless. The excerpts of conversation flow and carry the listener through, bridging gaps between songs thoughtfully. Through these smooth speaking transitions, Solange clearly states that this is a complete aural essay. This album deserves a thorough listen, complete and uninterrupted. A Seat at the Table should come on vinyl or cassette or as one giant song–shuffling a work like this should be sacrilege. Unlike a recent album by another important black visionary, I have zero desire to skip through these excerpts, because they matter and, most of all, they’re just pleasant to the ears. You don’t have to overthink them as they’re curated and direct, feeling more like source material introducing or expanding the adjacent tracks. With these clips, Solange proves her attention to detail and her penchant for easy, organic storytelling.
The best part about A Seat at the Table, though, is Solange’s pervasive calm. As the tracks progress, what is, admittedly, her signature and evolving aesthetic starts to feel like a purposeful critique of the angry black woman stereotype. The Mad Black Woman archetype is enforced by memes and movies which make light of her. There exists a whole world of reasons black women have to be angry, as James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” That goes double for black women. If Lemonade embraces the spirit of that anger and that life by reclaiming it–smashing car windows and getting in formation–then A Seat at the Table subverts it. “Mad,” which may be my favorite track, is the best example of this, where a grooving slow tempo carries Solange’s high angelic voice as it delivers truthful frustration. She repeats, “I got a lot to be mad about,” carefully and calmly stating a fact modern black women rarely allow themselves to admit in mixed company. In predominantly white spaces, where many of us function on a daily basis, black women feel a pressure to avoid being labeled an angry black woman, and thus overcompensate with saccharine obedience. If you’ve ever been the black girl in an office, or classroom, or concert, then you know exactly what she means when she finishes the track:
I ran into this girl, I said, “I’m tired of explaining.”
Man, this shit is draining
But I’m not really allowed to be mad.
This track applies to a feeling of “other” and a feeling of exclusion and a pressure to be the opposite of what people expect of you. She drops this truth bomb about the number one black girl frustration, but delivers it with this slow, beautiful cadence and a damn near chilling Weezy verse.
While “Mad” portrays the stifled anger of a black woman, “Cranes in the Sky” breaks down another archetype in the Strong Black Woman. It is a role we are expected to fill as well, an unfair responsibility to provide strength for others–black men, children, bosses and friends. Think of the black best friend in any TV show. Think of every black woman who has to speak about the death of her child or husband in another shooting. Think of the often portrayed black matriarch working as a maid or cook. Black women are expected to be strong in the face of their own struggles and everyone else’s too. Cranes in the Sky could be in response to any myriad of heartbreaks, a romantic loss, a general feeling of exclusion, another televised death. It exposes the vulnerable playbook of coping mechanisms that Solange employs in the face of her own everyday trials. Her strengths fail, and no matter the medium, her melancholy persists. If a Knowles can admit the cracks in her armor, perhaps other strong black women can find solace in a strength that wavers. Instead of being “a strong black woman that don’t need no man,” A Seat at the Table gives us permission to be human in the various ways that somehow seem to exist for everyone else.
I think that’s what this album does so well. Solange dismantles the many myths black women share by humanizing our struggle, celebrating our magic, and building up our beauty.
–Written by Ambrielle Moore
I recently watched Drive. It’s the type of movie that will make you cooler just by watching it. I mean, really. The movie made the font Mistral in hot pink cool. This is it for Mistral. This is Mistral’s peak, and it’s a high one. I genuinely think this movie is an instant classic. I think the movie poster will be iconic. I also think the scorpion jacket (which you can purchase here) and even the driving gloves (purchase here) will be iconic accessories that will be donned by hipsters on Halloween for years to come.
