Being the father of not quite 1 year old twin girls, I have seen the infant embers of enviousness first hand. Luckily for me fathering them has seen that flame make only the odd appearance. A toy snatch here, a biscuit grab there, sibling rivalry as I know it is pretty straight forward. The Knowles sister’s may or may not have had the same mini rivalry that my girls do and from the outside looking in, they are close. But a small part of Solange must have had a shade of green in her eyes when big sis was becoming arguably thee biggest name on the planet. Just as Queen Bey must -on some level- be envisioning that same shade as Knowles the younger, gets more critical acclaim than she has had with any of her own releases to date. And she is getting that adoration with what I consider to be a creatively superior body of work. 13 years, aka 3 albums and one EP into her career, Solange Knowles is finally getting her time in the spotlight.
When I think about it analytically, that time frame is kind of understandable. Imagine if, in the same year that you’re flying very much under the radar with your debut (Solo Star), your kin is becoming the biggest name in music (and the diva’s diva) with the world’s number 1 single (Crazy In Love). Admit it, Under normal circumstances that shade of green I mentioned would be luminous. But I’d imagine you would have to multiply that luminosity by a ridiculously high number to calculate how strongly Solange may have felt. And that’s before a brief reminder that Queen Bey had a ring put on it by the biggest name in Rap. Now, I’m not saying that she wasn’t happy for her sister in either circumstance. But for the scenario to play out in front of popular music’s entire fan base must have an affect. I do now wonder whether at the time Jay-Z ’emphasised’ as much in that lift before Solange went all ‘single black kickboxer’ on him.
Maybe she is one of those people that uses these emotional outbursts as fuel. That after an initial (and possibly explosive) letting off of steam, she is able to channel that aggression more wisely. After all, she is definitely striding on a different musical path than her sister. The 80’s era inspired EP, True and the old soul/electronica aura of Sol-Angel & the Hadley Street Dreams is testament to that. But the question to then ponder is whether her natural creative processes keep her out of her sisters lane organically. Or whether she is consciously allowing as little comparison as possible to be drawn between the two? I for one wouldn’t blame her if it turned out to be the latter.
That may also explain the big gaps between her releases. Yes we can all provide an example of great singer songwriters with infrequent release schedules (D’angelo, Raphael Saadiq?) but 4 studio releases in 13 years is not prolific by any measure. Some might say that’s the time she needs to recalibrate(?) her creative juices every time her sister surprises us with a new album. But when the music does materialise, Solange does not do average. The growth in both her songwriting and co-production skills are easily charted and culminates with the commercial and critical acclaim her latest album has received. There are moments of brilliance on A Seat at the Table that her contemporaries -her sister included- will struggle to surpass for quite some time.
Commercially, big sis is in another stratosphere and that is a part of the equation I think little sis will never solve. But with her latest venture Solange has creatively surpassed anything that Beyonce has given us so far. While one gives us variations of a paint by numbers sound book the other has made colouring outside the lines her norm. The ridiculously awesome Don’t Touch my Hair, although lyrically simple in structure, is one of the finest calls to ‘be yourself’ I’ve heard for quite some time. As for Cranes in the Sky, the universal response to it has been more an event than simply a collective reaction to great music.
Beyonce was at her emotionally defiant best on Lemonade and may never hit those heights again but that doesn’t change the fact that the critical shoe is now firmly on the other foot. Instead of Queen Bey’s albums being that against which all else is measured, some of us now have a new yardstick with which to make our evaluations. A Seat at the Table, at least for now, has drastically changed the way we, the listening public, views the dynamic between the Knowles sisters. The unspoken truth was that to many of us (Solange) was not seen as much more than inadvertently riding her sister’s coattails. Sure, we tipped our hats to her music and lauded her centre leftfield sound but in the back of many minds the obvious association was always there. Many of us came to that initial subliminal conclusion and never truly let it go…