Words by Chelsea Whitaker
I have been following SZA since she first appeared on my Soundcloud feed, and I have been hopefully watching her career from the first TDE cosign to her performance with Kendrick Lamar at the Grammys. She is the type of artist who is unique enough to root for, and down to earth enough to relate to. Her debut album, Z, has been anticipated as both a continuation and expansion of her trademark sound. And without fail, SZA’s done just that with the mixture of her soulful vocals and eclectic selection of guest emcees; Z is a genre bending journey that excels at transporting my mind to a dreamy and emotional space at any given moment.
The project is filled with buoyant and lilting soundscapes, with much praise due to the creative, diverse, and layered production. Features from her TDE family abound, with Isaiah Rashad and Kendrick Lamar making appearances. One of the best pairings is with Chance the Rapper for “Childs Play”, where SZA sings “Ripping the heads off of my barbie dolls, toss em to the side” over an XXYYXX sample. We all know that feeling, and Chance punctuates her poetic lyrics with allusions to Pusha T: “Keys open doors when the keys are albino”. Their combined effect is a song that feels like a faded Polaroid of a relationship.
SZA is a vocalist who doesn’t need rappers to add energy to her songs and “Julia” proves this. Its danceable tempo and strong new wave influences make it easily palatable for a wide range of listeners. Yet there is a sadness to it, a poignance in the vocals SZA can’t avoid on even her most upbeat track. And still, this track could definitely be a mainstay at summer parties to come.
Things get darker on tracks like “Green Mile” where SZA describes the end of a relationship; here, she sings one of my favorite lines on the album: ”Shotgun to the back of my heart, I don’t turn around to see who let one ring out”. The tribal-influenced beat is just dark and dingy enough to help paint the scene of a blood-splattered emotional massacre. This song will no doubt have a long life on countless break up song playlists.
SZA has created a seamless collection of songs that together form a perfect balance of soul, melancholy and desire. She’s has created music to make love to, vibe to, and dream to – all in one place. Just one of the many reasons I’ll keep coming back for more.