Solange debuted in the early 2000s with pop-oriented contemporary R&B material and has since grown into one of the millennium's more adventurous, expectation-defying artists.
The singer, songwriter, and producer steadily emerged from the background of Destiny's Child, her sister Beyoncé's group, and broke through commercially and critically as a solo artist with the colorful retro-soul flavorings of Sol-Angel & the Hadley St. Dreams (2008). Since then, she has released A Seat at the Table (2016) and When I Get Home (2019), simultaneously potent and tender works reflecting upon the effects of systemic racism and the comfort of romantic bliss, among other subjects. The former LP was particularly successful, topping the Billboard 200 and leading to a Grammy award for Best R&B Performance for "Cranes in the Sky." In addition to recalling Minnie Riperton and Janet Jackson with her mellifluous vocals, Solange has been fond of mixing it up with the dissimilar likes of Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane, while she and her fellow producers have drawn from a multitude of styles including classic soul, ambient electronica, new wave, and chopped-and-screwed hip-hop.
Houston native Solange Knowles studied dance and theater as a child. She made her singing debut at age five at an amusement park and within a few years started writing songs. As her father managed her sister Beyoncé's emergent Destiny's Child, she replaced one of the R&B group's background dancers on short notice, and during the next two years continued to perform with them. By the end of 2002, Solange had also taken her first steps as a recording artist. Among her earliest works are the theme song for the animated television series The Proud Family and a contribution to the soundtrack of The Master of Disguise. She made a featured appearance on her sister's "Hey Goldmember," heard on the soundtrack of Austin Powers in Goldmember, as well as on Kelly Rowland's "Simply Deep," which she also co-wrote. Signed to her father's Music World label with distribution from major-label Columbia, Solange also released her first solo single, "Feelin' You," which cracked the Billboard's R&B/hip-hop chart and narrowly missed the top of the publication's club chart.
Solange's first album, the pop-R&B set Solo Star, arrived in January 2003 and debuted in the Top 50 of the Billboard 200. Timbaland, Missy Elliott, and Pharrell Williams were among the star-studded collaborators, as was Beyoncé, who co-produced a handful of cuts. For the next few years, Solange took acting roles in films such as Johnson Family Vacation and Bring It On: All or Nothing, and wrote and produced songs for Destiny's Child and a number of the group's solo projects. Most notably, she co-wrote her sister's "Get Me Bodied" (number 46 pop, number 10 R&B/hip-hop) and "Upgrade U" (number 59 pop, number 11 R&B/hip-hop).
A creative breakthrough was made with Solange's second album, Sol-Angel & the Hadley St. Dreams, which materialized in August 2008 -- over five years after Solo Star. Both more unique and commercially successful than its predecessor, Sol-Angel was steeped in mid- to late-'60s soul with an individualistic twist and peaked in the Top Ten of the Billboard 200. Five of its singles peaked within the Top Ten of Billboard's club chart. Two of them, "Sandcastle Disco" and "T.O.N.Y.," reached number one. Despite how well it did commercially -- its sales doubled that of the debut -- Solange subsequently went independent. The move was unsurprising, perhaps, given that the album also contained a song titled "Fuck the Industry." After she signed with Terrible Records, co-founded by Grizzly Bear member Chris Taylor, she released the funkier yet more new wave-inspired "Losing You" single, as well as its parent EP, True, during the fourth quarter of 2012. Written and produced with Dev Hynes, the songs took her even farther away from the prevailing sounds of commercial R&B.
The following year, Solange established the Saint label with Saint Heron, a compilation of material by emerging artists including Kelela, Sampha, and Starchild, as well as the comparatively established likes of Cassie and Jhené Aiko. (Many of these figures worked on Solange's future solo releases). The album also contained a new song by Solange, but she took her time to complete her third solo full-length. In September 2016, A Seat at the Table arrived through Columbia. Raphael Saadiq, Dave Longstreth, and Adam Bainbridge were among the songwriting and production collaborators, while Lil Wayne and Kelela added prominent guest vocals. Calmly cathartic and considerably at odds with mainstream R&B, the progressive set promoted healing and empowerment in response to racial oppression. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. Standout single "Cranes in the Sky" (number 74 pop, number 28 R&B/hip-hop) won that year's Grammy award for Best R&B Performance. Sessions with an extensive cast including Pharrell Williams, the-Dream, John Key, and Gucci Mane yielded the comparatively lighter and leisurely When I Get Home. Released in March 2019, Solange's fourth proper album peaked at number seven. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi