A Seat at the Table is the third studio album by American singer-songwriter Solange. It was released on September 30, 2016, by Saint Records and Columbia Records. While recording the album, Knowles released an EP, titled True (2012) and launched her own record label named Saint Records. Writing for the album began as early as 2008, while the recording sessions took place from 2013 to June 2016. Solange enlisted the variety of collaborators with American rappers Lil Wayne and Q-Tip, and fellow American singer-songwriters The-Dream, BJ the Chicago Kid, Kelly Rowland and Tweet, and musicians Sampha, Kelela and David Longstreth, among others.
The album was widely acclaimed by music critics and became Solange's first number-one album on the Billboard 200 in the United States, debuting with 46,000 copies sold (72,000 with additional album-equivalent units). The album's lead single, "Cranes in the Sky" was released on October 5, 2016, and won the Grammy for Best R&B Performance, becoming Solange's first Grammy nomination and win.
In 2009, in an interview with MTV, Knowles revealed that she was determining the type of sound for the follow-up to Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams. Knowles rented a house in Santa Barbara, California to get into a certain state of mind while writing and making music. In an interview with Vibe on July 7, 2010, Knowles said she suffered "a little bit of a breakdown" while recording her new album: "I literally gave up my sanity for a while to do this record. [...] We literally were waking up in the morning and just making music all day and all night. [...] It just started to wear on me in so many different ways. I started having these crazy panic attacks." Knowles explained how she made sacrifices "mentally, emotionally and financially", and continued, "It's more than an album to me. It's a transitional time in my life." While still working on her third studio album Knowles released an EP titled True, for digital download on iTunes November 27, 2012. On May 14, 2013, Knowles announced that she had launched her own record label named Saint Records, which she will be using to release her third full-length album and future music projects distributed through Sony.
On May 15, 2015, Knowles performed a new song at an HBO-sponsored event. The song, which is titled "Rise" was inspired by police killings in Ferguson and Baltimore and the subsequent protests. The song is the opening track on the album and is a funk song that utilizes synth. The day after the performance, Knowles revealed she has written twenty-four songs for her third studio album; the songs were written to piano, with Knowles structuring them on her own before finding the producers to finish them. In July 2015, Knowles announced that her third studio album was nearly complete, and that she was laying low on the performance side until her new music was complete, however she made an exception performing at the FYF festival. On her thirtieth birthday, she stated that she completed A Seat at the Table, her third studio album (fourth overall) three days before her birthday, on June 21, 2016. On September 27, 2016, Solange announced via her Twitter account: "I am overwhelmed with gratitude & excitement to share this work I've written and created, with you... #ASeatAtTheTable" on September 30, 2016. In a statement, Solange described the new album as "a project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing." She has reportedly been working on the album since 2013.
In the early days of recording sessions, Solange experimented with different sounds and ideas, which did not feature on the official track listing but did inform her on creating the album's identity, sound, early lyrics and concepts. The initial conception of the album happened in Long Island and New Orleans where she began to collaborate on ideas with various artists. Solange stated that during these stages it was just her "singing a melody" or "somebody playing her a synth or bass line that would turn into an hour-long track". Following these sessions, Solange traveled to New Iberia in Louisiana along with the hour long tracks. Solange went there with her engineers and began creating the songs' actual structures, building the sounds, writing the lyrics and creating melodies. Eventually, Solange took these tracks to Los Angeles to collaborate with Raphael Saadiq and Troy Johnson, stating: "When I look back at the beginning stages, I remember the powerful energy that set the tone, and that I'm so grateful followed us everywhere during the creation of this record."
Solange wrote "Cranes in the Sky" eight years prior to the album's release. In 2008, producer and singer Raphael Saadiq handed Solange a CD with few instrumentals on it. One consisted of just drums, strings and bass. That night Solange returned to her hotel and wrote "Cranes in the Sky". Eight years later when Solange had finished writing and creating A Seat at the Table in New Iberia, Louisiana she revisited "Cranes in the Sky". Shortly after she called Raphael and asked if he would help to produce a few of the other songs of the album. American rapper Master P worked on the majority of the album's interludes with Solange. Solange contacted Master P and asked if he would narrate some of the album's songs; the interludes were created from conversation regarding the world's issues.
The album's themes include rage, despair and empowerment. It comprises funk, neo soul, psychedelic soul and contemporary R&B. The album opens with 90-second long track "Rise" released a year earlier. "Weary" is a track filled with organs, guitar and bass and speaks about weariness and loneliness. "Borderline (An Ode to Self-Care)" has the same theme. "Interlude: The Glory Is in You" has the theme of finding self-peace. "Cranes in the Sky" is an upbeat track that speaks about attempts to alleviate the pain in alcohol, sex, music or even running away. In the following interview, Solange's father and former manager Mathew Knowles speaks about his childhood filled with integration, segregation and racism, which left him "angry for years". "Mad", featuring Lil Wayne, is a track about indignation and anger. "Don't You Wait" contains elements of funk, drums and bass and contains a statement from Solange's mother Tina Lawson. "Don't Touch My Hair" comprises electronic and funk music and explores a common experience for African-American women. Following interlude speaks about worth and independence. "F.U.B.U." is a nod to 90s fashion label For Us By Us. The following interlude has the message "Don't let anybody steal your magic". "Don't Wish Me Well" contains elements of electronic and psychedelic soul music. "Pedestals" also has a theme of self-care. "Scales" is a down-tempo track. Also, all lyrics were written alongside images in an accompanying digital art book, released on Solange's official website.
