Solange’s lesson on minimalism

A poet writes about how he’s inspired by the style of Solange’s latest album.


For me, writing poetry is less about the actual writing and more about trying to put a complex tapestry of feelings and emotions into words. 

I often struggle with finding the words to describe my thoughts and feelings when I want to be as unfiltered as possible. 

Sometimes, expressing complex ideas, moods or feelings in words feels limiting and restrictive. Other times, words come at the cost of mood. And in some cases, a feeling just can’t be summarized in words, no matter how poetic they may be.

Solange Knowles knows this all too well, and her latest album, “When I Get Home,” released last month, is a beautiful masterpiece that communicates so much by saying so little. That is why within only a matter of weeks, it became one of my all-time favorite albums.

The album — which incorporates elements of psychedelic soul, jazz, Houston chop and screw and hip-hop — replaces lyricism with atmosphere to induce mood and emotion. Solange’s angelic voice masterfully glides across eclectic instrumentals, and the album’s instrumental palette provides a portfolio of sleek, atmospheric sounds that help the listener understand the exact feeling Solange wants to convey.

And she does it by saying so little in her lyrics. As a poet, someone whose writing is defined by words, I think that’s ingenious.

In the heavenly song “Dreams,” Solange spends the majority of the track singing slightly different variations of just one lyric: “Dreams, they come a long way.” 

In the album opener, “Things I Imagined,” Solange spends two minutes repeating two lines. In the album’s standout collaboration track, “Almeda” featuring Playboi Carti and The-Dream, the three artists use repetition and parallelism to say very little on the surface, but to express huge ideas.

“Black skin, Black braids, Black waves, Black days, Black baes, Black things, these are Black-owned things,” Solange raps over a chopped-and-screwed trap instrumental, advocating for her Black pride and expressing how it’s not only skin deep.

In my own writing, I aim to convey large ideas and concepts, but I find that they are often weighed down by lengthy explanations. Solange, however, manages to express a complex idea like Black identity through very few words, and her success inspires me to write my own poetry in similar ways: concise, brief and minimalist.

Throughout the songs, despite the noticeable lack of lyrics, the ideas and moods Solange seeks to convey are evident. During my first listen, I could sense the dreamlike, almost immortal feeling Solange expresses on “Dreams.” And the airy synths on “Things I Imagined” represent self-empowerment and self-actualization.

These ideas are supplemented by Solange’s lyrics, which say a lot by saying just a little. 

“Down With the Clique” and “Jerrod” are my two favorite songs from the album. Even though Solange’s incredibly high-pitched singing makes most of the lyrics nearly impossible to discern, I understand her moods and concepts.

I think it’s brilliant when another artist can carry across such complex feelings. Although my poetry lacks the musical instruments that Solange uses to establish this atmosphere, her ability to convey strong emotions through very little inspires me to focus on mood and emotion more than the actual words and content in my poems.

When Solange has only a few instruments at her disposal in “Down With the Clique” but carries across such a distinct feeling, she proves herself to be a truly incredible artist. 

When Solange’s vocals and instrumentals progressively increase tension and emotion in “Jerrod” while only repeating a few lines, it masterfully carries across the song’s themes of love and pain.

With this album, Solange expertly uses 39 minutes of oscillating atmospheres, experimental production and minimalist lyrical style that carry across an ever-changing collection of themes that aren’t explicitly said. 

In my poetry, I focus so much on what I’m saying. But maybe I can learn from Solange and move away from that. Maybe the best way to express myself is to focus on how the words sound, and not just what they’re saying.

Maybe saying little and leaving room for interpretation is the key to a great piece of art. 

I’m certain that “When I Get Home” will inspire me as long as I continue writing.

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