*As we reflect and ponder upon what worked in 2016 and what situations we need to evolve from in order to bring about the best in 2017, I feel that it is important to remind ourselves of what’s truly important, what made us feel our authentic selves, and speaking truth to power, fueling our proactivity for this brand-new year ahead of us. Let us not forget the work we’ve done and be reminded of what work still needs to be done.
And with that being said, please indulge me as I review this October 2016 release from Ms. Solange. Her message still rings relevant.
Solange’s latest body of work proved to be just what the doctor ordered for me in 2016.
To normalize the Black experience, in particular, the Black woman experience, especially as a lighter-skinned black woman (more on this subject later), is a feat that our community has sought since our abrupt introduction into the Western world. And that is what makes the album so great – the concepts addressed in each track make the snippets into Black Life in America more easily consumable. She allows her audience a closer peak into what everyday life can be like while Black in America. And I for one, along with many of my peers, are here for it Queen! Preach!
I’m not going to front like I’ve been stanning for Solange since Day 1. That is furthest from the truth for me. Loved her fashion sense. And when I occasionally peeped her on social media, she seemed woke enough to be on my radar. However, I was not a fan of Solange’s music until this album dropped. And even that took some convincing. I read the track list and was still not convinced. The seemingly obvious themes wound into the track titles appeared to be a little too overt for me. But I listened anyway. I’m so glad I did.
The first track I listened to was ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’. Yes, I was uber skeptical of the song because of the overt title, but I tried to grasp the song as a whole and wanted to leave my critiques until the end.
When I tell you that I became so emotional that I couldn’t even control myself…
Tears streamed down my face as Solange’s plain yet powerful words echoed in my earbuds.
Don’t touch my soul, when it’s the rhythm I know…
Don’t touch my crown, they say the vision I’ve found…
From what I can remember, I have not suffered through this micro-aggression, but as an empath, I can totally feel how this encroachment must be an affront to not only one’s personal space, but also attacks our autonomy to simply exist as a human and not an amusement for “others” to observe and speculate. Our African aesthetic in all of our expressions is meant to be admired, not defiled by unwarranted touching and investigation.
Just as we are teaching our young ones the meaning and importance of consent and body integrity and freedom in their bodies, adults, too, must realize the violation in sticking your hands where they don’t belong and being able to accept ‘no’ for answer. This song touches on so many realms of modern Black existence – I appreciate Solange so much more for delivering her message in such a way that addresses the levels of frustration from the literal to the existential Black experience. And I’m here for it.
Since initially listening to Don’t Touch My Hair, I ingested the work from digital cover to cover, as if my unique Black experience became a universal message decoder, allowing me to really feel the intent behind the tracks, understanding the use of specific instrumentation and sonic transitions to appropriately convey that code that we’re familiar with in the Black Experience. I just couldn’t get enough!
Another joint that affected me in ways I couldn’t have anticipated was F.U.B.U. We all know the brand – flashy color combinations and gradients, over-sized vinyl numbers on the jerseys and the actual fitting that the brand offered compared to its contemporaries in the fashion world. The Beauty of F.U.B.U. that may not have been recognized and appreciated then lies in the fact that this was a Black-owned company, producing goods for the Black consumer. Yes, the name was catchy and we knew what it stood for, but as an 8-year old in Dallas, I can tell you that I took the existence and symbolism behind the brand for granted. I didn’t see the big deal over For Us, By Us. Not until I see it for what it is with adult eyes, do I realize the importance of representation and seeing your own paving the way and achieving accomplishments. F.U.B.U. showed us that we could do what we always dreamed we could do. F.U.B.U. made it okay to focus on the culture and be fly at the same damn time.
Although I choose not to use the n-word (I don’t want to give credence to the remnants of slavery and the reverberations of oppression in any form, so my people are Kings and Queens to me - forever and always), it translated into something powerful for Solange to begin this Ode to Black Folk in such a way. She literally made this song for us. In a time where it can feel like Black folk can’t have anything, including the right to exist as Black or the right to due process in our current civil rights struggle in America, we needed to hear this from Solange. Some things are just for us, and that’s okay. It had not dawned on me until I began to reach my woken adulthood – the importance of supporting Black businesses and doing all that you can to promote and uplift the positive narrative of Blacks in America.
“All my n*ggas got the whole wide world
Tell them n*ggas that it's all our turn
This us, some sh*t is a must
Some sh*t is for us.”
This song, hell, the whole album, is an act of protest and I am all the way here for it. When our very existence in America is a crime, it’s comforting when an artist of this caliber basically reminds us that it’s okay to be Black and that it’s okay to express ourselves in whatever way we see fit, even when the non-black establishment reiterates through policies and common practices that the system was not made for us to succeed.
Solange is assuring us. Solange is allowing us to feel free in our Blackness.
She is reminding us that we, indeed, are entitled and have a right to a seat at the table. A seat at OUR table.
In brief conclusion (because I do see myself performing a deeper literary analysis of each track sometime in the future), here are some of the lyrics that made me think and essentially gave me all my life.:
“Walk in your ways, so you don’t crumble. Walk in your ways, so you can sleep at night. Walk in your ways, so you will wake up and rise.”
“The Glory is in you.”
“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…”
“You got the right to be mad, but when you carry it alone you find it only getting in the way.”
“Now, I don’t want to bite the hand that’ll show me the other side, no. But I didn’t want to build the land that has fed you your whole life, now. Don’t you find it funny?
“There’s so much beauty in being Black.”
“Don’t touch my hair, when it’s the feelings I wear. Don’t touch my soul, when it’s the rhythm I know. Don’t touch my crown, they say the vision I’ve found. Don’t touch what’s there, when it’s the feelings I wear.”
“Don’t clip my wings before I learn to fly. I didn’t come back down to Earth to die.”
It’s so amazing that Solange and the incredible team she worked with were able to fit in such powerful themes into a sonically beautiful and appeasing body of work. The sounds, vibes and messages are relevant, and I am glad that Solange masterfully constructed this album, introducing us to pieces that had been written almost a decade ago. Clearly, as Solange corroborates, it’s all about timing. This album has covered so many aspects of the Black American experience, including: gentrification; self-empowerment; our collective sense of belonging in the America that our ancestors built; pride in being Black; the agony of being Black and woke in America; Black empowerment; micro-aggressions and institutionalized racism; and, maintaining our sanity as a community by literally unplugging and tending to caring for Self.
We are what we need. Point blank. So pull up a chair and let’s make our future happen for us.