Hopscotch isn’t short on bands that wear their politics on their sleeves. There’s Hurray for the Riff Raff, a New Orleans folk-rock act who’s been peddling T-shirts bearing the phrase “No Human Is Illegal,” Run the Jewels’ protest-heavy hip-hop, and Museum Mouth, which donated a recent cut of its Bandcamp sales to the Transgender Law Center, to name a few. But two of this year’s headlinersSolange, who performs at Red Hat Amphitheater on Saturday, and Margo Price, who tops the bill at City Plaza on Thursdayoffer unexpected but complementary perspectives on marginalization.
Released almost a year ago, Solange’s A Seat at the Table immediately gained high critical acclaim and topped Billboard charts. The soulful album is a study in what it is to be a black woman in America today. In a review for The Guardian, Emily Mackay called the record “an intensely personal testament to black experience and culture; the likes of ‘F.U.B.U.,’ ‘Mad,’ ‘Don’t Touch My Hair,’ and interludes in which her parents talk about their encounters with racism go deep.” The record is an essential, evergreen document of the experiences of black Americans, and in the immediate cultural momentwhite supremacy and the fight against it at a fever pitch, Confederate statues coming down by edict or by force, A Seat at the Table feels even more vital than it did a year ago.
On “Don’t Touch My Hair,” Solange laments, “They don’t understand/what it means to me/where we chose to go/where we’ve been to know.” And she’s right: A Seat at the Table is not “for” white listeners who don’t understand the generational or daily trauma inflicted on black Americans. She addresses the notion of who her record is for most directly on “F.U.B.U.””This shit is for us/Don’t try to come for us,” she sings. At the same time, the album offers cathartic comfort. “Mad,” with its gentle refrain of “Be mad, be mad,” is a soothing affirmation of righteous anger, and, of course, the record’s biggest single, “Cranes in the Sky,” tenderly reflects on trying to escape intense pain. The record serves as both a guidebook for navigating a hostile world and bold public testimony about life as a black American.
Thursday night’s headliner, Margo Price, has made waves as an independent country artist, and doesn’t seem to have much in common with Solange. Her insight is just as thoughtful, though, as she demonstrated with last spring’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. It’s a study of heartbroken, downtrodden Middle America and the Souththe rural “flyover country” that often gets left out of national discourse. In “Hands of Time,” Price describes tough times growing up, her father losing their family’s farm, and trying to bounce back. She sings, “All I want to do is make a little cash/Cause I worked all the bad jobs bustin’ my ass/I want to buy back the farm,” iterating the American ideal of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.”
The poverty that Price so frankly addresses is a significant issue in America, one that is often overlooked or downplayed in the midst of other sociological problems. Like race, class affects everything and colors the everyday experience: access to health care, food, education, and other opportunities is drastically different from even slightly more developed areas. Price’s new EP, Weakness, released in late July, continues in the trend of its predecessor. “Just Like Love” explores the general malaise and anxiety that enveloped Americans in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Discussing the track for NPR’s All Songs Considered, Price said the song “came from definitely a darker place, just questioning what’s going on in the world and what goes on with humans and their inner turmoil that they face’Why are we here, no one knows.’”
Both women offer glimpses into demographics that are often overlooked, misunderstood, or discriminated against. Solange unpacks everyday microaggressions, outright racism, and the seemingly permanent exhaustion that results from both. Price digs into the cycle of poverty and those clamoring for the idealistic and increasingly unattainable American Dream. Neither offers specific answers on how to right the ship, but they don’t have to. Instead, they offer opportunities to listen and learn, reflect and restore, and, hopefully, inspire growth and positive change.