The bass comes in – high and bright. The steady, slow knock of the snare. Simple, clean, groovy. In true R&B fashion, this tempo makes you want to move your head and snap your fingers keeping your hips still. The bass dips quickly, bringing the mood down. The tone is a bit solemn now, but still groovy. In the background Solange Knowles sings passively the words, “One for us.” The keys enter with a fresh, simple progression and, just as they simultaneously, Solange simultaneously inhales in anticipation of delivering the thirteenth heartfelt message from her newest album A Seat at the Table.
Her soft voice finally emerges above the instrumental – its sound effortless and delicate. She starts.
“All my n*ggas in the whole wide world.”
Hold up. My sweet Solange, did you just use the N-word? Should you even be singing that?
She, of course, does not stop to answer. She continues,
“All my n*ggas in the whole wide world
Made this song to make it all y’all’s turn
Us? Who are you talking about? As a black woman myself, I have never thought of myself as a n*gga. I have never walked up to a group of my best black girlfriends and addressed them as “my n*ggas”. That word has always been reserved for the boys to use among themselves. The N-word is an evolved word, it has changed alongside its dark, cruel past. It is a hardened word, used to hurt and degrade people for much too long. It is a powerful word. And very often, power translates to masculinity. So when black people began to take ownership of the word, it made sense that black men and boys wanted to assume that power first. Rap music is a traditionally masculine art form, so rap artists have followed the unwritten rule that they can use the N-word as many times as they want. But singers, especially female singers, stayed away from it. And black women were, once again, left without.
Solange must know that. She must be trying, like her sister, to speak her truth with the knowledge that black women will be listening intently. So whether or not she is speaking to black women directly, by using “us” throughout the song she is at least including herself in the narrative, and taking power over the N-word. She is a black woman, like me. So, as she sings of various instances of racial profiling she is, by association, singing to me. As she sings of experiencing yet another microaggression, she sings to my mom. As she illustrates the frustration of being overlooked because this skin color often transforms into an invisibility cloak, especially when one wants to be seen, she sings to my sister. She sings to my friends. She sings to black women, whose part in the painful past of black people in the United States, encapsulated within the N-word, is often overlooked. She sings to black people. She sings to soothe the hurt that many people of color feel. She sings with a soft, pure voice. By choosing to sing the N-word in the way she does, she is loosening the word’s masculine shell just enough to let black women in. Solange’s song F.U.B.U. continues to blur yet another line that separates black people from each other.