By Emma Kopelowicz
After almost exactly two and a half years after the release of A Seat at the Table, Solange surprised her fans by sharing a new visual concept album entitled When I Get Home. The artist teased the album’s release with a personalized page of sci-fi and Western-inspired images and videos on the social media website BlackPlanet. Fans were left enthralled by the “Black Westworld” imagery Solange created and anticipated her next album to have a more futuristic sound with a tinge of Southern flair.
When the album finally dropped, fans were not disappointed and pretty accurate in their predictions. When I Get Home is a record full of avant-garde R&B beats and poetic lyricism that swells with emotion. The artist’s latest release demonstrates that Solange is back and just as innovative, nuanced, and brilliant as ever.
Solange is a singer-songwriter purist in the sense that she does not require any assistance from writing teams to help her shape her vision. The artist takes credit as the executive producer of this 19-track album with all lyrics and melodies attributed under her name. This distinct separation from the cut-from-the-cloth pop star formula sets Beyoncé’s little sister apart from the mainstream success of her family.
However, Solange did receive some backing vocals from an impressive cast of artists, from Pharrell Williams and Tyler, The Creator to Gucci Mane and Panda Bear from Animal Collective. The artist also brought Sampha back into the recording studio after their collaboration on the chart-topping anthem against micro-aggressions, “Don’t Touch My Hair,” from A Seat at the Table.
If A Seat at the Table was documentation of black women’s struggles and the exploitative oppression of black culture then When I Get Home is an empowering, declarative statement of the artist’s black heritage. Her love for her hometown of Houston, Texas also shines through her regional hip-hop influenced beats, references to the neighborhood she grew up in, and the inclusion of local rap heroes like Devin the Dude.
The record opens with the soothing, jazzy track, “Things I Imagined,” in which Solange repeats the song’s title with her signature falsetto riffs. The rest of the album seems to follow suit stylistically with a hazy combination of electric jazzy piano and synths, plus the artist’s repeated powerful, ambiguous lyrics.
Sounding more like one long experimental jam session rather a collection of distinct songs, When I Get Home is definitely Solange’s most ambient album. The ebb-and-flow progression of the tracks keeps the listener intrigued, especially when she throws in an abrupt chord change. The transition between the “S McGregor” interlude and the full-length track “Down with the Clique” encapsulates this technique.
Solange’s vocals float above the dreamy synths in songs like “Dreams” and “Beltway.” Meanwhile, the melodies and backbeats on tracks like “Way to the Show” and “Stay Flo” feel like updated versions of 90s R&B slow jams. Solange’s sonic mood board reveals her inspirations from late 70s soul to 90s Southern rap.
“Almeda” is a real stand-out with its pulsing rhythm and Solange’s annunciation of the track’s prideful lyrics about her black roots and culture. She lists a range of uniquely black traits in front of a beat that is reminiscent of the “chopped and screwed” remixing technique that originated in the 90s Houston hip-hop scene. The next song “Time (is)” beautifully flows in from the previous track as the ringing chord of the electric keyboard brings the record back to a sense of softer soulfulness.
On “My Skin My Logo” Solange freestyles with Gucci Mane in front of a melody collaboratively produced by Steve Lacy and Tyler, The Creator. Solange’s natural laughter as she reaches the middle of the verse adds a refreshing element to the track and truly showcases her more freeform approach to the production of this album. As the creative helm of this project, Solange isn’t afraid to loosen up a little and add in some personal flair here and there.
When I Get Home is a compilation of tunes that sometimes hover a little too much over esoteric territory and other more impactful pieces built up of impressionistic, nuanced layers. Overall, the album is a spellbinding arrangement of ethereal melodies and enigmatic lyrics that celebrate one artist’s transcendent vision to honor black womanhood and her hometown of Houston.