By: Lauren Robinson aka Nobody’s Millennium
R&B singer and songwriter Solána Imani Rowe, professionally known as SZA (“Sovereign Zig-Zag Allah” or “Savior Zig-Zag Allah”), was born November 8, 1990. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and relocated to Maplewood, New Jersey later in life. SZA gave the world her self-released EP debut, See.SZA.Run, in October of 2012. She then followed up with her second EP titled S in April of 2013 and in July of 2013 it was revealed that she signed with hip hop record label Top Dawg Entertainment which features artists like Kendrick Lamar and Isaiah Rashad, both of whom she has collaborated with before her debut album, Ctrl. Through Top Dawg Entertainment she released her third EP titled Z, which became her first retail released in April of 2014.
SZA can be described as a Neo soul singer not only for her vocal ability and range but also for her syntax and lyricism. On each record you can find themes of descriptions pertaining to vulnerability and insecurity with her relationships, sexuality, and abandonment. She’s able to take you on a nostalgic trip to a place you’ve never visited just through a rendition of emotions.
SZA has great use of alliteration, perfection of meter and an interesting point of view that makes you feel what she has been through or an experience she wants to record. SZA’s penmanship within her own work and the work of others is one that hasn’t been seen within the R&B genre for the past five years. The sound of her instrumentals and her flow on them can be described as being alternative R&B, with components of soul, hip hop, and chillwave.
All of these amazing attributes can be found on her debut studio album, Ctrl, which dropped on June 9, 2017. Within 14 tracks, the album uses all previous techniques in SZA’s arsenal to come together and talk about the topic of control. She sets up the theme and continues it by using recorded voice messages between her mother and herself. Whether it be having control or giving it up, SZA recounts moments in her life and speaks for those around her to discuss insecurities, self-worth and vulnerability. She discusses all walks of life where people try to find control: relationships, friendships, family and coming of age while dealing with body issues in a society that pressures women, especially black women to be perfect. The success of the album itself is well deserved, it launched to number three on the US Billboard Top 200. It generated two platinum-certified singles, “The Weekend” and “Love Galore”, which features rapper Travis Scott. Ctrl ranked as the best album of 2017 by Time in its year-end list, and scored several Grammy Award nominations, including Best Urban Contemporary Album.
To wrap up this amazingly successful year SZA performed on Saturday Night Live. For her first performance of the night, she gave a bare-bones portrayal of “The Weekend,” which has been nominated for Best R&B Performance at the Grammys. Wearing a complimentary emerald green gown, she created a soulful rendition backed by a choir and Christmas lights to create a tranquil ambience. For the next performance of the night SZA wore a yellow sweatsuit dress and the song choice was “Love Galore” without rapper Travis Scott. She continued to create the tranquil ambience with the choir and using her own vocals in a more soulful way in order to convey to the audience her emotions within the record.
The only criticism to be had of her performance would be the choice of songs. From a fan perspective it would’ve be refreshing to see her interpretations, performance wise, of other records that don’t necessarily talk about relationships with the opposite sex. Especially using the choir, songs like “Normal Girl” and “Wavy (Interlude)” could’ve shown the other messages within her music to the mainstream audience. Besides that, SZA did an amazing job vocally and showed her ability to command a stage from her wardrobe choice to how she can do more than just perform the already set record.