Solange Knowles released her fourth opus When I Get Home last Friday to mass anticipation and instantaneous polarity.
As I prepared to enter into the theater of Solange Knowles’ mind, my expectations were very high. Her 2016 opus A Seat at the Table was a soulful examination on black womanhood under anti-black and anti-femme trauma, and it was literally everything. The album even garnered a GRAMMY Award for its standout track “Cranes in the Sky” in 2017, and its accompanying tour achieved mass success and praise, as the world watched the second Knowles sister claim her title of a modern day gesamtkunstwerk.
Two and a half years later, we meet a freer Solange gearing up for her next highly anticipated release; this time, with the help of a social media dinosaur—Black Planet. The former social mecca for black people would become Knowles’ stomping grounds, as she released stunning photographs, as well as, an intimidating 19-song track list to excite her fans. As my hype built up around the clock striking midnight, I could not help but wonder what was in store from the creative genius. Based off her teaser description in her New York Times profile, I expected a shift, both in sound and in mental space.
As When I Get Home begins its orbit, my expectations render valid. Knowles leaves the place of her maternal ancestry, Louisiana, to journey back west to her hometown of Houston. There is where she begins her exploration of “home.” She only requires those who are listening to sit in the passenger seat of her ‘candy painted slab’ and join her journey down memory lane. This particular pilgrimage is honored with track titles that mirror street names from her beloved Houston city (“S. McGregor,” “Almeda,” and “Binz”). Knowles further contextualizes the journey as a “quest for answers” and of ultimate joy—a joy that only the feeling of home can incite.
This is what When I Get Home is for Solange—home. Knowles doubles down on this theme by injecting musical sensibilities exclusive to the “Dirty South.” Home‘s soundscape leans brilliantly into homegrown production styles, such as “chopped and screwed” (a production style invented by Houston fallen legend DJ Screw), samples from Dirty Southern royalty (Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Diamond and Princess from Crime Mob, and poet Alexyss K. Tylor), and features from Atlanta’s finest (Gucci Mane, The Dream, and Playboi Carti). These elements are instrumental in transforming Home into a homecoming for those who are all too familiar with its magic.
While the album felt “foreign” to some, it felt like ‘home sweet home’ to others like myself. This is where Solange’s power lies—in her exclusivity. Knowles shows no interest in creating art that is most palatable to those who do and can not understand her plight or freedom as a black woman of the Deep South. Instead, she makes Home for people like me—a “Dirty Southerner” who misses his days back in the south; an Alabama native who only now recognizes the hidden treasures to be rediscovered back home. Knowles counts it all joy with When I Get Home, and uses her interpretation of her home to do so. This 19-song, 39-minute long expression reminds us that we are more than the sum total of our trauma; but that joy and freedom are a part of our present and future.