In the classic days of hip-hop, rappers would often feature vocals from a “round-the way girl’ in their songs. These women are from the neighbourhood, real women who add raw soul in the background, never overpowering the masculinity of the rapper on the track, and often remain nameless in the credit.
Top Dawg Entertainment’s r&b artist SZA is the millennial version of the “round-the-way girl,” but instead of playing in the back as support she is placed front and center. She is like your homegirl who also happens to be a soulful songstress with a voice made for jazz, contemplating vulnerability and heartbreak in the millennial era over hip hop, pop and rock influenced beats.
“There’s this fear, that if I lost control, if I did not have control, things would just be, you know, fatal.”
These are the opening lines from Ctrl, SZA’s debut studio album. These lines are sampled from a voice message left by SZA’s mom and introduces listeners to the overall theme of the album: Control.
Many people like to imagine that they have control over every aspect of their lives, their relationships, or their career. Sometimes this can be true, but for anyone who has ever experienced love or heartbreak, there are some events we have no control over.
SZA (pronounced Sizz-Uh,) is also no stranger to this. Fans anxiously awaited as the release date for Ctrl kept getting pushed back. On October 3, 2016 while frustrated, she tweeted “I quit, [Punch] can release the album if he ever feels like it.”
Thankfully SZA remained with TDE. As the only woman on the independent record label, she has held her own against heavy-hitting label mates like Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q. In early 2017 her two leading singles “Drew Barrymore” and “Love Galore” were finally released, and the album dropped June 9 and eventually earned the number three spot on the Billboard 200.
Ctrl was worth the wait. It is the confident, funny, edgy, and relatable soundtrack for 20-somethings trying to navigate a changing world. It’s how a 90’s indie rom-com would sound like as an album, complete with references to movies and shows like Forrest Gump (“Doves in the Wind”) and Martin (“Go Gina.”)
Each track is a personal, honest, observant, and analytical. SZA reminds listeners how relationships behave like mirrors, how we see a better reflection of ourselves through the interactions with people in our lives.
Ctrl offers a lesson on how relationships teach us more about ourselves. SZA explores the different aspects of love- its presence or absence, the drama of it, the excitement, the intensity, the adventure. The longing, the loneliness, the pettiness, and the comedy of it all.