REVIEW: Solange solidifies stardom on ‘When I Get Home’

Following the critically acclaimed album “A Seat at the Table,” “When I Get Home” progresses Solange’s unique blend of neo-soul and R&B, and her intimate storytelling about the black experience. (Photo from Columbia Records)

Solange has been breaking barriers. Since the release of her first studio album, “Solo Star,” the artist has sparked national conversations about blackness in America, and her style has evolved with a smooth upward progression toward the beautifully indescribable sound experiment that is her latest album.

With Friday’s release of “When I Get Home,” Solange provides a soundtrack to the narratives of African Americans underrepresented in the music industry. After her 2016 Grammy-winning album “A Seat at the Table” made her a household name, it’s undeniable that “When I Get Home” should make Solange a bonafide cultural icon.

“When I Get Home” and “A Seat at the Table” solidified Solange’s unique style in the canon of popular music. Not quite jazz, not quite funk, not quite R&B, Solange is in a genre of her own. Similar to her last album, she makes the most of a few lyrics that she repeats, pulling forward the music’s intention without overcomplicating the narrative.

The album is so sonically cohesive that the transitions between songs are often unclear, unless the listener is actively watching the playback bar. As each song seamlessly blends into the next, she and her featured artists — including rapper Gucci Mane and singer Sampha — begin to recount the black narrative of Houston.

“My Skin My Logo” — which features Gucci Mane and Tyler, the Creator — makes the political personal, painting the commodification of black skin as the product of a culture obsessed with branding and appearance.

Unlike “A Seat at the Table,” which featured standalone hits like “Cranes in the Sky” and “Don’t Touch My Hair,” “When I Get Home” is one full narrative arc that avoids the formalities associated with most albums in 2019 (no singles were released in advance, and the album had basically no pre-release publicity).

Beyond its creativity and eclectic style, however, the true highlight of Solange’s new album is her voice. On “Time (is),” her soft tone spirals downward and upward, backed by gorgeously simple piano chords. Solange repeats the words “you’ve gotta know” at least 17 times, but the song’s ethereal sound embraces the listener so tightly that it blends together to create a long lullaby.

And even though the album may present itself as one cohesive tour de force, one can’t help but latch on to some of its best tracks. “Almeda,” which features rapper Playboi Carti, references the area near Houston where Solange grew up. In the beginning of the song, Solange sings “pour my drank, drank / sip, sip, sip, sip, sip,” referencing “purple lean” (a drink typically made with cough syrup), which originated in Houston but is popular throughout the hip-hop community.

“Almeda” also speaks about black faith and its ability to endure the passage of time.

“Black faith still can’t be washed away,” she sings. “Not even in that Florida water.”

Florida water references two things in this song, the first being the holy water often used in various African traditions to cleanse others and the second being the unisex cologne, Florida Water, which she uses to attest to the strength of black men. Solange carried a bottle of the cologne as she walked the red carpet at the 2018 Met Gala.

It is time to admit that Solange is an artist in her own right, uniquely separate from her superstar sister Beyoncé. “When I Get Home” is a testament to not only her talent as a visual storyteller but also her cultural importance as a mainstream voice in the black community. It is safe to say that 16 years after the release of her debut “Solo Star,” the Houston native is now more than just a “solo star.” Rather, she has become one of the most important storytellers of our generation.