“A project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing.” -Solange describing her new album.
Solange’s track ‘Mad’ highlights the complexities of experiencing anger and emotion as a subject of oppression. Released on her 2016-album ‘A Seat at the Table’, the track is preluded by ‘Dad was Mad’. During this short track, Solange’s Father, Matthew Knowles, recalls being lost in ‘a vacuum between integration and segregation and racism.’ Knowles speaks of seeing KKK members and living ‘in the threat of death every day’ due to his black identity. Despite the album being 3 years in the making, unfortunately 2016 alone can provide ample examples of why Knowles’ words and experiences can continue to hold truth for many people today. Following Knowles’ comments on violence during the interlude to ‘Mad’, it may be expected for Solange’s track to delve further into issues linked directly to police brutality or news-covered hate crimes. However, with the help of Lil Wayne, Solange focuses in on the additional complex and varied frustrations which can also have an effect on oppressed individuals.
“I got a lot to be mad about.”
Famed to this day for his 2008-release ‘Lollipop’, Lil Wayne divulges a personal perspective which many listeners may not have heard before. On ‘Mad’, Wayne stacks the reasons why he’s got a ‘lot to be mad about/a man about/pop a xan about.’ These reasons range from having only ‘fans around and no fam around’, to being racially profiled in the bank.
As the heavy bass carries the song, it is as if its strength is due to carrying the ‘f***ing burden’ that Wayne describes wearing on his back every day. The sporadic, yet consistent, piano notes chime in tune with the overwhelming listing of his daily pressures. However, perhaps the most poignant moment of the song sits in its centre. Wayne explains ‘how mad’ he was on the day that he ‘attempted suicide [but] didn’t die.’ Was he so angry that he was driven to attempt suicide? Was he angry that he didn’t die? Or perhaps he is alluding to a space of mental strain? It’s difficult to know what definition of mad Wayne is using in this moment and perhaps that’s the entire point.
“So I let it go, let it go, let it go.”
Solange and Lil Wayne repeat the phrase, ‘let it go’, throughout the track but do not define what that ‘it’ is. Is ‘it’ the feeling of anger? Is ‘it’ the desire to ‘always be complaining’ that Solange describes others to accuse her of? Based on Solange’s aim for the album to provide healing, I am inclined to say that Solange defines ‘it’ as whatever the obstacle is to her own happiness and sense of independence. Considering this, it’s as if she’s reassuring her listeners in mind to let all of the things that stifle their own happiness, go.
Having the right to be mad.
Solange and Lil Wayne demonstrate that they do ‘have the right to be mad’ via their collaborative expression of this song. However, almost paradoxically, as the production begins to quieten, Solange states: ‘I’m really not allowed to be mad.’ As a Black British woman, I understand the sentiment of Solange’s closing words. If I don’t agree with what’s being said, how am I allowed to respond? Will I merely be stereotyped as another ‘Angry Black Woman’? If I voice my concerns or attempt to open discussions, will I be understood? Or will I be asked why ‘I always be complaining?’ Solange and Lil Wayne’s words hold power because they do not dictate how one should feel or react to external pressures, but 100% support that one has the right to respond – even if this response is to be mad about it.
Unfortunately, a song such as ‘Mad’ does not have the immediate power to deconstruct the historical, complex and persistent pressures which caused its existence in the first place. Nor can it promise to heal those who are subjected to these pressures. However, the poignancy in Solange’s record is that, in spite of its title, it ultimately can be understood as an anthem for our right to seek true personal happiness. Meaning that if one feels upset/frustrated/mad (or any other emotion) at the obstacles which prevent achieving this happiness, then one must recognise that it’s their right to feel this way. Just as it is their right to be happy.
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