We sat down the two biggest Solange fans we have on the Sauce to have a conversation about her latest wave-making album When I Get Home. What follows is a conversation about the influences that helped craft Solange’s sound, the cultural roots of the album, and how her career has been building toward this project for years.
Yo, Edward. What are some of your best Houston rap memories? Mine is easily early UGK, when Pimp C looked like a Moorehouse senior and Bun B was a perfect complimentary piece. That started to turn the wheels in my head about true Houston sound. From there, it was a deep dive into DJ Screw, Screwed Up Click, and beyond. Is there a moment or artist that stick out to you?
Damn, that’s a great question and a better memory. I have to come clean now, as an LA native who grew up in a fairly anti-rap household, my memory of Houston rap is the feigned nostalgia you get from looking back on classics you missed. So, if I had to give a single moment, it has to be the first time I really took the time to get into that regional scene a couple of years ago. The first time I heard Scarface’s The Diary and came face to face with the blunt and brutal lifestyle that is Houston. And this came well after the first time I actually visited Houston, it really made the city make sense to me. I wonder how much I missed by not growing up with that scene as a part of my everyday music canon; not having Houston in my DNA?
It’s a valid question to ask, but the fact that Scarface could travel from Houston to your home in LA speaks volumes to how far the sound he, Dj Screw, UGK, and so many others helped create has been able to reach and touch rap fans across the country. And it’s a perfect segue to Solange’s new album When I Get Home, which aptly has a Scarface feature. Solange found a way to add her southern tinge without overfilling the album with solely Houston artists. Instead, she focused on the sound and managed to turn it into high-class art.
Did you notice all the ways Solange made swangas and double cups sound like it belonged in a white-walled museum?
It’s a natural progression after making something like A Seat At The Table; the art world combined with a sound only gritty and potholed Houston streets can create.”
I think Houston has kind of had a moment in general as of late––looking at Travis Scott and Megan The Stallion––and it’s very welcome to be shifting the focus to Houston more than usual. I think back to what A$AP Rocky did with his early sounds/visuals and taking “Texas trill” to Harlem. But what I felt Solange doing this album was something different than any Trav or Rocky. There’s a lot of homage being paid to the legend of Houston here, but even more, it feels like a next step that innovates as much as it celebrates. You mentioned it, but High-Art Houston is a good way to look at this album. I usually hesitate from “high-art” as a phrase because it connotes a definition of stuffiness and suggests the opposite as “low-art”, but I think there is something spot-on about Houston being as much When I Get Home as it is “Ridin’ Dirty“. But Solange pulls from so much I have a hard time even trusting that one descriptor as enough for this album.
How do you even go about describing this thing?
The great “Houston trill” migration to New York courtesy of Rocky’s wings absolutely made people remember the traditional Houston sound while introducing it to younger rap fans. Rocky’s early years were blatant homages. He made it clear back then; Travis made it clear on Astroworld. Solange took a more subtle approach.
Houston rap is far from low-class, but the entire south is still the “dirty” south. As a New Orleans native, the south definitely embraces that to an extent. Solange took the dirty parts and draped a silky white veil on its shoulder, not masking it but enhancing it. A good example is “Down With the Clique,” an early track off the album. You can hear the signature DJ Screw stutters and southern slang flowing next to soft, flowery vocals and glistening synth sounds. It’s a natural progression after making something like A Seat At The Table; the art world combined with a sound only gritty and potholed Houston streets can create. That’s how I would describe it.
Man, I don’t know if this album is a natural progression from ASATT. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Everything she’s done post-ASATT suggests a bend towards her growth as an artistic polymath––performance art pieces, Saint Heron hosting filmmakers and authors for recorded conversations, dancing on stage at Beychella––who does whatever she wants. The line I see between this album and her last is less in how the sounds have grown, and much more in how much she’s grown.
I had a conversation with a friend, who loved ASATT, over the weekend, and I asked her about When I Get Home. She said she enjoyed it, but that she missed the lyrical guide to life that ASATT was. That album was much more assertive, we had a conversation about what it is to live as a Black person in white spaces: constantly finding yourself in discomfort, having to justify and assert yourself. This album cares soooo much less about that assertiveness, it isn’t a Black Woman living in a white world. It is a Black Woman living in a Black World. She gets to be herself and explore what that is without the backdrop of the world around her. She is just Solo here. That’s what I feel from moments like the playful “My Skin My Logo”. This album just feels focused more on world-building, and her world is full of everything she imagined.
I’m so glad you brought up “My Skin My Logo” and the world Solange built for herself. I know Solange had an immense amount of fun putting Gucci Mane on this song and really being able to explore her world with her friends and influences. She does it with Tyler, The Creator throughout the album, she does it with The Dream, and she does it with our prodigal son Playboi Carti. We both went crazy in the Slack over “Almeda.”
