Album Review: Solange Delivers a Stunning Love Letter to Houston on When I Get Home

A piece of self-discovery that trusts us enough to eschew hand-holding and easy answers

Solange 2019 album



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    The Lowdown: Midway through She Begat This, a book by legendary music critic Joan Morgan released last year on the legacy of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Morgan presents an excerpt of a conversation between herself and creative director Michaela Angela Davis, a former editor at Essence, debating whether Solange’s 2016 album, A Seat at the Table, is this generation’s answer to Lauryn Hill’s masterpiece. While the conclusion is left open, Morgan writes that Solange’s album is liberating in how humble and honest it is, “solidly rooted in not having all the answers.” Furthermore, just over nine months after the album was released, it was included in NPR’s Turning the Tables list of the best 150 albums made by women since 1964.

    These are lofty achievements for an album not three years old, and the question of how Solange would follow it up rang heavy in the time since. Last week, an answer was given with the sudden release of When I Get Home, her fourth full-length. Accompanied by a feature-length video, the album is Solange’s love letter to her home of Houston, Texas, containing samples from famous Houstonians like Phylicia Rashād, Debbie Allen, Scarface, and poet Pat Parker. Featuring 19 tracks spanning 39 minutes, When I Get Home draws from a multitude of influences like drum and bass, jazz, and the chopped and screwed sounds of Houston rap that have been the city’s calling card for the past 30 years.

    The Good: The phrase “do nothing without intention” is spoken in a sample by the self-proclaimed spiritualist and healer Goddess Lula Belle in an early interlude on When I Get Home. It serves as a sage piece of advice that Solange follows on this record, where every thud of wobbly percussion, every jazz-filled interlude, and every blissfully cooed note is intentionally chosen to blend into a vast mosaic where the stitches are invisible. She draws the best out of her collaborators as well, choosing with a deft hand how to implement their contributions, whether with a well-placed ad-lib from Tyler, The Creator, soft backing vocals from Cassie, or brief arrangements from the young jazz group Standing on the Corner. With the help of producers Pharrell, Metro Boomin, Dev Hynes, and The Internet’s Steve Lacy, Solange has made one of the best-sounding records in years with heavy rhythms that pound and bounce, designed to “bang and make your trunk rattle,” as she said in an interview with The New York Times Style Magazine last fall.


    Solange’s love of her home is present throughout the record, in the woozy “Almeda”, where words pour out like molasses while the beat stumbles behind, and in “My Skin My Logo”, where she trades fun riffs with Gucci Mane like they’re freestyling on a screw tape. The sight of landmarks in the city like the Rothko Chapel, the downtown skyline, and the Third Ward neighborhood that Solange grew up serve as the backdrop in the video for the album. The sounds of When I Get Home, with its booming bass and slowed-down pace, even in the Panda Bear production and reggae melodies of “Binz”, draw from the history of the city in a way that goes beyond homage. With an ambition to show off the musical touchstones of Houston while establishing herself as a part of that legacy, which includes DJ Screw, The Geto Boys, UGK, and Slim Thug, Solange reaches deeper than Travis Scott’s Astroworld to embody that sound rather than mimic it.

    The Bad: Designed to go by in a blur, fragments of ideas form and disappear constantly, rarely lasting longer than a minute or two. This leads to a disorienting effect, similar to recent albums by Tierra Whack and Earl Sweatshirt, the latter contributing production to the outro of “Dreams” that packs a dizzying amount of melodies and beats into a compact release. This framework serves the album well, with Solange fleshing out each idea and giving just enough time for the hook to emerge before gliding to the next, her own beat tape that offers a glimpse of various styles that she brings together. “I can’t be a singular expression of myself, there’s too many parts, too many spaces, too many manifestations,” she states on interlude “Can I Hold the Mic”, naming the goal of an album that never settles into a single groove but delves into its myriad of influences. This approach is necessary to create this masterwork, yet when “Almeda”, the album’s longest song, is allowed space to breathe and stretch, it results in a clear standout.

    The Verdict: When I Get Home offers so much to be immersed in, from the hypnotic drawl of “Stay Flo” to the heavenly melodies of “Beltway” that lightly float in the air. The cosmic jazz of “Exit Scott” and the grounded longing in the smooth R&B of “Way to the Show” are pieces of a whole that never contradict. With the album and accompanying video, Solange emerges a true visionary with a piece of self-discovery that trusts its audience enough to eschew hand-holding and easy answers. A product of Houston, full of candy paint, swangin, and screwed-up sounds, When I Get Home is universal because of Solange’s deep respect for her own home. The way she switches beats and flows constantly surprises, even on a tenth listen, unraveling new riches each time. Solange’s latest mystifies and stuns, leaving you awestruck as she cements her legacy as a true generational voice.


    Essential Tracks: “Stay Flo”, “Almeda”, and “Binz”

    Buy: Pick up vinyl from Solange here.

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