Have you heard of SZA? I feel like most people fall into one of two camps: 1) you’re very familiar with her and have developed opinions on all of her previous efforts like S and Z, which you like, natch; or 2) you have no idea who that is, what that is, and are trying to figure out if I just cursed you out in whatever language they speak in Kazakhstan.
I did not. SZA is the stage name of Solana Rowe, an artist signed to LA’s TDE imprint (the imprint of Kendrick Lamar) who recently released her full length debut studio album, Ctrl, on last Friday after a string of EPs. The name SZA follows in the tradition of the Rza and Gza, names built upon the Supreme Alphabet teachings of the Five Percent Nation. It’s possible that everything I’m saying right now sounds like poppycock. That’s okay because it isn’t important. Just know her name is pronounced like Sizza and that you should check out her album. I did and it’s been on repeat ever since.
That’s what I like.
Anyway, here are some thoughts about SZA’s album from somebody who hasn't followed her career (though I do know she was on Rihanna's ANTI album) BUT has enjoyed and devoured this album with delightful frequency.
1. While I really enjoy this album musically, sonically, lyrically, vocally, etc. I have to acknowledge that I’m about AT LEAST 15 years too old for this album. It’s definitely an album for a much younger demographic. I swear fore God and three white men there’s a mention of 7th grade (UPDATE: I've been put on notice that this is a reference to cartoon Pepper Ann, some other shit I don't know about) on this album. I just can’t stress enough how this album was not made with me in mind. This isn't to say that you can't enjoy it once you've hit the dark ages of your life, I'm just saying that it's entirely possible she'll mention shit you haven't thought about for decades.
2. That mention of 7th grade happens on my favorite record on the entire project, “Go Gina”. I cannot stress enough how much I love this damn song. The beat knocks, her singing knocks. I don't feel like I'm out of line by saying it knocks me off my feet. Also, this will probably NOT be your favorite record on the album. So don't be like, "well P, I listened and wasn't whelmed one way or the other." Listen, go live your best life, fam. Listen with the wind.
3. My first thoughts of this album are that she is representing the chick who Bryson Tiller sings about in all of his whiny ass songs except she doesn’t even want him anymore anyway AND fucked his best friend. Let me just say this here, I’ve really tried to get on the Bryson Tiller train; I have. But I don’t get it. This nigga whines more than Keith Sweat begs. And if it’s not whining it sure as shit SOUNDS like whining. His voice is grating and it doesn't help that he’s one of those insufferable fuckboi diva dudes in his thematic presentation.
4.Can we talk for a moment about vocal arrangement. Full disclosure, there are entire albums that I love that I can’t recite a single lyric to because the melding of voices with instruments SOUNDS so beautiful that I never get around to dissecting the lyrics. My first foray into any song is how the artist sounds on it, as if their voices were additional instruments. I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy so the music has to get me first, then vibe, then somewhere down the line, lyrics. But the music involves the singing as well, for me. It’s also probably why I love D’Angelo so much. Nobody has understood him since 1995, yet and still his music is compelling and powerful. It might also by why I don't hate Young Thug as much as I should. His voice is used to full effect. Michael Jackson was good for that too. I say all this because SZA’s vocals are amazing and even right now I haven’t listened to lots of the songs for their actual lyrics. This could also be why I love gospel so much; the voices are so strong and powerful that you don’t even have to worry about the lyrics because you know they’re singing about Jesus ‘nem and I'm pretty sure my mama approves of this message.
5. My favorite records on this album are: (the aforementioned) “Go Gina,” “Drew Barrymore,” “Super Model,” “Broken Clocks,” “Prom,” “The Weekend,” “Anything,” and “Wavy.” And I have no idea if I employed proper comma usage there.
6. My least favorite records are all the ones with features to include “Love Galore” featuring Travis Scott, “Doves in the Wind” with Kendrick Lamar, and “Pretty Little Birds” with Isiah Rashad.
7. Building on 6, I don’t think Kendrick adds ONE bit to that record aside from saying the word p*ssy so many times, which isn’t really an addition so much as its just funny until it’s like, boy stahp. I’m sure folks will laud the verse; I’m not folks. I’d rather he didn’t.
8. I’m not up on the new R&B (or hip-hop for that matter, though I did know more people on that new XXL Freshman cover than I expected), but I can say that from what I have heard of other artists, I haven’t heard much that sounds like this album, and that’s a good thing. It’s definitely heavier on substance than a lot of the non-sensical R&B that’s out there. I”m going to stop short of calling it that ambitious, but it’s a hell of an album that I think will catch a whole lot of replay action on your favorite streaming service. Like you know how nobody is really out here listening to Jhene Aiko albums though people keep trying to make you believe she's a thing? Yeah, this is the opposite.
9. I’ve watched some of her promo runs on various NY outlets (like The Breakfast Club and Everyday Struggle on Complex, for example), and she seems very personable and funny and approachable. I like that from artists. Artists who come across as real people definitely make me want to give their products more of a shot. This is how I ended up listening to 21 Savage and realizing that while he's good at interviews I legit hate his music.
10. Just call me Pza from here on out. But don’t pronounce it like “pizza”, but like “pihza”. (It’s okay if you don’t by the way, but I need a 10th point and you can save 15 percent or more by switching to Geico so is everybody is really winning here. You’re welcome.)