With 'When I Get Home', Solange Transforms Houston Into a Southern Black Paradise

On her fourth studio album, Solange finds inspiration in her home city

By Taylor Crumpton

On February 26, 2019, Solange Knowles breathed life back into BlackPlanet, the internet’s collective Black consciousness that launched in 2001 as a social media platform focused on the African-American experience. Though the site has since waned in popularity in favor of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, Solange’s bold, brooding reinvention of the platform felt like the digital embodiment of an Afrofuturist dream, one reminiscent of an earlier era where Black people were afforded the opportunity to join in community with each other without fear of stolen content or false accounts run by white supremacists. Through snippets of footage uploaded to her own profile, Solange invited us into her world, one centered on the Black woman and the creation of her art: freestyling in bed with your best friend, celebratory dances for our bodies, and the ancestral Hoodoo power of intention, which originated from enslaved West African women who established roots within the American South — such as Solange’s native Houston, where the singer has been living to heal from an unknown autonomic nerve disorder she was diagnosed with in 2017.

Solange’s page inevitably stoked speculation that new music, which had been hinted at since October 2018, was finally on the way. Shortly after, on February 28, there were quick teases of music and more odes to her home city. In a tribute to Houston’s own Mike Jones, Solange entreated fans to call 281-330-8004, a hotline where they could hear snippets of unreleased music, presumably from her forthcoming project. Then, on Instagram and Twitter, the singer broke the long-awaited news: Her next album, When I Get Home, was set to release that evening at midnight.

In response, her fans readied themselves for the release as if preparing an offering: Black women anointed their residences with a mixture of sage and incenses, lit candles to bring Solo’s light into the room, greased their scalps in a valiant effort to retain their edges, and listened to her last project, A Seat at the Table, an ethereal manifestation of Black women’s lived experiences. After the sacraments, the hour clicked midnight, and Black Twitter transformed into an interactive listening party where users joined in community to celebrate a sweet ending to Black History Month.

As one of the music industry’s greatest innovators, Solange retreated into herself to produce When I Get Home, her vision of a true Black planet, a Southern Mecca where Houston’s influence is felt in every minute of the 19-track album. Her meditations are amplified by the muses of city’s creative arts scene — from Scarface to DJ Screw to Vivian Ayers Allen to Phylicia Rashad — as she explores Black love, generational trauma, and the divine feminine.

Despite all her success, the state of our society has left Solange’s childhood hopes still unfulfilled, as she notes on “Dreams.” But “Almeda,” a Black anthem about the aesthetics of the Black culture and experience, is a summer daydream where she can live freely and unconstrained, sippin’ on brown liquor in Black braids while listening to DJ Screw, the godfather of Houston’s chopped and screwed music. In a world that would otherwise deprive them of it, Solange creates a space where Black people are afforded the luxuries of peace and tranquility. And though “Almeda” guest star Playboi Carti warns us that Black people can be removed from society at any time without warning, Solange in turn reminds us that we are a blessed people, protected by the practices of ancestors who created havens after their forced migration to this nation (“Black faith still can’t be washed away, not even in that Florida Water”).

Solange dives further into this sacred relationship and ancestry on “We Deal with the Freak’n,” where author Alexyss K. Tylor reminds Black women in particular that “we are the walking embodiment of god consciousness,” that in fact the Black woman is God. And on “Jerrod,” Solange manifests the energies of that first mother by tracing the foundation of Blackness back to the love of Black women. The rest of the universe flows accordingly: Her cosmos turn on the sun’s CP Time rotations on “Binz,” a collaboration with The-Dream about her lunar return to the music industry after the carefree days of smoking blunts in Saint Laurent. Celestial hymns “Beltway” and “Exit Scott (Interlude)” draw upon the love held within the universe, and the latter samples poet Pat Parker, Houston’s magi on Solange’s quest through her imagination. Elsewhere, she pays tribute to Southern rappers like Gucci Mane, who inspired her to celebrate her own lineage of candy paint, wood grain, and comin’ down on folx with the swangers on.

As the album comes to a close, Pharrell’s production on “Sound of Rain” further conjures Solange’s imagining of Houston, where Black women and girls are healed from their generational traumas and pain. Rapper Scarface’s vocals on “Not Screwed (Interlude)” are the final sacred steps into her nirvana, this home where the stars have aligned for Solo’s angelic return.

On Solange’s BlackPlanet page, one question stands out amid a series of stanzas that follow her three-year journey since she released A Seat at the Table: “How much of ourselves do we leave at home and how much do we carry with us forever?” It’s an ironic question to pose on social media, where people regularly hide pieces of their real lives in an attempt to create a false narrative and identity. But the answer lies within Solange’s pilgrimage back to Houston’s Third Ward and her roots, the site and inspiration of When I Get Home. As the doorway into Solange’s musical consciousness, the album is a holy ground of Southern Blackness where we gather to praise ancestors who laid the foundation for us to gain entry into paradise. Solange encourages listeners to look within themselves and their points of origin to truly re-discover where spiritual fulfillment lives.

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