Musically, A Seat At The Table is made of soul, R&B, pop and funk. Its gossamer style is delicate and rich. Spoken word interludes frame the album: encouraging words from Master P of No Limit about how he got to where he is, Solange’s father talks about racial threats and her mother about how being pro-black doesn’t mean anti-white. These statements allow Solange to write less directly from a black woman’s perspective for others like her.
Production is by Raphael Saadiq. Guests include Sampha, Lil Wayne, Kelela, Andre 3000, The Dream, Sean Nicholas Savage, Q-Tip and the likes of Kwes, Kindness, Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly, Nia Andrews and Dirty Projectors Dave Longstreth contribute. There are multiple highlights from the Andre 3000-featuring synth funk of ‘Junie’, the synth drawl of ‘Don’t Wish Me Well’, the woozy R&B of ‘Weary’, the piano soul of ‘Mad’, the vulnerable vista of ‘Cranes In The Sky’ and the subtle power of ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’.
“Be leery ’bout your place in the world,” she sings on ‘Weary’, yet Solange keeps it serene in defiance of what seems right and wrong around her. A Seat At The Table isn’t something to be unpacked in a week, or even two. It’s an album of defiance, empowerment and beauty.
The jazz samples, the interplay, the beat drops, the synergy between Phife and Tip is magically still there from the moment those keys come in the first song. Real masters of ceremonies have had years of practice and it’s heartening to hear they never lost it.
Ocean’s sweet voice is one that is rare; consuming, soulful, nimble, honey-toned and it responsible for all of the highlights here. ‘Pink + White’ is beautiful sunshine soul, ‘Solo’ is buoyed by one of the year’s most memorable choruses over barely more than an organ. others, ‘Self Control’, feel like acoustic demos with some bare production until harmonised Frank drops in the memorable outro. Other tracks meander aimlessly yet Ocean continues to magnetise the listener like ‘Skyline To’ (where Lamar exists but is barely heard) while interpolations of songs from Beatles, Burt Bacharach and Elliott Smith appear adding familiarity. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon sings outro on ‘White Ferrari too’.
Blonde is all about Frank and his interactions with friends, family, strangers, crushes. A guy living the high life, a clichéd love of fast cars with a new openness about his sexuality. Blonde feels like the result of someone in transition, adjusting to a new life while looking back on the old one that made him. A nostalgic boy, a sensitive man. Blonde is an avant-leaning minimal R&B album of significance. The year’s most hyped record revealed itself in subtle ways.
Malibu has a jazz-smudged funk, soul and R&B feel to it. It is an album dominated by nostalgia, romance and a troubled family. He can rap like Kendrick, sing like Curtis Mayfield, play drums like the best of them and spin a groove with panache. Already a competent producer on his own, Paak enlists beats from Hi-Tek, 9th Wonder, Madlib and Kaytranada and guest verses from Schoolboy Q, The Game and Talib Kweli. They drop in and add colour but it’s Paak that remains at the forefront. Malibu and Paak shine with greatness, warmth and light.