All we missed was Cowboy Carti and Giddy-Up Gucci in the Apple Music short film.”
Baby-Voiced Carti is what the rap world needs more of tbh. I need the extended cut of “Cancun” to have Solange on it. That would go off and would pass a two-thirds ratification as our new national anthem. Let Kacey Musgraves on it too? That’ll solve the race war before it happens.
😂 Baby-voiced Carti can be the pastor at my wedding if I get married. My first dance with my wife would be that version of “Cancun.” We would both be remiss not to applaud Solange for setting up some of our favorite artists to shine in ways we probably never would have heard without her creative direction. All we missed was Cowboy Carti and Giddy-Up Gucci in the Apple Music short film.
”Giddy-Up Gucci” I’m dying! On a serious note, that short film embodies Solange’s creative range. We’ve only briefly touched on the collective effort required to get this album out, but the thing that is most impressive about the credits on this album are the way she corrals every mind into her specific direction, without bleeding them of their individuality.
Standing on the Corner inject their personal brand of free-jazzed production, the light of Pharrell’s 4-counts isn’t blunted, Tyler the Creator’s chord progressions and gruff tone are as apparent as ever, the list goes on and on. The short film even manages to put her vision on high display, and even there she is joined by a great cast. Namely, Terence Nance who’s dissociative HBO show Random Acts of Flyness (which featured a Solange track on its Season 1 Finale) really matches what Solange needed for this album and its visuals. There’s a whole movement going on right now, and Nance keeps popping up in the middle of it. He even co-directed the visual for Earl’s album. In thinking about When I Get Home as part of a greater movement, where do you see it drawing influence outside of Houston?
Hopefully, artists see what Solange did here and decide to focus on their own home. The internet has blurred lines so much it was normal for someone like A$AP Rocky to draw so much Houston influence into his music. Solange drew a ton of New Orleans influence in ASATT, and Beyonce did it on Lemonade. Travis and Solange made Houston their number one priority, and it’s paying off. Houston’s mayor is even on board for bringing Six Flags Astroworld, the actual theme park, back to Houston after its closure years ago off the strength of Travis’ success. Artists should look at Travis and Solange as prime examples of how to inject legacy into their city by focusing on the roots and not trying to implement trends created from different regions for the sake of streams.
I think Solange really just wants to close the door at home, flip her MacBook open and record twerking videos to ‘Binz’”
Maybe this is a minority thought, but I don’t really see Trav as a trailblazer, at least not in the same way as Solange here. I also think a big part of When I Get Home is really just to exist and be. I mentioned it earlier but I just don’t think she cares much for straight-forward statements like she did on ASATT, I think she kind of just wants to live, and recognizes that living means having a space to live in: a home. I think the influence of Houston, the touches from Panda Bear, her melodies, and often simple and repetitive lyrics are less about anything and more about living. I think Trav cares about streams, it’s why Astroworld is such an event, so frenetic, so full of features, so attached to the image of his relationship with a Jenner. I think Solange really just wants to close the door at home, flip her MacBook open and record twerking videos to “Binz”, she’s really at home in a way Astroworld never settles. If Trav is at home, he’s throwing a house party and trying to impress all the guests, Solo is really like “c’mon in here, there’s water in the fridge, make yourself at home.”
Those are great comparisons. It’s so hard to be a trailblazer for anything nowadays. Solange is definitely the kickback while Travis is the rager, and the fact that they can both coexist is great for Houston in the post-Swishahouse era, especially if new talents like Maxo Kream and Megan Thee Stallion continue to grow and rise into the mainstream.
Solange chants “I Saw Things I Imagined” on the opening track , and some listeners’ inability to understand that line became the butt of many Twitter jokes about When I Get Home. She packed the album with an unforgiving feeling of her home, colored the pages of her iconic culture with her recognizable color palette, and created a short film solely in its honor, exactly how she imagined. Shoutout Solange for knocking another one out the park. How’d it leave you feeling, E?
There’s been a lot of conversation about what inspired this album, from Houston hip-hop as we’ve mentioned, to Alice Coltrane and Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, to the Tierra Whack compact album effect that’s rippled through rap, to God knows what else. But Solange left me really appreciative of her vision. She really just took from all of the things around her and crafted this masterpiece.
The idea of new is overrated. What new really means in 2019, when the internet is out there and so much has already been done, is finding ways to lean into the specificity of your experience. To figure out what combination of things has shaped you and use those things to make something inspired by but distinct from every piece of your realm of experience. By this definition, this album is innovative, and I’m excited to watch its impact.