A Seat at the Table was released on September 30, 2016, for digital download and streaming through Knowles' recording label Saint Records and distributed through Columbia Records and Sony Music Entertainment. Its physical release was November 18, 2016 on CD, and December 9, 2016 on LP.
The album was promoted with two music videos, directed by Knowles and her husband Alan Ferguson, "Don't Touch My Hair" and "Cranes in the Sky" premiered on October 3, 2016. Knowles performed both songs on Saturday Night Live on November 5, 2016. On December 8, Knowles was interviewed by Helga Davis on the Q2 Podcast. She performed a medley of "Rise" and "Weary" on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on December 15, 2016. On January 10, 2017, Knowles was interviewed by her sister Beyoncé for Interview. On February 9, Knowles' interview with Elle was released. She is also scheduled to headline the 2017 Essence Music Festival
A Seat at the Table received widespread acclaim from critics. On Metacritic, it has a score of 89 out of 100, based on 26 reviews. In Rolling Stone, Maura Johnston described the album as a "fantastic-sounding LP that takes sonic cues from dusty soul sides while sounding as timely as a freshly sent tweet". Financial Times critic Ludovic Hunter-Tilney said like Beyoncé's Lemonade album, "A Seat at the Table explores themes of prejudice and blackness. But it does so in a different register, setting [Solange's] deft soprano to an updated version of psychedelic funk and soul." Emily Mackay from The Guardian wrote, "[Solange has] long been engagingly outspoken on issues of race, and from the title down, A Seat at the Table is an intensely personal testament to black experience and culture; the likes of 'F.U.B.U.,' 'Mad,' 'Don't Touch My Hair' and interludes in which her parents talk about their encounters with racism go deep. Sonically, the album's take on modern psychedelic soul is languid, rich, lifted by airy, Minnie Riperton–esque trills on the gorgeous likes of 'Cranes in the Sky' or the darkly glimmering 'Don't Wish Me Well'; it's a world away from 2008's peppier, poppier Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams or 2012's indie-crossover-hit True EP. Guest spots from artists as diverse as Lil Wayne, Sampha, Tweet and Kelela only serve to amplify Solange's fascinating voice. It's safe to say that though big sis Beyoncé has run her close recently, she's once more the most [sic] intriguing Knowles sibling." Morgan Jerkins from Elle said that "this is not the kind of music that is supposed to be readily understood by everyone". Gerrick D. Kennedy from Los Angeles Times wrote: "Those two worlds of black existence — at home and in the world at large — serves [sic] as the basis for Solange Knowles' exquisite, sumptuous new album, A Seat at the Table." BET.com gave the album a positive review, stating: "Thankfully, Solange's A Seat at the Table is the journal we don't get the time to write, the conversations we don’t get to have and the exclamations we’re too tired to repeat."
A Seat at the Table debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, becoming her first album to reach the top of the chart, and also topped the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. It debuted with 72,000 album-equivalent units, out of which 46,000 were pure album sales and 24,000 streaming and track equivalent units. As the album reached number one, Solange and Beyoncé became the first sisters, who are both solo artists, to achieve number one albums on the Billboard 200 in the same calendar year. It also became her first album to chart in several countries. In United Kingdom, it peaked at number seventeen on UK Albums Chart, number two on UK R&B Albums Chart and number eight on UK Digital Albums, all published by the Official Charts Company (OCC). It also peaked at number sixty-six on Scottish Albums Chart, also published by OCC. It peaked at number twenty-one on Australian Albums Chart, published by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). In Belgium, it peaked at number fifty-three on Ultratop Flanders album chart and number eighty-three on Ultratop Wallonia album chart. It reached top forty in Norway and Sweden, peaking at numbers thirty-two and thirty-nine, respectively. It reached top thirty in New Zealand and Netherlands, peaking at numbers twenty-three and twenty-five, respectively. It also reached the top ten on the Canadian Albums Chart.
Notes"Rise" features additional vocals by Raphael Saadiq.
"Weary" features additional vocals by Tweet.
"Interlude: The Glory Is in You" is performed by Master P.
"Interlude: Dad Was Mad" is performed by Mathew Knowles.
"Mad" features additional vocals by The-Dream, Moses Sumney and Tweet.
"Don't You Wait" features additional vocals by Olubenga.
"Interlude: Tina Taught Me" is performed by Tina Knowles.
"Interlude: This Moment" is performed by Master P, Kelsey Lu, Sampha and Devonte Hynes.
"Where Do We Go" features additional vocals by Sean Nicholas Savage.
"Interlude: For Us by Us" features additional vocals by Master P.
"F.U.B.U." features additional vocals by Tweet.
"Junie" features uncredited vocals by André 3000.
"Interlude: No Limits" is performed by Master P.
"Interlude: Pedestals" is performed by Master P.
"Closing: The Chosen Ones" is performed by Master P.