Solange Knowles’ most recent visual album, When I Get Home, literally takes us home with her. The home called to in this album Houston, where she was born and lived for seventeen years. However, this Houston is an empty and set-designed version of itself filled with black cowboys, ambiguous cults, and potent afro-futurism. A man rides a horse down the middle of the street in the dark; a group of people in black robes walk into a kind of modern Stonehenge with a baptismal font at the center. This is Solange’s self-declared “Texas Film,” which she directed and edited herself–her independent, bad-bitch cowboy manifesto.

The album itself is a gorgeous, expansive soundscape. It’s airy, funky, not too self-serious–I personally hear some Bill Wurtz influence on the interlude “Can I Hold the Mic.” The album is also perfectly decorated with Solange’s deftly casual vocals. Samples from Goddess Lula Belle (a spiritual healer), Alexyss K. Tylor (a writer on female sexuality), and various spoken-word poems form seamless and slightly witchy interludes. The album’s roll-call of talented producers, from Steve Lacy to Pharrell Williams to Tyler, The Creator, helped bring together R&B, jazz, neo-soul, and hip-hop into one shiny-wrapped package. It’s thirty-nine minutes long, but somehow it feels either much shorter or much longer. It is either an ephemeral dream you have in the limbo between wake and sleep, or an entirely new planet requiring decades to explore.

The video accompaniment lives in this same in-between space. Almost real, almost fantastical, there’s a constructed intimacy to the scenes that disappears whenever the camera pans back to remind us that all this is contained in the indifferent, sprawling skylines of Texas. Even when Solange and her backup dancers command our attention with their surefooted swagger, the true star of it all is Houston. The city is the centerpiece of the music, too, highlighted by lyrical references to neighborhoods and freeway exits in addition to its steady use of samples from Houston natives.

Solange’s dreamy afro-futurism, like all futurism must be, is retrospective. When I Get Home exposes her roots, both personal and musical; we see the soil she grew up from, and we hear the influence of generations of black music that have shaped her. The album is a strong personal statement, but an even stronger homage to Houston, a city that has given so much to music. Through Solange’s beautifully crafted album, the city truly keeps on giving.

Categories: Articles