When I Get Home: A Lyric Review — The Disruptive Diva, Solange Sings of the Sanctuary that is Blackness.
Written by Corey Anthony Tucker.
First and foremost, a diva is considered to be a vocalist of devastating precision and power. A singular voice from a select songbird with the prowess to inspire generations of singers, pulling our hearts apart and embedding themselves inside with such ease, that it all seems like an afterthought. A voice that defines a generation.
And yet many will tell you that to be a diva is to be disempowered and disrespected. Mariah Carey, the elusive chanteuse herself, recalls in an interview with Genius — for their Genius Level series that her status as a soaring songstress was used in an attempt to strip her of her first love: songwriting, ‘I would say the most important thing is don’t let anyone dissuade you or say, like you know, let somebody else write songs for you. You’re a great singer, you don’t need to write your songs. ‘Cause people do that’.
In light of Carey’s statement, it felt necessary to retrofit the term ‘diva’. A diva is and should be a woman that is as equally immersed in writing her songs as she is when singing them. Solange Knowles is daring, the source of her divadom stemming from an unwillingness to dilute her blackness for the sake of commerciality. She is markedly her own artist, with the lyrics that leave her lips being amongst the most distinct in music today. Pop music adjacent due to her visibility in the music industry — especially when compared to her musical peers, i.e. Kelela or Moses Sumney — and yet, singular in that the songs comprising her latest album were solely penned by Solange herself.
When I Get Home opens with Saw Things I Imagined, with Solange repeating the songs title in different inflections. The intention interlaced in the words lends to the likelihood that she is alluding to the law of attraction here, speaking the delights and dreams of her mind into existence. The opener ends with Solo singing that she is ‘taking on the light’. The rapturous quality of the lyric and its choral delivery leaves listener’s with the impression that Solo is ready to embark on a quest, a journey to eventually embrace the light God has to offer.
Can I Hold the Mic (interlude) makes a case for melanin being synonymous with multitudinous. As a black woman Solange is made up of an amalgamation of facets, each informing the other to shape her identity. In order to engage with her and the album itself, the listener must engage with Solange in her entirety and not as a ‘singular expression’.
On Stay Flo Solange sings ‘nigga’s throw stones they gon’ feel it on they face’, speaking to the reality that where black men’s misogynoir is concerned, karma will have her cake and eat it too.
The outro on Dreams interlude is a stunning rumination on an unsettling truth, that African American lives are liable to be cut short, cut down at a moment’s notice in Trump’s America. Here Solange asserts that to be alert, to be aware, is to be alive, to stay alive. She channels her confinement to life on the ledge of the mortal coil, all in the name of her [our] melanin, into just another reason for her laser focus. A focus born from the big dreams she has for herself and for black people. A focus that dares to bring these dreams to fruition, ‘sometimes I feel I’m gonna die at times/ Got my dreams and eyes wide’.
Segueing into the centrepiece of the album, Nothing Without Intention (interlude) illustrates Solange’s belief that to not incorporate her blackness into her work would be to deprive it of ‘intention’.
Almeda is undoubtedly the centrepiece of the album. A shrine in song form, an ode to the marvel that is our melanin. Solange celebrates, falls in love with and flourishes in the inherent beauty of her – and other black bodies, ‘black skin, black braids/ Black waves, black days/ Black baes, black things’. In a world that so readily disrespects and desecrates the sanctity of black bodies, Solange commemorates the richness possessed of her complexion, likening her skin to goods that are equally opulent, ‘brown sugar… Brown liquor’.
In doing this, Solange alludes to the fact that much like the goods she lists, her skin also possesses inherent worth, and that the culture encoded in her complexion will always have inherent value. Amidst Caucasians constant and conscious knack for appropriating black culture, Solange asserts that only black people can have an authentic agency over and ownership of black culture, ‘these are black owned things’.
With Almeda, Solange evokes a potency not dissimilar from past Negro spirituals with her very own, contemporary one. Famous spiritual Wade in the Water acts as a sort of counterpoint to Solange’s Almeda. While the former depicts slaves as ridding themselves of their ‘trouble’ – slavery – by ‘[wading] in the water’, the latter displays that ‘black faith’ has and will continue to withstand the volatility of nature, ‘still can’t be washed away/ Not even in that Florida water’ – i.e Hurricane Katrina, which began in Florida. Much like the waterways that lead slaves to freedom, ‘black faith’ promises a pathway that leads to an elevated state of consciousness. A state of being that birthed the spirituality entrenched in the New Orleanian community, empowering them to survive the tumultuous times brought on by Katrina, and eventually, go on to thrive.
My Skin My Logo best establishes Solange’s capacity for channelling black politics through simple and succinct phrasing. The lyric ‘my skin my logo’ flies in the face of those that dare to declare that we live in a colourless world; challenging those that act as if this world isn’t eager to deny black people a claim to or stake in it. To deny our ‘logo’ is to deny the difficulty of our experiences — and to a greater extent our existence — as black people.
Binz demonstrates that no-one can deliver a more serene and subversive take on braggadocio than Solange. In lieu of the conventions of braggadocio, she sings of sunning in ‘Saint Laurent’, wishing she would ‘wake up on ya thigh, on a yacht’, and ride, ‘in the rolls that’s rented, windows tinted’. Other than her softly sweet delivery, there doesn’t seem to be anything subversive at play here, that is, until Solange notes that her ‘dollars never show up on CP time’.
CP time, meaning coloured people time, refers to the stereotype that black persons have a penchant for lateness. Solange cheekily sticks her tongue out at this stereotype, revelling in the fact that her bag is consistent, punctual and unperturbed by CP time. Solange transmutes a racially targeted, inherently negative phrase into an ideal, a lifestyle one should aspire to, ‘I just wanna wake up on CP time’. Put simply, sis is monied up, so she can afford to wake up and operate on whatever time suits her.
The album’s closer I’m a Witness sees Solange’s quest completed, framing herself as a seasoned storyteller, ever humble, ever restrained. The only credit she gives freely is to God for blessing her with the opportunity to be a ‘vessel’ he can ‘work through’. We too are blessed to bear witness as Solange bathes herself, and her listeners, in the bounty and the beauty of God’s embrace, ‘taking on the light’.