At the intersection of Black History Month and Women’s History Month, at midnight on March 1, 2019, Solange Knowles, aka Solange, aka Solo, aka The Knowles We All Love to Love, dropped her fourth album—the one right after the expectations-creating A Seat at the Table, so we all care—When I Get Home (WIGH).
I had some immediate thoughts since I listened to it probably a solid five times before 9 a.m. the morning after its release. But I decided to be responsible and let it simmer and marinate a taste. It’s been out for a whole weekend now, and I’ve listened to it more times than I can legitimately remember at this point. Now seems as good a time as any to share some thoughts, which, amazingly, are literally the exact same thoughts I had by 9 a.m. on the day of the album’s release. Buckle up, Buttercup, hot takes cometh.
1. I do not think it is a very good album. I also think it gets better on repeated listens. And that’s word to Frank Ocean’s Blonde album, which is probably the album I’ve listened to more since its release than any other album but only after I learned how to listen to it (more on that in the next bullet).
WIGH is a mix of half-baked ideas (likely intentional) and vibe-heavy, synth-sational (see what I did there?) song parts and vignettes that curiously go nowhere or everywhere, hell I don’t know. That part right there depends quite heavily on how big a Solange fan you are. Put a pin in that. But as a piece of music, like pure listenability? Pusha T ad-lib. Of course, if you listen to something enough times, you can absolutely convince yourself that you’re listening to the musical equivalent of Songs in the Key of Life. It would be a lie, but you could.
2. Back to Frank Ocean real quickly. When Blonde came out, I yawned my way through it, probably even called it musical Ambien. That changed after I listened a few times and the song “Self Control” came on and the musical change that happened about two-plus minutes in stopped me in my tracks. It was such a beautiful musical segment that I started listening for more on the album and they’re all over. WIGH is full of those moments as well. You have to listen to the project and each song fully to get the most out of it; there are so many little beat switches and tossed in musical easter eggs. That made it a fun listening experience for me in parts ... after I decided to try to optimize the experience.
That’s how I went from thinking I hated it to not quite loving but genuinely appreciating some songs. For instance, “Stay Flo” hits you with a crazy chord change that made me literally say, “OK Solo.” After the one-minute mark, the song gets dope as fuck. Even her vocal runs work perfectly. The Root’s entertainment writer Tonja Stidhum said it had Aaliyah vibes and I agree. “Almeda” is a song I think most of us can love because of how “black” it is. Plus, she shouts out brown liquor and, I mean, come on, how is that not awesome? The full-tilt Pharrell feel comes in for the first time around the 1:30 mark and it is perfect. If you’d told me this song was an N.E.R.D. outtake, I’d believe you.
3. “Time (Is)“ is easily my favorite song on the album and it took me several times to determine this because I had to sit through 2 minutes and 13 seconds of “Eh, I’m not loving this,” until that one time I forgot to tap “next” and then here comes that beautiful piano and Solange repeating, “You gotta know, you gotta know,” and it’s a little piece of heaven right there waiting for my soul to hug. That piano riff could sit at my table any time it wants. And then you get Sampha. I love this song.
Let’s get to these hot-takes:
4. If anybody but Solange released this album, nobody would care. Literally, nobody. In fact, if Ella Mai had dropped this album right after “Boo’d Up,” she might as well have given up on music. We really like Solange, especially right now, and she’s built up so much cred with A Seat at the Table that this album, which by most accounts seems rather ungood, gets a lot of the benefit of the doubt.
5. I ain’t saying Solange cannot sing, I am saying that on this album, in particular, her singing leaves much to be desired. I get a very Janet Jackson raw vocals feel on many songs and that is neither a good thing nor a compliment. This album leaves her so much room to sing (especially with the lack of drums on many of the songs) that you have to actually listen to her, ya know, hold notes. Everybody ain’t able at all times.
6. The two songs I think I can safely say resonated the most on A Seat at the Table were “Cranes In the Sky” and “FUBU.” Because no songs on this album even come close to those songs, it feels pretty blah, which masks the fact that even A Seat at the Table would have been pretty blah without those two bangers. The skits (and title) made that album stand out more than it otherwise would have, but “Cranes,” well, that is the song everybody could feel. Shit, I just stopped listening to WIGH to put on “Cranes” because it is that good.
7. We really, really love Solange. I’ll tell you how I know this. I cannot tell you how many folks I’ve spoken to about this album, writers even, who were like, nope, not touching it. Nobody wants to be the one to say it isn’t good. Solange lives in this space where we love her so much that many of us don’t really want to say anything negative. And that’s fair. Kind of. It creates this space where you struggle with being critical, even responsibly, with certain works. It’s that shit Wesley Morris was trying to talk about in relation to Insecure and how I felt about The Hate U Give. Unless there’s a critical mass of folks who are fine with criticizing some shit, folks get leary of not being positive and uplifting, especially when it comes to black women. It’s the times we live in. I don’t think this is a problem as I’m all for affirming black art, but I am saying I could write a whole ass article about how Tyler Perry is the worst thing to happen to black cinema ever, and while some folks would take issue with me tearing down a black man, I’d also have an Amen Corner. Something to think about.
8. I’ve had varied discussions about this album. And whether or not you like it ultimately boils down to the way a lot of stuff does: A lot of us are finding out we really like Solange as a person but maybe we’re not as big fans of her music as we think. Sure we all loved A Seat at the Table but was everybody really here for True or Hadley Street Dreams? Some folks were, of course. But the vast majority of us? Probably not. That’s OK, it happens. I referenced Frank Ocean. I’m a much bigger fan of Blonde than I am of his catalog. De La Soul is Dead is one of my absolute favorite albums of all times, Top 2 regardless of genre. I don’t care for most of De La Soul’s catalog. It’s OK to really like Solange and how awesome and cool she seems to be and still struggle with her art. Her art isn’t even terrible; it can just be an acquired taste. That’s OK and it is also OK to say.
9. This album isn’t capital-letter B black like A Seat at the Table, but it’s still black music because of Solo and how she approaches who she is and what she brings to the table. It’s also clearly an ode to Houston with its shoutouts to various streets, DJ Screw, candy-paint, Scarface!!!!, etc. I rather enjoy how in touch she seems to be with who she is; I think that’s her biggest selling point actually. And another reason why we really like her. Which I’ve said a million times.
10. I really like her interludes. She’s good at interludes. The second half of the “Exit Scott (Interlude)“ is doooooooope. I like it, I love it, I want more of it. Same with “Not Screwed (Interlude).”