max hirschberger solange
Solange and the Importance of Creating Art That Isn’t For Everyone
03.08.19

Hello friends! How’s everyone doing today? I’m well, thanks so much for asking. The knowledge that my local beauty supply stays open till 9 p.m. and features an entire wall full of durags in all varieties has delivered me a high almost on par with the one Sarah’s flu meds recently delivered her (see: MR’s most recent horoscopes), but I’m doing especially well because I’m riding even higher on the sonic journey of a gift that is Solange’s new album. And! When I Get Home, surprise-released just last week, happens to be the perfect launchpad for our first foray into (drumroll please)… The Politics of Style — a new column wherein I will consider all manner of presentation in popular culture through the lens of identity politics. With each installment, I’ll seek to contextualize the media we consume by connecting the dots between aesthetics, cultural production and social/cultural/political significance with levity… or not. 😈 You ready kiddos? Good. Me too! On with the show.

Y’all remember when Solange wore a durag to the Met Ball? Or how about a year and a half before that when she dropped A Seat At the Table, won a Grammy for “Cranes” and gave chicks like me an anthem to sing when white people get all weird and try to touch our hair? Of course you do, and you probably thought to yourself, damn this is some Black-ass shit. (Tip: If you didn’t think that, you probably shouldn’t sing along with “FUBU.”) Anyway, the point is that Solange has a history of being very unapologetic.

With the release of this latest project, though, I’ve heard more mention of “the avant garde” and “performance art” than of how listening makes us wanna throw up the Black power fist. Hell, I was seriously considering coming here and writing about the how the album sounds, to me, like all of Alice Coltrane’s catalog had a baby with Stevie’s plant jawn and that baby very much resembles The Wiz soundtrack but chopped and screwed (if chopped and screwed was made explicitly afrofuturist) because placing creative works in the lineages within which they sit is important political work (hot take!). But you know what else is important political work? Considering the intentionality behind this entire creative endeavor.

More than just an album drop, When I Get Home was accompanied by a film of the same name (now available on Apple Music) which screened across nine Houston venues and as a livestream on BlackPlanet — the OG social network that Solange took over/reinvigorated as part of When I Get Home’s broader activation.

“This album isn’t capital-letter B black like A Seat at the Table,” writes Panama Jackson over at Very Smart Brothas. But the entire production behind it is — something I know to be true because the people who worked to bring this project to life told me so.

“Honestly, this project could not have been any Blacker,” says Lula Dualeh, who’s been working with Solange’s team since last February to figure how BlackPlanet could be a part of the album’s rollout. “At every single touch point, a Black person was handling this project. Being a Black woman managing this project while working on a team solely comprised of women of color, working for a Black-owned company to bring back the original social networking site for Black people is powerful. To be able to revive the site with Solange, a woman who owns her Blackness in such an impactful way, is the cherry on top.”

BlackPlanet launched in 1999 and sits right in line with MySpace and LiveJournal. According to Lula, BP “has been and always will be a digital safe space for Black people online,” and that Solange partnered with the site to launch When I Get Home wasn’t an accident. “She first tweeted about BlackPlanet last February, saying that she wanted to release a song on the site but that she couldn’t figure out how to navigate it in 2018. Since then I kept in close contact with her team throughout the year to see how we could possibly collaborate in the future. It was important for Solange that she collaborated with a Black-owned platform.” BP’s name speaks for itself — it’s about as Black as you can get.

Also hashtag Very Black: the hiring practices behind this project. According to Mecca James-Williams, a stylist on the film, “Solange was very intentional about having an all-Black creative team, very intentional about having an all-Black cast, very intentional about making sure that different Black beauty was captured in [When I Get Home the film]. If models cast were not of diverse skin tones, we would go back to the drawing board and make sure we were well-representing what all of Black America looks like. I think Solange wanted to highlight how different culturally Black people are.”

Now I’m just gonna go ahead and say that I capital-S stan for affirmative action in all of its many permutations. More than just a practice that prevents college admission boards from being just as discriminatory as they wanna be (which, btw, benefits white women more than any other demo), it’s also the practice of being intentional about who you pay. To whom you provide opportunities. Not only does Solange make it her business to give jobs to established Black and Brown creatives, she makes it her business to give our lil bbs chances to shine.

“A lot of us [who worked on the project] are really young, really just getting our feet wet,” Sablā Stays, a junior art director on the project, tells me. “It’s a blessing that someone like Solange allowed us this space to have a hand in her creation, something that’s brought our work out on mass level, you know? Usually we exist in like really niche circles.” She says that the spirit of collaboration — “there hasn’t been one sole person who did just one thing” — and the fact that she worked with so many young Black women really jumped out at her. Solange really centered young Black creatives with this one. Ditto Black spiritualism. Ditto Houston’s Third Ward. Ditto Black cowboys (and boy do I get all riled up thinking about the Black roots of Americana, which I will go in on in a future Politics of Style column!).

Aiight, I’ve already gone on for longer than intended. I’ll work on that for next time! TLDR: When I Get Home is Black as shit. Connecting Black people to cultural production is inherently political work, and seeing Solange do that so deftly can teach us all something about the importance of intentionality (because as Cary Fagan, who documented this project with both VHS and film, says: “We should always have the opportunity to tell the stories we live.”) And interludes. I miss those, and Solange is damn good at them.

Whew, chile, that was a lot and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! What else should I talk about here? Feel free to drop your suggestions in the comments. Ciao bebs; until next time.

Photo by Max Hirschberger.

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