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What Is the True Purpose of an Interlude?

An interlude is more than space for an idea to come and go.
What Is the True Purpose of an Interlude?

The interlude began as a transitional moment for audiences to catch their breath between the acts of a play or a movie. Today, interludes are most commonly employed as a pit stop; an opportunity to recalibrate and refocus our ears on the bigger picture. Artists have taken to using this space as a means of creating momentum and connecting thematic dots.

For instance, Kendrick Lamar uses interludes to take American capitalism and The Devil to task on To Pimp A Butterfly; 6LACK uses “Thugger’s Interlude” on East Atlanta Love Letter to thank trap music for keeping his head above water through choppy romantic times; and Boogie’s frustrations fuel the lovelorn confessions of “Lolsmh (Interlude)” in ways that manage to surpass the already blunt messaging of his debut album Everythings For Sale

The best interludes provide a moment to reflect on what we’ve heard, and the upper echelon of interludes use minute details to make that stop-gap as engaging as possible.

“I can’t be a singular expression of myself. There’s too many parts, too many spaces, too many manifestations” —Solange Knowles (“Can I Hold The Mic (Interlude)”)

On When I Get Home, Solange Knowles finds delicate footing between the engaging and the aloof. Her newly-released album is a muted and somber tribute to her hometown of Houston, a candy-colored slab draped with a sepia rain cover. The variety that Solange pines for on “Can I Hold The Mic? (Interlude)” is reinforced by the dreamy descriptions on prior track “Way To The Show,” while “Nothing Without Intention (Interlude)” uses the titular phrase from a Goddess Lula Belle video about Florida Water to foreground Solange’s love for—and reclamation of—“Black-owned things.”

If When I Get Home itself is the Afrofuturist art installation, then the interludes throughout are the blueprints for the exhibit. They’re foundation blocks waiting to be assembled by listeners, much like the blueprints Solange used to promote the album.

When I Get Home isn’t solely a tribute to the H-Town streets that raised Solange but a tribute to the idea that Black people the world over deserve a Houston of their own. No utopia like this can exist without the Black womanhood that is our culture’s lifeblood. These Black-owned things have to come from somewhere. Solange uses these and other interludes to paint a cohesive picture of the ambitions, hopes, and dreams that give birth to Black Houston.

Conversely, Queens emcee Deem Spencer uses interludes to sift through the rubble of a broken foundation. On his thoughtful 2019 album Pretty face, Spencer details the collapse of a long-term relationship, and the waves of grief and hope that come from picking up the pieces.

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Spencer’s poetry is often overwhelmed by his chosen production, like having a phone conversation while in a crowded supermarket. On Pretty face, the interludes help bolster a lucidity for listeners paying attention to the story at hand.

“shorty pt. 1” begins with a woman’s voice shielding hidden emotions with a half-hearted answer to a question we don’t hear: “I guess. I’m fine. Nothing wrong, babe. Don’t even worry about it.” We can feel the anxiety pushing every word, and so can Spencer, who devotes the next song, “how beautiful,” to cooing about, well, how beautiful his shorty is to him.

Little conversations are peppered across the project, serving as nagging reminders of doubtful moments that fuel Spencer’s newfound self-love. Whereas on When I Get Home the interludes help to create atmosphere, here they pull the wool from the eyes of Spencer and his ex-lover, offering 20/20 hindsight for a tale of 20-somethings parsing through romance in the digital age. The interludes draw us closer to Deem's grief, giving the album and his subsequent emotions much appreciated weight. These breaks add humanity and believably to the project that would otherwise be missed.

Cracking open your insecurities for the world to witness is no easy task. Just ask Sylvan LaCue, who uses interludes across the entirety of his 2018 album Apologies In Advance to tell a story of closure and healing that closely resembles his own. Apologies is intercut with several instances of group therapy at the fictional AIA Center, either adding an exclamation point to the previous song or foreshadowing the theme of the next.

The concept moves in lockstep; every few songs lead to yet another revealing panel discussion. The raw sharing on “Step 2: Getting Uncomfortable” is a portal into Sylvan’s internal battles on “Head Games.” Conversations about guilt over not working hard enough (“Step 7: What We Deserve”) bleed into a laundry list of personal problems that require fixing on a song called, ironically, “Coffee Break.”

The most important interlude on the album comes at the very end when acceptance eventually leads to freedom (“Step 12: Apology Accepted”) and Sylvan is looking toward the future holding that key in his hand (“5:55”). And all it took was a little therapy between songs. 

While all three albums value acceptance above all else, Apologies satisfies a pang of hunger for structure in the battle for internal peace, and that hunger would rumble much quieter without the assistance of interludes.

Interludes are more than space for ideas to come and go, though. Interludes are the connective tissue between ideas, and a means to synthesize the thoughtfulness of a record within the confines of a mental break. It’s hard to wade through mental waters when there’s still an electric current running through them, but by connecting various pathways built to flesh out these ideas, interludes are able to double as food for thought.

As the kids say, levels.

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