Album Review: SZA, ‘CTRL’

SZA’s ambient, down tempo style has shone no brighter than it does on her latest effort aptly entitled ‘CTRL’. SZA has been releasing quality music for the last several years now, however this body of work is the most all encompassing showcase of her evolving skill set. Not only is SZA a world class vocalist, she validates her songwriting ability and places herself amongst the best of her contemporaries. That is a special combination. Although she has become known for her softer and smoother vocal stylings, in this latest project she takes on ambitious, powerful vocals especially when gliding over stripped down acoustic guitar heavy selections like the album’s opening track “Supermodel”. She manages to navigate through these  various vocal frameworks flawlessly with each style bringing something new but necessary to the project.

CTRL’ also includes relevant and exceptional guest features from; Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar, Isiah Rashad and James Fauntleroy. While the first three artists mentioned are rappers by definition, not one of these appearances feel forced or inappropriate for the sultry vibe of the album. Especially in the cases of Travis Scott and Isiah Rashad, SZA constructs a refreshing take on the RnB duet which is so often painfully predictable. Never being afraid to ditch the classic hook, verse, hook recipe for a more conversational approach with the featured artists firmly intertwined into the fabric of the song. With phenomenal writing and incredible production SZA has conceived one of the most enjoyable projects in the genre in the last several years.

 

If nothing else can be said about ‘CTRL’, it quickly becomes obvious that it’s shockingly honest style fashions an incredibly relatable work of art. While I am not a twenty-something black woman, I do know quite a few and no album has mimicked the narrative they relay to me with the precision SZA has on this album. She gives a full illustration of her most personal and vulnerable thoughts as she delves into issues of empowerment, liberation, loneliness and self love. There does not come an age where one doesn’t battle with these concepts, but SZA manages to communicate this album’s concepts perfectly through her lens and gives us a deeper understanding of herself and women like her. The content of ‘CTRL’ is unabashedly given from the perspective of a millennial woman and no track may better describe that sentiment than her closing selection “20 Something”. SZA sums up the battle so many people in her age bracket face on the chorus singing,

“Stuck in them 20 somethings, stuck in them 20 somethings, Good luck on them 20 somethings, good luck on them 20 somethings, But God bless these 20 somethings(God bless, oh God bless, oh God bless, oh God bless, oh) Hopin’ my 20 somethings won’t end, Hopin’ to keep the rest of my friends, Prayin’ the 20 somethings don’t kill me, don’t kill me”

Although that can appear gimmicky on the surface, SZA takes no shortcuts giving us the full complexity of navigating through an increasingly difficult social and political world. She turns what could be a juvenile conversations about pussy into deep discussions about the need for female respect and empowerment in her collaboration with her TDE label-mate Kendrick Lamar on “Doves in the Wind”, as Kendrick spits, “And good pussy is rather dangerous/ pussy can be so facetious, the heavyweight champ/ pussy is so undefeated, let’s amen to that” .

The album unashamedly ventures into other genre’s without ever abandoning SZA’s unique melodramatic style, bending from the pop heavy influence on her lead single “Drew Barrymore” to the 90’s RnB laced chorus on “Weekend” , which could have come right out of the TLC/SWV playbook. https://youtu.be/

There are also 80’s influenced songs like “Prom” and contemporary RnB tracks like her latest single “Broken Clocks”. The album, ‘CTRL’, at times is deeply nostalgic often making references to the 90’s staples much of her core fan base came of age around. Songs like “Go Gina” reinforces the albums theme and just who it was written for and about. The album at its core is a  beautiful therapeutic session with songs like “Normal Girl” and “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” highlighting insecurities that strain our daily lives and especially take a toll on our romantic relationships. With verses like,

“I need your support now (now, now, now, now, now)/ I know you’d rather be layin’ up with a big booty/ Body hella positive ’cause she got a big booty (wow)/ I know I’d rather be paid up/ You know I’m sensitive about havin’ no booty, havin’ no body, only you buddy/ Can you hold me when nobody’s around us”.

With this album SZA has emerged as an integral voice in an all to often misunderstood generation. While SZA definitely has the pulse of the female audience her appeal absolutely crosses gender lines. As my close friend put it “SZA’s music inspires to find a girl I want to burn one with and marry”. While that may be a reduction of SZA’s ability to create deep thinking yet down to earth music, his sentiment runs concurrently through many of my peers. While the majority of the album is down tempo and jazz bass infused there is a particularly interestingly interlude entitled “Wavy” which provides a short, very singable change of pace within the album. This album only will only serve as one of many beautiful projects from SZA as we look forward to what is destined to be a long and successful career.There is no reason to not have this album in your catalog and give it quite a few spins!!

Rating 9.1/10

Singles: Broken Clocks, Love Galore,  Drew Barrymore

Personal Favorites: Doves in the Wind, The Weekend, Wavy (Interlude) and Garden (Say It Like Dat)