They all agree that she’s the next big thing
...and she also happens to be the younger sister of a certain Beyoncé Knowles.
THE NEXT BIG THING
The idea of the ‘next big thing’ is hurled around pretty liberally. Many an art and cultural pundit tends to play soothsayer on a regular basis. In some manner, this has led to a relatively diminished reverence for the weighty phrase. Which is unfortunate in itself, as it should mean so much. In one songstress’s case, however, the oft-deployed adage couldn’t ring truer: Solange Knowles is The Next Big Thing. Indubitably so.
By no means is she new to the stage of entertainment, however. Almost everyone in tune with popular culture is keenly aware of who she is and a more selective bevy within that know her music and love her music.
Solange burst onto the music scene at quite a young age. She was 13 year old and part of a trio of dancers for Destiny’s Child – the R&B chart-toppers, of which her sister Beyoncé, was the lead singer. Having sustained a leg injury at 14, however, she began to take the songwriting process more seriously. She released her debut album Solo Star at 15. And then she took a five-year hiatus – during which she got married, had a son (Julez) and moved to Idaho, where she could finally live out her lifelong wish to be a wife and a mother.
As life would have it, by 20, Ms Knowles was divorced, had moved west to Los Angeles and had found a new lease of life and creativity. During this period, she released her sophomore album Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams.
THE SHAPE SHIFTER
Critics and fans alike immediately started taking proper notice. Sol-Angel indicated something new; it was our introduction to Solange the shape-shifter.
“The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game by The Marvelettes,” she says in her characteristically deliberate fashion, was the catalyst for her conceptual second album. An album ultimately impacted by the heartbreak of her dissolved marriage and the soul music of the ’60s and ’70s that her parents listened to. “Something about the chords and the vocal tone seemed to be such a reflection of where I was at that time. So it led to the next record and the next record.”
Solange has an impeccable sense of self-awareness, both as a person and as an artist. Regarding the latter, she tends to recount her approach and her process with forensic detail.
Her descriptions are well paced and clear as day. With meted diplomacy, she takes you into her world and can make you feel what she feels and see what she sees.
“I was in this sexy groove in my life,” she says of her third music project True. “It felt a lot more modern. I had a newfound confidence. Julez had started school, and I had to be regulated and not live out of a suitcase. It was a period of self-discovery, realisation, transition and evolution.”
Bringing Pop Out of the Shadow
True was exceptional in every way. She painstakingly wrote and co-produced the entire ’80s-tinged project with the much-heralded composer and artist Dev Hynes. She chose ’80s style because she found the production of that era to be innovative, nuanced and intricate, yet pop(ular) in every sense of the word. Her core mission was thus to re-explore what that brand of pop music could be and mean in a new-fashioned sense. The fact that pop as we knew it had become a ‘fallen shadow’, especially within the independent music world, was an equation Solange sought to solve.
The video for her lead single, Losing You, was shot in the Langa Township of Cape Town in South Africa and featured prominent members of the Le Sape Society. It was at once compelling and refreshing. She seemed to be in tune with something else; you could tell she was carving out her own lane. An uncommon one.
The young lady mostly acknowledged as Beyoncé’s younger sister had arrived in full this time, and she was to be reckoned with.
Solange had indeed emerged as a darling of the indie crowd, was in cahoots with the coolest of musicians, had developed into a style maven, had become the face of Rimmel London, gained the post of creative director at Puma, and eventually put together her own recording label, Saint Records.
We speak about all of the aforementioned and her forthcoming chef d’oeuvre in her roomy and delectably decorated loft-style triplex in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Prior to that we have indulged in an exclusive photo-shoot, style-directed by Solange herself with visual references to her new album. [To be clear: very few, if any, contemporary musicians of her repute and young age have moved to New Orleans (a city with a thoroughly rich music legacy) in recent times. New Orleans is not necessarily the ‘in’ thing. Which in itself is perhaps the core reason for Solange’s distinctive notability. She’s very much a self-thinker: she does her own thing, sees her own thing – which includes the future.]
Searching for the Timeless
“I’ve been way more aware, more than ever, about how something is going to sound in 15 years,” Solange divulges about her vision for her next album, which is also conceptual. “That’s been a huge focal point of this new record. As much as I love some of the things that are going on in music now, I’m a little afraid that in 10 to 15 years so much of it is going to sound like what we hear when we listen to some ’90s albums. For me, it doesn’t matter when Sade made her record, it’s going to sound like ‘now’. So for my next record, it was really about spending that time with each sound and making sure it sounded as classic as possible.” Timelessness as a sonic mission statement for an album is valiant and without question ambitious.
Taking inspiration from Donny Hathaway’s final masterstroke, Extension of a Man, Solange’s as-of-yet unnamed next long-player, which was recorded with a hand-chosen dream-team of musicians that includes Sampha, Patrick Wimberly of Chairlift and David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors in three singular locations – upstate New York, Treme in New Orleans and Ghana’s capital, Accra – should be the one that seals the deal for her on a large scale. All the motley elements and seeds she’s sown over the years seemed to be duly aligned with respect to time and space.
With that in perspective, Ms Knowles is unapologetically in the driver’s seat: “I have had to identify and be vocal about exactly what I want. And the real key to get- ting where I am is taking things into my own hands. I’ve spent five days on the drums of a song, EQ’ing them and adding the low ends. I love working with others when it comes to the songwriting process, especially as far as melodies go, but when it comes to my lyric writing, I tend to do that in a very isolated space.
“Even within collaboration, you have to be incredibly clear, and for me it means doing just that. But there has to also be that separation where I can work on something without five voices, without five opinions, without five intents, because at the end of the day only you can see it through.”
Born: 1986 in Houston, US
Residing in: New Orleans, US
Occupation: Recording Artist
American recording artist, actress and model. Expressing an interest in music from an early age, by 13 she was already singing and dancing and frequently performing with Destiny’s Child. She eventually broke into the music scene releasing her debut album Solo Star in 2003, and her second album Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, followed in 2008. Runs her own record label, Saint Records, which she launched in November 2013.