If you haven’t seen Drive yet, you really should. It’s gritty and artsy at the same time, and the soundtrack is so perfect for the atmosphere of the movie that parts of it look like a music video: a long, gory music video…that stars Ryan Gosling. Anyway, this (hilarious) post was written by Charlotte, who runs a blog called The Wilder Things and also loves Drive. You may remember Charlotte from her awesome guest post about 5 Forgotten Songs from 2005-2007. Throughout her post below, I have embedded my favorite tracks from the excellent Drive soundtrack. These songs can only be listened to while doing cool things, such as driving or reading this post. -Arjun
8am: I wake up wearing my favorite jacket, the one with the scorpion on it. My hair is perfect, even though I just got out of bed. I pause at the window and stare out at the woods. My dog bounds around my ankles trying to get me to take her out to pee. I stare at her, look back towards the window, grab her leash, and walk her outside.
8:30am: Breakfast time. I live with my mother and father, and they are having toast, exclaiming over the paper at Jeremy Lin’s latest success. I stare at the front page, grab a few grapes, and put on the perforated leather driving gloves I got from my grandmother’s attic. I leave without saying anything.
10am: I get in my Jeep to go pick up some toothpaste, as I’ve just run out. Music beats in my ears; a a woman crooning “a reeeeaaaal human being” over and over. I don’t know where the music is coming from because I didn’t turn the radio on, but I betray no signs of confusion and instead keep my chin at a ninety-degree angle, hoping my profile is backlit. It is, even though it’s daytime.
10:30am: I buy the toothpaste. The store clerk looks at the blood-like stain on my Scorpion jacket. I don’t tell her it’s pomegranate juice from Whole Foods that I spilled on myself while driving. I also don’t tell her that my mom has been nagging me to take it to the cleaners. In fact, I say nothing, just hand her a few ones and stalk back outside.
1pm: I go to the gym to work out with my mom and her personal trainer, Hank. I stare at Hank for at least fifty seconds when he asks me, “any kinks in the bod today, Char?” and finally shake my head. I think about telling him I no longer have a name and simply go by Driver or Kid if I must be referred to, but that would require too many words, so I say nothing. We lift kettle-bells and do burpees. The scorpion jacket is too hot and I’m sweating but I don’t take it off. A woman runs to get on the elliptical machine I’m headed for before I do. I contemplate bashing her head in with a dumb-bell to show the world of what I’m capable. Instead, I give her the nastiest look I can muster and say nothing.
2:30pm: Home after the gym, I try to write a post for my blog. But it’s difficult to communicate with words when you make such a point of never using them. Meaningful looks don’t translate well in a Word document. I give up and get in my Jeep. Again the music comes on out of nowhere. Again I keep my chin up. Again I drive.
6:30pm. I meet my boyfriend for dinner. He asks why I still haven’t gotten my jacket cleaned, and why I’m wearing such a masculine jacket with a scorpion on the back in the first place. I stare at him. He asks why I’m staring at him. I get annoyed that he isn’t staring back with meaning, but say nothing. He rolls his eyes. Our food comes. We eat.
7:15pm: I take out my wallet and leave a hundred dollar bill on the table and get up. My boyfriend looks at me with a raised eyebrow, hands me the bill back, and takes out his debit card. “It was a twenty-five dollar meal at an Indian restaurant, Char. I don’t think this hundred is necessary. And why do you have a hundred dollar bill? Also, you spilled tikka-masala on your jacket.” I leave the restaurant; he catches up to me on the sidewalk. I stare at him. He tells me I’m being weird. I drive him home.
9pm: Back at my parents’ house, the dog has to go out again. I put her on the leash and in the car, where the music has magically come on again. I drive twenty yards, take her out of the car, let her pee, and put her back in. We drive twenty yards back. I take her out. The music stops.
10:45pm: I climb into bed with my scorpion jacket on. My mom yells from my parents’ bedroom, “I hope you’re not sleeping in the scorpion jacket again.” The day closes as I close my eyes, wondering whether my profile is once again perfectly backlit. It is.
Every now and then, we receive requests for guests posts on Sunset. I’m always open to letting others give it a swing, though I will say that there’s a screening process before it gets accepted. Basically I ask for a drug test, do a background check, pull a credit report, and call your grandmother. But on days when I’m not feeling like I have a stick up my ass, I let just about anybody send me a guest post.
