Solange’s When I Get Home is the First Essential Album of 2019

‘You know Solange, Beyoncé’s sister.  You know, the one that abused Jay Z that one time.’  That’s how I used to open my conversations if I was to ever discuss Solange, the thirty-two-year-old songstress who unexpectedly dropped her latest project, When I Get Home, last Friday.  At least, that is how I used to introduce her. 

Imagine going throughout your career being ultimately compared to your world-renowned pop star sister.  Upon questioning, people would recognise the name of your niece before your own.  If that was me, I’d be striving for independence; striving to make it own my own without the immediate comparison to my kin.  To Solange’s credit, her 2016 album A Seat at the Table, did break the mould.  The album did spark the interest of many who shunned her off as a Beyoncé replica.  But that won’t happen anymore.  Not with When I Get Home.

Looking at the nineteen-track album, I was weary of another overblown, bloated hip-hop/R&B album.  An album where you need to sort through the clutter to find the hidden gems; a trend that Migos, Drake and other hip-hop heavyweights have perfected.  But not When I Get Home. The nineteen tracks run for a smooth thirty-nine minutes. And in those thirty-nine minutes time slows down.  I’m lost in butter-smooth vocals, funky bass riffs and glittering piano notes.  The album flows impeccably from opener Things I Imagined to closer I’m a Witness.  The only sorting that you need to do is sort who the hell is featured in the background of the tracks.  A chore that requires repeated listens, but with Solange’s beautifully rich vocal melodies at the forefront, it’s not hard to resist.  I hear Tyler the Creator’s brash vocals, the easiest to pick out as they contrast against the lush production.  And Sampha’s vulnerably sweet refrains are just noticeable before they disappear into the next track.

Individual songs build with such fluidity, often beginning with a skeletal instrumental and Solange’s powerful vocals, like in tracks Way to the Show, Stay Flo, Dreams and My Skin My Logo.  Before long, lush, and sometimes off-kilter production, allows each track to open and develop naturally, creating this infectious ebb and flow within each track, and the album itself. Many early reviews are comparing the album to Earl Sweatshirt’s latest project, as Sweatshirt shares production credits on When I Get Home.  I don’t think it’s that off-kilter, but the experimentation is a welcome addition to the flow and production style of the album.

Standout track for me is Almeda, it’s poetic lyrics and repetitive structure deal with southern black culture as she lists off exclusive African-American traits. The beat transitions from a classic 90s hip-hop break beat to a glitchy, chopped modern experimental beat as Playboi Carti’s southern trap drawl adds life to the end of the track.  As a whole, When I Get Home showcases the swag of the best hip-hop, the story telling of the best singer-songwriters, and the sexiness of the best R&B.  No longer with Solange be called Beyoncé’s sister first and an impeccable artist second.  Now I introduce Solange in conversation with, ‘you know Solange, she released one of 2019s best albums.’ When I Get Home is the first essential album of 2019.

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