Solange Knowles hopes to emerge from sis' shadow
Saturday, 06 September 2008

AP, NEW YORK - Solange Knowles turns out to be a little sensitive about using a certain b-word.

No, not that b-word.

This b-word: Beyonce.

Solange, 22, is reluctant to discuss her older sister — the Bootylicious One — and it's understandable why: All anyone seems to want to know is about their relationship, and yet one of them is still trying to make a name for herself.

"I've answered that question and then that'll be the one thing from a 40-minute interview that gets any play. That is what becomes frustrating," she says. "It's a little repetitive."
 
Sorry, Solange.
 
The good news is that she has something of her own to crow about: "SoL-AngeL and the Hadley St. Dreams," a sophomore album that's anything but sophomoric.
 
The 13-song CD starts with a blast of 1960s-inspired R&B — think The Marvelettes and The Supremes — before evolving into more downbeat electronica.
 
"This is exactly what I wanted my record to sound like, from top to bottom. This is exactly where I was musically when I recorded it. My influences, my inspiration, my honesty is poured into this record," she says.
 
There's the foot-stomping "T.O.N.Y.," the American Bandstand-sounding first single "I Decided," the hip-swiveling "Sandcastle Disco" and the Gaye-inspired "Ode to Marvin." There's also a smoky duet with Bilal.
 
Big sis — that dreaded b-word — does get a mention, albeit obliquely. "I'm not her and never will be," Solange sings on "God Given Name," the opening track. "Two girls going in different directions/Striving towards the same galaxy/Let my star light shine on its own."
 
"What I love about Solange is she dares to be different," says her father, Matthew Knowles, an executive producer on the album. "I think people are finally getting it — that she is different from her sister. And that's OK."
 
There's little doubt that Solange's star shines differently. While her sister appears more poised and proper, little sis is raw and outspoken. She has tattoos, she curses and she's prone to rashness. Her publicist seems perpetually skittish.
 
During an interview in her label's office, a tired Solange collapses on a leather sofa and never gets up, transforming into a horizontal diva with huge hair, impossibly high heels and what looks like a mini-prom dress. The whirlwind promotional tour has sapped her strength.
 
Five years younger than her sister, Solange has already amassed quite a musical history. She joined big sis on a Destiny's Child tour as a dancer and helped write such songs as "Upgrade U" and "Get Me Bodied" for Beyonce, and others for Destiny Child alums Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams.
 
Though her new disc is technically her second album, Solange is pulling a Joss Stone — declaring her second CD the real debut and distancing herself from the first.
 
That album, "Solo Star," came out in 2003 and sold some 112,000 copies. Though it reached No. 23 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, critics found it too muddled, veering awkwardly from reggae to hip-hop to pop.
 
Solange took time off after that, marrying Daniel Smith, her childhood sweetheart, at 17; giving birth to a son, Daniel Julez; and moving to Moscow, Idaho, while Smith attended college. Now divorced, she and her son have made their home in a loft on Hollywood Boulevard.
 
"It's definitely a sense of balancing and I feel like I do it well," she says about single motherhood. "The key for me is really to learn when to say no. Sometimes my marbles are getting thrown around too much and then it's bad news."
 
For her second disc, she vowed to fight for a complete sound. That meant tapping top-notch help, such as The Neptunes, Cee-Lo and Mark Ronson — and being choosey.
 
In the end, contributions from Q-Tip and Raphael Saadiq never made it, despite advance advertising. And some songs — like "White Picket Fence" and the naughty duet with Lil' Wayne "ChampagneChroniKnightCap" — either leaked too early or didn't fit the vibe and will live as singles or international bonus tracks.
 
"A lot of time the mistake — it's not a mistake, I shouldn't call it that — the challenge in making a record when you're inspired by so many different genres is really weeding out to what completes the body of work," she says.
 
Her dad confesses that some of her final choices may have taken away marketing value from the album, but he was convinced by his daughter's passion. "It's kind of like if you've got a power forward, you just give them the ball, right?" he says. "I don't tell them what play to run, you just give them the ball."
 
The album also shows that Solange isn't above tweaking herself. The inside booklet has a photo of her standing sheepishly in front of two whiteboards. "I will not get pregnant at 17," she has written over and over on one. "I will not have a famous family," she writes on the other.
 
"Some of the trials and tribulations I had to deal with on this record is that I have a name but it may not have been seen for the right reason," she says.
 
She explains that she had to fight to get heavy hitters in the music business to take her seriously, sometimes ambushing them at clubs. "It's easy to get them on the phone, but it's not easy to make them listen," she says.
 
Her new album's title comes from a section of Hadley Street in Houston where her father chose five years ago to set up his music company, Music World Entertainment.
 
Back then, the area was run down, a magnet for drug users and prostitutes. Now, it's thriving — kind of like the little sister of a certain other Knowles.
 
"It's a tribute for having a vision and a making it a reality, which is sort of what I had to do with this record," says Solange.

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