solange and reclaiming digital space, time, and home

March 5, 2019
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“Sometimes I feel like I’m about to die.” The samples and vocals on Solange’s latest album, When I Get Home, melt. The album does not have a political purpose outside of curiosity and exploration, and this is evident in its psychedelic elements, the rearranging of the esoteric with the viral: Alexyss K. Tylor shares space with Phylicia Rashad. A very small amount of people will be able to both recognize the humor and thread it together, the graceful connection between Black high art and Black Internet content, putting the content and our value of said content up for conversation. Solange’s takeover of Black Planet — the popular social media site that was made to connect Black folks — does similar work. Once a haven for Black people to connect, it was quickly colored obsolete with the arrival of social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It still runs today, but is now widely disregarded and under-nurtured, and although not entirely defunct, it has lost its stature as the place where Black folks go to connect and converse. Solange making the culturally dormant Black Planet home to her album and film rollout, as an artist regarded as being on the precipice of The Cool, using her social power to create conversation about digital Black power and how it is treated. Using sound clips, the album juxtaposes this with the vulgar viral sensation Alexyss K. Tylor and the theatrical genius of Phylicia Rashad which also calls into question what Black power is, when it is valued and when it is overlooked.

These artistic theoretical ideas that support the album and film’s rollout made me anticipate that I would be experiencing an extremely complicated experience and in some ways, it is.

Sonically, the album is not that accessible. It calls on the odder moments of Stevie Wonder for inspiration — Solange even naming The Secret Journey Through the Life of Plants, Wonder’s follow up to his pop-soul, social justice anthem-filled blockbuster Songs in The Key of Life as inspiration. It was a soundtrack to the film and disappointed (or confused) a lot of people with both its lyrical direction and musical production. The parallels are obvious. Solange’s A Seat at The Table captivated the mainstream and her already-built-in audience with the pitch-perfect critiques and catharsis. It also had top-notch production, which became the artist’s signature, a lush, atmospheric world Solange created by bridging the digital and the analog, the live and the pre-recorded, while her was falsetto stuck in the middle of it all. That wonder was just what we needed three years ago, with a newly elected President Trump. Songs like “Cranes in The Sky”, “Mad” and “Weary” became negro spirituals in the vein of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” and “Inner City Blues”, Donny Hathaway “The Ghetto”, The Five Stairsteps’ “O-O-H Child” or Nina Simone’s “Young, Gifted, and Black.”

The film combines the directorial and artistic prowess of Terence Nance and Jacolby Satterwhite, then adds the presence of artist and Internet cultural phenomenon Zolar Moon and the Miami rapper, Trina. Here Solange bridges her taste for the afrofuturistic and conceptual, with her love for surrealism and minimal, architectural design — even building a rodeo in her now-signature, all-white aesthetic, placed in large, beautiful, quiet landscapes. The music’s understated sensibility combined with the visuals make each transition hypnotic and digestible, even when it’s couched in an arresting avant-garde. Black cowboys and various sonic and aesthetic hommages to Texas and the South, riddle the project, tying the more extreme stylistic transitions into the overall experience. All of sudden, not only do things that once seemed opposed begin to coincide, they make sense together.

This is the simple thing about When I Get Home. It’s about home. It’s about all of the darkness and strangeness you can explore and give articulation — artistic or not — when you have been grounded by home. It also effortlessly wrestles with the complicated reality that home can’t be everywhere, an idea that creates a distorted self and reality which we must navigate, because we can never be all of who we really are. We keep some of ourselves at home to make sure that, if we are annihilated, the things most unique and strange — and important — about us don’t die. Even if our bodies must. It doesn’t matter whether that’s to die literally, or just by the need to code switch and perform in ways that make you more accessible to the public you’re interacting with. Neither holds the fullness of you, of where you’ve been, or of who you are when you get home. Or perhaps most importantly, where you envision yourself going. Solange’s album and film offer a fascinating conversation around the idea, concluding that no matter how you travel through life and the mundane, you can’t wash away who you are, where you’ve been, and who you are when you get home. Not even with Florida water.