When I Get Home, which the polymath Solange Knowles released at the juncture between Black History Month and Women’s History Month, begins with a mantra. “I saw things I imagined,” Knowles intones, over and over again, emphasizing different words and contorting her mouth into vowel-altering shapes. Knowles’ fourth album is as fantastical and hopeful as its opening implies, a fluid collection of songs that spotlight her spectral voice and salute her hometown of Houston while also nodding to Stevie Wonder’s cosmic funk and the streaming era’s constantly shuffled focus. As an album, Home is part aural scrapbook, part drowsy funk throwdown, part communion with friends — and wholly Solange, who has spent the 2010s asserting herself as the sort of multi-discipline, multi-medium artist who can thrive no matter what the platform might be.
Knowles herself nodded to that idea when she first teased the album at the end of February, starting the rollout not on Instagram or Twitter but on BlackPlanet, a Web 1.0 gathering place for the black community. That was followed by her commandeering the phone number 281-330-8004 — the digits that famously belonged to Houston MC Mike Jones, who shouted them out copiously on his 2005 debut Who Is Mike Jones? — to preview the record. While the sudden-release strategy is very much of the digital era, Knowles, with these moves, was showing how her art was an intractable part of herself.
But even the strongest beings out there need space to dream and stretch — and When I Get Home, which also has a visual-album accompaniment, is that zone for Knowles. At times, the album feels like a high-caliber, vibe-focused salon, with guests like virtuosic MC Earl Sweatshirt, R&B powerhouse The-Dream, and Houston hip-hop legend Scarface dropping by to offer lyrical assistance, production duties, sly references to the old days, or counterpoints to Knowles’ lithe soprano. The album’s 19 tracks ebb and flow, their connective tissue coming via brief interludes — a chopped-and-screwed sample of Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen reciting their mother Vivian Ayers’ poem “On Status,” a mash-up of the early Minnie Riperton band Rotary Connection and the sexual advice guru Alexyss K. Tylor — that add to the project’s dreamlike feel.
Last fall, Knowles told T: The New York Times Style Magazine that her next album would have “a lot of jazz at the core.” But, she added, it would also have “electronic and hip-hop drum and bass because I want it to bang and make your trunk rattle.” When I Get Home straddles those sonic worlds beautifully: “Down With the Clique” lets keyboard filigrees and Knowles’ cries gently blossom from crashing pianos and urgent snares, while “Dreams” uses a luscious bassline and methodical drums as a jumping-off point for Knowles’ serenely swooning vocal line. “Almeda,” meanwhile, celebrates black culture’s resilience and innovation with stuttering snares and mashed keyboards, with Knowles chant-singing its verses. The moments that have a bit more strutting — the riddim anchoring the sun-dappled “Binz,” the icy synths pushing forward the glittering “Sound of Rain” — still do so with care and, as another interlude notes, intention.
“I can’t be a singular expression of myself; there’s too many parts, too many spaces, too many manifestations,” Knowles says on the interlude “Can I Hold the Mic,” as a skittering synth tries to keep up with the words spilling from her consciousness. It’s probably the best description of why When I Get Home, for all its gentle textures and repeated lyrics, is such a stunning effort. Solange creates such fully realized art that even when she may be expressing uncertainty and doubt, she’s charging herself — and her audience — with finding possibility. A