SZA is a dreamer; a ‘90s kid who cites Pepper Ann and grew up wishing she could hold onto her friends and memories before the clock runs out. She’s a woman who embraces love in one moment and dances away from it the next. Peeling back all of the pains, scars, sexual desire, and highs and lows of falling in love love, she has crafted a debut album in CTRL that stews and reflects in turns. As the other side of the gender spectrum is still busy — even in 2017 — trying to control women by demeaning their actions as reckless, SZA finds power in her impulsiveness, and scoffs at any man who dares question it.
For a moment, though, it felt as if SZA, born Solána Rowe, would never come into her own. When she was first signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, one of the premier incubators of hip-hop talent on the west coast, or maybe even the world, Rowe found a creative partner in Isaiah Rashad. She appeared on Rashad’s “Ronnie Drake,” off his 2014 EP Cilvia Demo, and the two sparked instant chemistry; later, she established her own sound on the haunting debut single “Child’s Play,” with Chance the Rapper, which quickly became a cult favorite track. Her momentum was building.
SZA further made her differences from other R&B singers apparent through early aesthetic choices; she shunned Barbies in favor of an idyllic love for Street Fighter, Nintendo and the tragedies of Shakespeare. There was no veer into a full-blown bubblegum pop lane, no tip-toeing between styles in an attempt to figure out who she was. Z, her 10-track EP released in 2014 introducer her properly, right then: Here was an honest and blunt songwriter who felt birthed from the recording sessions of Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope. At just 23, she had a handle and comfortability with her sexuality that felt foreign in our still-puritanical society.