This time, though, it’s a guest post from somebody who turns out to be a family friend, but when she got in touch with me, she hadn’t yet made the connection that I was the Lydia who lives down the street from her. She told me she had been following Sunset for years. Small world, huh? Anyway, here’s a post from The Wilder Things on 5 Forgotten Songs From 2005-2007.
It was the end of high school and beginning of college, a time when I was desperately trying to prove that I was cool and plugged into the music scene. A time when I was ready at a moment’s notice to provide unknown and mind-blowing songs to any potential crush who might be worthy of a mixed CD. Yes, friends, it was 2005-2007, an era I like to refer to as my Musical Awakening. I’ve picked 5 of the best songs from that time to bring back into the limelight for you Sunset readers. Enjoy.
Also, be sure to check out my site, www.thewilderthings.com, for daily posts about music, photography, and style.
1. MP3: “Purple Kush” – Living Legends, 2006
With its synth-driven melody and its steady beat, this song was perfect for driving around the suburbs of Boston looking for something to do. My friends and I would turn the bass up all the way in my Jeep and rap along with the song; it usually ended up being the best and most eventful part of the night.
2. MP3: “Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)” – The White Stripes, 2005
The White Stripes were the first “alternative” band I really loved. I remember when Get Behind Me Satan came out—I bought it on iTunes and listened to it on repeat for days. “Forever For Her” has a great rhythm; I love the build-ups of sound followed by sparse riffs. It makes me feel like Jack White is taking me along for a ride.
3. MP3: “Apricot Jam” – Filligar, 2006
This song reminds me of my first college years. My whole school was obsessed with this song because a student at the time grew up with the band in Chicago. Filligar came to play at a formal, and I believe I got up on stage with them and ended up free-styling about college as they played me a beat. But I digress—this song is a great jam with great lyrics that I dare you not to dance to.
4. MP3: “Why (What’s Goin’ On?)” – The Roots, 2005
I spent my summers in Maine growing up, and some of my best friends and I managed to rig up a stereo system on an electricity-less island off the coast using a car battery. We’d play this as loud as the thing would go underneath the black, star-studded sky.
5. MP3: “Traffic Jam” – Stephen Marley
I first heard this song on my way to go surfing for the first time. My friend ended up getting hit with a surfboard and suffered a concussion, we got caught in a downpour, and I haven’t been tried the sport since. But I did get this song out of it—a great beat-box infused track from the son of the reggae master.
What’s up, party people? Broadcasting to you live from the home of alliteration since 2009, this Womp Womp Wednesday I’m subbing in for D Prep‘s flow, which is currently on the road with Hoodie Allen, Fortune Family and a bunch of other bloggers nervous about what their potluck roommate is gonna be like in the dorms (nudist/vegan?? my roommate had really bad gas).
I can’t pretend to be an expert of the ‘Womp Womp’ genre, but here are 5 songs that I could see people recklessly gyrating to. And the dry humping.. All of these songs have some element of that ‘wobble’ that the kids go crazy for, so strap on some studio headphones or plug the auxiliary chord from your high end stereo equipment into your Zune for these. Not for computer speakers!!! PS: FLOCKA!
Lunice – I See You (Girl Unit Remix)
The Pixies are one of my favorite bands of all time and when I was sixteen I acquired a taste for them the same way I did for most music up until then; through a boy I liked. Shameless music whoring aside, I learned to genuinely love and crave the grungy, jagged rock harmonies during the subsequent periods of my single hood. As a well-adjusted prep schooler with only one extra set of ear piercings, I kept most of my Pixie listening in the closet, lest I be labeled a poseur.
But here I am, finally old and secure enough to proclaim my love for The Pixies on the internet. When the haunting melody and rough riffs of “Where is My Mind” crash over me, my mind truly lets loose. I quit thinking about picking up the dry cleaning, what I need to get from the grocery store, what appointment I might have missed this week, or how many pages of a reading I have left. I simply focus on the music and let my mind get lost in its rare singularity. Even if this isn’t the song that gives you that perfect, clear-headed focus, go out and find the one that does because it’s out there and it’s definitely worth the search. I know because I found mine.
Aminah Mae Safi