A New Album From Beyonce's Sister Solange Knowles

Prior to this interview, the publicist had one request: No Beyonce questions. Solange Knowles, the younger sister of you-know-who, wants to step out from behind her famous sister's shadow with the release of her sophomore album, "Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams" on Aug. 26. Besides her famous name, Knowles is also known for other things: her marriage at 17, the birth of her son at 18 and her divorce last year. Gossip blogs slapped the singer with the label "So-Long Career" following her first album and when her movie "Bring It On: All or Nothing" went straight to DVD. Not a great start.

But the now-savvy 22-year-old knows this. With "Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams," the singer attempts to shed everything the tabloid-fueled world thinks about her, starting with her music. "I Decided" is the '60s-inspired first single, currently at No. 1 on several Billboard charts. NEWSWEEK's Susan Elgin spoke with Knowles from her family home in Houston about how she's reinventing her image, raising her son and defining success. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Do you think this sound is surprising for listeners who expect you to sound like your sister?
Solange Knowles:
I don't think people really know much about me, outside of a few things I've done here and there. I do know that it is an extremely different sound from anything out there in the mainstream marketplace. Amy Winehouse and Duffy's records just came out, and I started recording this way before their records were out, but that doesn't matter. I think it's definitely shocking for some people who have heard it.

Your first single "I Decided" is doing well, hitting No. 1 on Billboard's R&B Singles Sales and Hot Dance Singles Sales charts.
It is exciting. I was kind of in denial up until I just had an in-store to sign singles. Seeing all of the people actually with it in person made me realize "OK, maybe it is selling." [Laughs.]

A lot has happened in your personal life since your last album was released in 2003. Since then, you've been married, divorced and had a child. How did that impact your music?
Well, for one, I actually have stories to tell. When you're 15, you don't really have that much to think about, other than boys and crushes. [Laughs.] I tried to touch on topics that aren't so generic and that have some sort of social consciousness. I've been through a marriage and a divorce, so of course I've changed. I think the biggest way that I've changed is my outlook on making art and being an artist. What I am really trying to achieve is making something that means something and that I would listen to.

How does touring work when you have a child?
I just got off a tour, actually. He just came with me. I have help. My family helps me. I have a nanny who helps me, which is a blessing, because I could definitely not be away from him for a month. So I bring him with me and it works. It's very exciting for him. He thinks the tour bus is like a spaceship or something. It's also really good because he's able to travel. He's gone to San Francisco and gone to the bridge. He's seen the arch in St. Louis. It's like having his own little geography class right in front of his eyes.

I saw on your Web site that you are supporting Barack Obama. How politically involved are you?
I try to get involved as I can. I want to see what my little self can do. I definitely wouldn't call myself a superpolitical person, but I will say that I am very socially aware. I read the news just as much as I read Perez Hilton. I just try to make sure that I am well rounded. There are a lot of changes that need to be made, and he [Obama] could definitely do that for us.

Speaking of Perez Hilton, he was pretty critical of you a few years back, but lately he's praised your new music. What is it like to read gossip blogs like that and see yourself on there?
I definitely laugh. I think that, in this industry, you have to have a sense of humor. [Laughs.] I just figured, it's actually hilarious, but you have to have a lot of spunk to get through it, and I definitely have a lot of that. I actually think that stuff is pretty ridiculous, and you only get offended when there's some truth to it. Most of it doesn't have any truth to it, so it doesn't bother me. The only time that causes a reaction is when you see something about your child, and I do a good job of trying to avoid that.

Do you aspire to that ubiquitous fame that your sister has?
No. I am very, very scared actually of getting to that level. It seems miserable to not really be able to really take advantage of all this world has to offer by having to avoid so many things and particular places. My friend just told me, "You have to take your baby to Chuck E. Cheese tonight. What if you couldn't do that?" I'm like, "Nooooo!" [Laughs.] You gotta be able to go to Chuck E. Cheese. But right now, I have to go on a school night, because if I tried to go on a regular night, it would be hell for me. And him.

Do people approach you?
Yeah, for pictures and autographs. I know I really have a different perspective on that. If I'm at a concert or an autograph signing or, you know, somewhere in work mode, then that's a different story than being at Chuck E. Cheese with your son. Or at a restaurant with your friends, whom you rarely get to see. Or at church, or even shopping. People actually have a sense of public property about celebrities and artists. I will tell you no in a heartbeat, especially if I'm with my son. It's not fair to him, and I don't understand how people wouldn't understand that.

I can't believe people approach you at church.
Oh, no, church is definitely a hot spot.

You're a bit of an entrepreneur, like your sister. Can you talk about why you started Baby Jamz, a toy line featuring hip-hop nursery rhymes?
My son loves hip-hop music, and no matter how much Beatles and Stevie Wonder I play, he wants to hear ""Soulja Boy" and "A Bay Bay." He's part of that generation, so I wanted to make nice, clean versions of those songs. So I took traditional nursery rhymes and did that, which is actually really hilarious when you notice it's my voice in them. But it's really been doing well.

So your son likes to listen to that?
Yeah. [Laughs.]

It sounds like you don't agree with that.
No, it's not that I don't agree with it. I think it's fun music, for what it's worth. I just grew up in a different era where R&B and soul music were very alive, and that would always be my first preference since that's what I was around more. But it just seems like, in this day and age, you can't escape that music. And there are some people who can do a very good job with it, so I'm happy he likes "A Bay Bay" and "Soulja Boy," but I'm happy he likes Kanye [West], too. [Laughs.]

When I think of the average 22-year-old, she isn't making albums and raising a 4-year-old son. How do you balance all of the different things in your life?
No. 1, I learned how to say no. I learned to only do the things that I'm passionate about. I just cut out time. Like these two days, I'm really backed up on demoing out songs that I wrote, but it's very rare that I have two days in my hometown, so I just have to push those to the side and do them another time. Now I have to go to the park and take my son swimming. It's just all about what is a priority to you.

You keep saying that you're not that famous. Do you think that you're really forming who you are with this record?
I feel like I'm starting over. No matter how long I try to get away from my first record or "Bring It On," the reality is that 800,000 people bought "Bring It On" just in the first week it was out. So [laughs], I definitely am realistic in that people know me. I'm starting over, in the sense that I really, truly am and pushing something that really is me.