Solange: All in the Family

Solange Knowles moved to Brooklyn for a simple reason—family. Curled up on a couch in a recording studio in DUMBO, where she’s waiting for the guys from Lonely Island, Solange talks openly about the realities of being a young working mother to her 8-year-old son, Julez. “You know,” she says, in a voice that still retains a hint of Texas drawl, “my parents are here, my sister is here, my cousin is here, all my friends are here. We really wanted Julez to have the experience that we had growing up—being able to drop in on his aunt’s house and being able to hang out with Grandma and see our friends and have that experience of actually having a soccer game and having family show up. It’s such a beautiful feeling, but also having that village is a necessary reality so that I’m able to pursue my passion both outside of motherhood and outside of my career.”

Photos by iO Tillett Wright

Of course, for Solange, the professional passion that she pursues is a celebrated and ever-evolving music career that she’s been working on since she was a teenager, and the friends that she now lives near are a diverse group of vibrant, creative people with enviable careers of their own, and, oh, that sister she mentions? Well, that would be Beyoncé, who was an integral factor in Solange deciding not only to come to New York but also to come to Brooklyn specifically. “I’m still a newcomer here,” says Solange, “but I feel like because my family moved to New York when I was 17, that I have a longer and deeper connection. And I think about the times when I would come and visit them, and I would always spend a lot of time in Brooklyn. So it feels like an extension of me, living here, because I spent so much time here before.”

And in many ways, it makes perfect sense that Solange would end up in Brooklyn, rather than in the Manhattan environs where she might otherwise have been expected to dwell. Brooklyn suits the style—both musical and sartorial—that Solange has revealed over the many years she has spent in the public eye. Having now lived and worked in the entertainment industry for more than half her life, Solange was just 13-years-old when she started as a backup dancer on tour with her sister’s group, Destiny’s Child. Solange recounts that, rather than riding with her sister and the other members of Destiny’s Child, she had to ride in the backup dancers’ bus, where her young age—and the fact that she was still wearing braces—separated her from every crazy thing that goes on during a typical megatour. Her career wasn’t the only thing she started at a young age; Solange married and had her son when she was 18, first living in Idaho, where, she says, she had a formative parenting experience that “was very, very vital for the foundation” in her relationship with her son. And while the foundation of her relationship with her son was strong, Solange’s marriage ended when she was just 21, leading her to leave Idaho and begin the balancing act of single, working motherhood.

Which, Solange is quick to point out, “Is definitely a balancing act, and it is not at all easy. I do the best I can, which involves a lot of saying no to things, actually, and a lot of really organized scheduling and a lot of help, to be honest. That was one of our major incentives to moving here. We were living in LA and I was writing and recording this album literally between the hours of 9am and 3pm every day because that was the time that Julez was in school. We were completely isolated, we didn’t have any family or long-term friends there, and we didn’t have that support system built in there that we have in New York.” This clear-sighted appraisal of the choices that parents have to make in order to create an easier life for themselves and their children is so pragmatic and honest that it’s easy to understand why everyone I’ve talked to about Solange, from the friends who accompanied her to this photo shoot to—very briefly—Jorma Taccone of Lonely Island, has the same glowing things to say about her. Solange is cool… Solange is so chill… Solange is the easiest person to talk to… Solange is basically the greatest. And, well, after spending some time with her, it’s hard not to agree—Solange is the kind of person who opens up easily, in a way that makes anyone who spends an hour with her feel like they’ve been her girlfriend for ages, or at least wish that they had.

From the moment we met, Solange was immediately disarming and funny, joking about losing a babysitter to the siren call of New York’s improv circuit, and talking about a late night in the recording studio that had lasted until four or five in the morning: “I’m working on my next record. I started writing about three months ago. I’ve been so lucky to meet such wonderful and beautiful inspiring friends, and we have all these experiences that only could have happened here. Even last night we all went to see Flying Lotus and Erykah Badu at Music Hall of Williamsburg and then we all went over to my studio in Red Hook and we just hung out till literally the sun came up and recorded and talked. They inspire me. Just having that energy around is so important.” What’s quickly apparent from seeing Solange and her friends together is that they feed off each other’s energy, talking and laughing easily, always close together with the casual physical intimacy that the best girlfriends have.

It’s clear that Solange has found here the community she sought when she left Los Angeles. Always in tune with the independent music scene (I was at the Grizzly Bear show at the Williamsburg Waterfront to which Solange brought Beyoncé and Jay-Z, way back in 2009, and remember how excited everyone was when we realized who was in the audience), Solange recorded her last album, True, with producer Dev Hynes (Florence + the Machine) and had a hit with the compulsively danceable song, “Losing You.” With plans to tour this summer—once Julez is out of school and can accompany her—she continues to move full-speed ahead, establishing a distinctive musical identity that is inescapably her. But, while she is busy doing that, she continues to live the life of a Brooklyn parent, the kind of Brooklyn parent who moved to an apartment specifically so that she would be zoned for the public school of her choice—and then visiting that school’s office every day for two weeks until her son was guaranteed a spot. So while Solange definitely has nights of recording till the sun rises, she also tells me what a really crazy weekend looks like for her now: “I played BAM on Friday, and the following morning I had to pick Julez up from a sleepover and take him to parties, one over in Flatbush, one over in Red Hook. And luckily I have a car here, but sometimes I feel like nothing more than a next-level carpool driver.” Solange flashes a huge smile when talking about one of the most intense parts of her life now. “It’s the birthday parties here. The birthday parties are so, so real.”

Many artists seem to construct more and more layers of their identities as their careers grow, protecting their true selves and only revealing a façade to the rest of the world but Solange has successfully done the opposite. She has shed the image that was thrust upon her at a young age, an image that was based on the family she came from and the music she was supposed to be making. In her music, in the way she lives her life, and in conversation, she is undeniably herself—effortlessly discussing everything from her son’s French immersion program to playing Glastonbury this summer to the guilty parental pleasure of sleeping past noon, before wrapping me up in a warm hug goodbye, and heading back into the studio to make music.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen


Production Stephen Price for County Fair Productions
Photo Assistant Joshua Anthony, Stylists Lizzy Okpo and Ian Bradley, Stylist’s Assistant Madeleine Hand, Solange Hair Susy Oludele, Girls’ Hair Siobhan Benson, Make-Up Regina Harris, Featuring Elise Petersen, Saada Ahmed, Solange Knowles, Lizzy Okpo, Armina Mussa, Ingrid Burley, Location Madiba Restaurant


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