Solange: A Seat at the Table (5 stars)

An emotional yet confident release from the youngest Knowles sister

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Solange: A Seat at the Table

Musician, actress, fashion icon, social activist and record label boss. That Solange Knowles is Beyoncé's younger sister is merely a footnote in the story of her many accomplishments over the years. It's true that in recent times Solange has been caught up in tabloid fodder directly as a result of being the sibling of one of the world's biggest superstars. But Solange is so much more than just a younger sibling and much more than the drama that comes with any involvement with celebrity culture.

Even though it's been four years since we've heard a full project from Solange, A Seat at the Table, her third studio album, is in many ways a masterpiece. From the 21-track album, we're given a sense of her own uncanny growth, musically but more importantly, personally. A Seat at the Table is a lesson in empowerment, a reverie on the state of existence and a clarion call for change. The accompanying digital book of lyrics and photos gives an insight into the album's direction, with lyrics scattered like concrete poetry conveying anger, sadness and, ultimately, rebirth.

Though the gospel influences are clear, the album traverses a number of different genres as it unveils its key motif: the celebration and affirmation of one's black identity. At times, the album takes on minimal instrumentation to allow for the strength of the lyrics and vocals to come through, as on the gentle 'Weary' and 'Don't Touch My Hair', an anthem dedicated to conviction and independence. 'Cranes in the Sky' is a wonderful throwback to 60s soul and R&B, as Solange talks through the ways in which she copes with her grief. Similarly, 'Mad', which features Lil Wayne, details how any anger felt is justified, perhaps a wider comment on the present treatment of African Americans.

A Seat at the Table is essentially an album about determination, which is heard clearly on 'F.U.B.U.' and the stunning final song, 'Scales'. It is, however, the 'Tina Taught Me' interlude that encapsulates the theme of the entire album in just over a minute, as Tina Knowles proficiently explains: 'I've always been proud to be black…There is such beauty in black people…' With A Seat at the Table, Solange has followed the lead of artists like Kendrick Lamar and even Beyoncé, and delivered an album that falls in line with the sentiment expressed commonly by Black Lives Matter. It's not so much a protest album but a reminder of the importance of self-love and self-affirmation.

Out now on Columbia.

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