A singer, songwriter, and producer, Solange Knowles debuted in the early 2000s with pop-oriented contemporary R&B material and grew into one of the more adventurous, expectation-defying artists of the late 2000s and 2010s. The younger sister of Beyoncé Knowles, she studied dance and theater as a child and made her singing debut at age five at an amusement park. As her father managed her sister's emerging R&B group, Destiny's Child, she often appeared as an opening act, and also began writing songs. At 13, she decided to pursue a professional singing career, but her parents at first advised her to wait. Shortly afterward, however, she was called upon to replace one of the dancers in Destiny's Child's stage act on short notice. She spent the next two years dancing in the group's performances.
When Knowles was 16, her father signed her to his Music World label, helped prepare her for a solo recording career, and arranged a deal with major-label Columbia. Her debut single, "Feelin' You, Pt. 2," was released in late 2002, reached Billboard's R&B/hip-hop chart, and had more success with club DJs; it narrowly missed the top of Billboard's club chart. Her first album, Solo Star, followed in January 2003 and debuted in the Top 50 of the Billboard 200. Although it featured collaborations with Timbaland, Missy Elliott, and Pharrell Williams, as well as a handful of cuts co-produced by Beyoncé, it didn't generate any major hits. For the next few years, Knowles took on acting roles in films such as Johnson Family Vacation and Bring It On: All or Nothing as she 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" and "Upgrade U."
Knowles made something of a creative breakthrough with her second album. Sol-Angel & the Hadley St. Dreams did not materialize until late 2008, but it was much more unique than its predecessor, steeped in mid- to late-'60s soul. It peaked in the Top Ten of the Billboard 200 and doubled the sales of the debut. Five of its singles peaked within the Top Ten of Billboard's club chart, and two of those -- "Sandcastle Disco" and "T.O.N.Y." -- reached number one. Despite how well it did commercially, Knowles subsequently went independent -- an unsurprising move, perhaps, given that the album also contained a song titled "Fuck the Industry." After she signed with Grizzly Bear member Chris Taylor's Terrible label, she released the funkier yet more new wave-inspired "Losing You" single, as well as its parent EP, True, in November 2012. Written and produced with Dev Hynes, it took her even farther away from the prevailing sounds of commercial R&B.
The following year, Knowles established the Saint label with Saint Heron, a compilation of songs by emerging like-minded artists, including Kelela, Sampha, and Starchild, as well as the comparatively established likes of Cassie and Jhené Aiko. The album also contained a new song from Knowles, but she took her time to complete her third solo full-length. In September 2016, almost four years after the release of the True EP, A Seat at the Table arrived on Saint/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. ~ William Ruhlmann & Andy Kellman