I dream of going back home often, of living in the Section 8 housing project my mother and I called home, where the candy lady lived next door and I belonged.
I was born and raised in Griertown, a housing project in Charlotte, North Carolina. Griertown is and will forever be the place I am longing to see in my everyday life. I grew up surrounded by a type of blackness that simply was. It wasn’t in opposition to whiteness, but messy and full of nuance. It was also where I faced my first interactions with police violence and familial trauma. We, my community and I, created and built worlds in the ghettos we were supposed to die in.
In much the same vein, Solange’s fourth studio album, When I Get Home, is a world built on seeing southern black folks and the spaces we call sacred as a final home.
When I Get Home plays heavy in freedom building. It is an album focused on a world that specifically curates black freedom. Solange’s ability to elevate southern black aesthetics as high art, illuminate the oft-forgotten work of DJ Screw, and build space that allows for black femininity to become an entryway to spirituality cannot be undersold.
With her hometown of Houston, Texas playing as the map of her ethereal landscape, her musicality and use of avant-garde jazz in relation to the choppy sounds of Screw make When I Get Home a culmination of the past, present, and future.
In paying homage to DJ Screw, the DJ who birthed the “Chopped & Screwed” technique of remixing records, the album trumpets the late Houston DJ and producer as a theorist of sound. Solange, very specifically, uses his chopped approach on “Things I Imagined,” “Almeda,” and “Not Screwed,” where the bassline of Houston can be felt in every line.
On her previous offering, A Seat At The Table, Solange healed herself but I never felt like I would be able to do the same. On When I Get Home, she is reminding us that nothing is finite and that healing, nostalgia, and understanding can be found in spaces we often forget. These spaces no longer need to be imagined. Solange makes them tangible; she imagines things into being.
Guest vocals and verses from Earl Sweatshirt, Gucci Mane, Tyler, The Creator, and Playboi Carti serve as additional characters in the album's afro-futurist dreamscape. Gucci Mane’s verse on “My Skin My Logo,” most notably, acts as a comforting back and forth between icons working to meld multiple generations over deeply moving and sharp hi-hats, and a distinct jazz bassline. Ad libs from Carti and Tyler work as tone breakers. Solange's collaborative decisions play into similar politics of blackness, those who are not interested in popular aesthetics and are more concerned with what black life is when it’s made from a place of community.
With that, the beginning half of the album is a bright and sensual look at how we should understand the city of Houston—a destination that is joyous, full, and deeply rooted in forgotten black cowboy culture. We begin with “S McGregor,” named after the Houston street Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad grew up on, with samples of Allen and Rashad reciting their mother Vivian Ayers-Allen's poem, “On Status.” Coupled with the sequential song, “Down With The Clique,” we're treated to Stevie Wonder-esque pianos and chopped breakbeats that take us on a trip to Parkwood Drive, the street Solange and the entire Knowles family once called home.
As a vocalist, Solange is rooted in using her voice in a new, more bold way, showcasing her higher register to evoke the seriousness of her intentions. Her interludes also do major work on When I Get Home. Not only do they contextualize the album, but they also follow in the legacy of DJ Screw by flowing into one another. When the listener reaches the seventh track, "Dreams," the album makes a noticeable shift, drastically slowing down and asking more questions about what nostalgia truly means and what gets lost in growing up.
What we recognize consistently in her music and more specifically in the visuals for When I Get Home is an understanding that black culture doesn’t have to be juxtaposed against whiteness or sympathized as low brow to hold its value. Solange is saying in her music that blackness, specifically the divine feminine energy of black women and even more specifically the black Texas aesthetic, is not and should not be for everyone. It is sacred and should be seen as such; it’s a world that black folks built for us by us.
I finished this album missing home and realizing just how often we scoff at the place that birthed us. I grew up believing that no one could escape Griertown, that anyone born there would surely die there just as miserable and destitute as they lived. When I Get Home is a reminder that our birthplace, despite its complicated and ugly nature, is beautiful.
That is what existing is about, right? Being able to speak to all the manifestations in our lives and honoring them as we grow in new and exciting ways every day.
“It’s home... The folks are warm and most of all I belong.” —Vivian Ayers-Allen