Solo ActR&B Music Made My First Apartment Feel like Home

illustration of Solange's portrait from her album

Illustration by Rachelle Baker

This article was published in Sanctuary Issue #85 | Winter 2020

moved into my own place for the first time in February 2019. Along with my material items, I brought other baggage: I had been laid off from a full-time job in November 2018. But by January 2019, I was being approved for a one-bedroom co-op in Brooklyn, and I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I took the leap, but I wondered how I would stay afloat as a newly self-employed person without healthcare. When I glanced at my bank account, I realized it would take months before I could furnish my apartment like the well-curated living spaces I pinned to secret Instagram collections. To lighten the stress load, I decided to transform my new space into a sanctuary that didn’t break my budget. I started simple: filling my apartment with music that helped me practice gratitude whenever I began spiraling about my issues. It had been a sad-girl winter and I needed a healing-girl spring.

When I Get Home, Solange’s fresh R&B, jazz, and hip hop album, provided much-needed affirmation. Lyrics from the hypnotically repetitive “Things I Imagined” (“I saw things I imagined”) and the soul-lifting “Dreams” (“Dreams, they come a long way, not today”) stood out, conjuring up thoughts of the places I’d traveled to and the opportunities I had experienced that were once unchecked items on a bucket list. During my travels, I had collected magnets, shot glasses, and other trinkets from the cities I visited, items that I rediscovered during my move. I placed these physical reminders of my journeys around the kitchen. I found unused candles I’d received as gifts from coworkers and lit them in my bedroom. I named a new tropical foliage plant May—after my birth month—as I began looking forward to turning 30. Solange’s music inspired me to take the initial steps toward shaping the decor of my home.

By May, I was more settled in but still feeling financial anxiety. Again, the universe delivered music that kept me grounded. The joyous gem “New Apartment” appears on Ari Lennox’s vintage soul album Shea Butter Baby. “And everything stays where I leave it/ Every damn rule I created/ A Dollar Tree wine glass is in the air/ André will get me there,” Lennox crooned in her rich, dewy tone. I felt seen as Lennox shouted out her Dollar Tree dishware; I’d bought my own first set of glasses from Family Dollar. The song became my celebratory anthem for finally reaching a point in life where I didn’t have to share anything within my home with anybody else. As a middle child, I’d always compromised about toys, tv, and food. This dynamic came into play again when I lived in college dorms, had housemates, and returned to my parents’ basement after college. But this time, I was in full control.

Solange had me feeling gratitude for the past, Ari had me thinking about the present, and Jamila Woods’s May 2019 album Legacy! Legacy! inspired me to think about the future of my sanctuary. The song “Frida” embodies the spirit of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who used a bridge to connect her home to her partner Diego Rivera’s home. Woods used the couple’s living arrangement as a metaphor for not giving up your individuality in a relationship. “We could do it like Frida, we could build a bridge then/ I could come see ya, just not where I live/ Don’t get me wrong, I’m not scared of lovin’ ya/ Multiply my sides, I need a lot of area.” Though the song is more symbolic than literal, Woods inspired me to think deeply about what cohabitation would look like for me.

While listening, I thought about how much our physical living space is tied to our emotional needs. Some of us may occasionally need room to breathe within a long-term partnership, so our physical spaces need to reflect that. I’m not rushing it, but I’m 30, single, and I desire to be married. According to recent stats, there is a 70 percent chance I could walk down the aisle in the next decade. Thinking now about how to maintain my space in a long-term partnership isn’t a bad idea. What I know for sure is, if and when I get married, I have the right to preserve the sanctuary I’ve already begun building.

Having my own spot gives me some semblance of freedom in a world where Black women are policed at work, on the street, in social settings, and even on social media. Sometimes outside forces distract me from basking in this newfound freedom and privilege, but when the day is done, I can shut the door, put down my phone, and create the ambience I desire. And whenever I need a reminder to unwind, I put Solange, Ari Lennox, and Jamila Woods on repeat and let be.  


by Natelegé Whaley
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Natelegé Whaley is a culture journalist from Brooklyn, New York.