For new album 'When I Get Home,' Solange draws from Houston and black nostalgia

Solange Knowles uses of modern platforms and nostalgia to play to the theme of her new album “When I Get Home," which explores of her hometown of Houston.
Image: Solange Knowles performs at the Day for Night Festival in Houston on Dec. 17, 2017.
Solange Knowles performs at the Day for Night Festival in Houston on Dec. 17, 2017.Rick Kern / WireImage file

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By Demi Douglas

Just days before Solange Knowles released her new album, “When I Get Home,” at the beginning of March, she pointed her fans on Twitter to something they probably hadn’t seen in years: the social networking website BlackPlanet.

On her customized BlackPlanet page, which included lyric excerpts, a dossier of images, a lineup of tour dates and a newsletter sign-up, Solange described her fourth studio album as “an exploration of origin,” asking the question “how much of ourselves do we leave at home and how much do we carry with us forever?”

Solange’s new BlackPlanet page quickly drew attention on Twitter, with many wondering if the social site was remerging. BlackPlanet launched in 1999 as a social networking site for African-Americans but has since fallen out of the mainstream. Its founder, Omar Wasow, an assistant politics professor at Princeton University, said that the social network was created to use the internet as a place not only of information, but also of community. BlackPlanet gave African-Americans tools to “make friends, find jobs, date and even get married.”

Solange’s use of modern platforms and old technology to play to the theme of her new album — the exploration of her hometown of Houston — continued with promotions on Instagram and Apple Music.

On Instagram, she tapped Houston rapper Mike Jones to introduce another throwback. Solange surprised fans by posting a video encouraging her 3.7 million followers to call “281-330-8004” for a “special announcement.” The number is familiar to many music fans, particularly those in Houston. Jones included the number — then his personal cellphone number — in his hit song “Back Then,” which peaked on the Billboard charts at No. 15.

Jones told NBC News last week that Solange approached him to collaborate with the hotline tactic and “they worked together to put it together,” noting that he had used his number to convey authenticity.

“I wanted to let my fans know I was coming to their city, and they could call me if anything went wrong,” Jones said.

Solange released her new album, which followed 2016’s critically acclaimed “A Seat At The Table,” at midnight on Friday, March 1. The album is a compilation of repetitive lyrics, samples from viral videos and highly produced beats with cosmic sounds and a Houston flair.

Karen Civil, who has worked with hip-hop artists, music companies and presidential campaigns, said these kinds of projects require a clear “understanding of the project and fan base.” She said the entire project was a celebration of black art.

“It’s the FUBU of albums, for us by us,” she said.

Civil also noted that Solange’s use of BlackPlanet was notable because the website “was the first hub for black culture” on the internet.

The artist later announced that an accompanying film would be released exclusively on Apple Music that Friday evening. The film is set in Houston and features a cast of black actors dressed in uniforms of simple solid colors moving in unison and pattern. The film also shows illusions of a holy figure, black cowboys and online sensation Zola, who moved the internet in 2015 with her recollection of an experience with an exotic dancer and pimp on Twitter.

Solange Knowles attends the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on May 7, 2018.Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images

The following day, March 2, Solange released tickets on BlackPlanet for fans to view the film at various locations in Houston, including Unity National Bank, the only black-owned bank in the city.

Solange streamed her film on the Sunday following the album's release in front of a sold-out audience while simultaneously streaming the follow-up discussion on BlackPlanet. She reviewed the project and told the audience, it was extremely important for her to tell the familiar story of Houston, and especially of the black experience. Knowles revealed the film was intended to highlight a “culture that was so enriching for me. It’s not just an aesthetic, this is something that we actually live.”

Throughout the 2000s, BlackPlanet’s influence was everywhere. Even former President Barack Obama created a profile on the site after announcing his presidency. “It wasn’t obvious then how powerful social networking would be. And in particular, that it would be so powerful for the black community,” Wasow said.

But with her promotion of "When I Get Home," Solange reminded many former BlackPlanet users — many of whom were left scrambling to find their old logins — of the impact of the old era of the internet.