SZA Ctrl Top Dawg Entertainment / RCA
Ctrl sees a sharp injection of strength into the music from Solána Imani Rowe, aka SZA. From the early stages of her career, the St. Louis-born 27-year-old has been connected to Top Dawg Entertainment, the label which is home to a tight-knit group of artists such as Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q, and since her debut release in 2012 the world has gradually come to understand SZA as a force to be reckoned with among the landscape of contemporary RnB.
On Ctrl, SZA’s debut retail album, she explores the full range of her voice over laid-back hip-hop production that includes the textural variety of live instrumentation. Lyrically, the songs feel like a collection of deeply personal romantic memoirs – tales of infidelity, growing pains, self-esteem issues, sacrificing yourself for someone underserving and long overdue break-ups. Though not always relatable, SZA’s stories make for powerful listening.
“I get so lonely/ I forget what I’m worth/ We get so lonely/ we pretend that this works,” SZA sings with an almost desperate husk in her voice on album highlight Drew Barrymore. Broken Clocks is a bad bitch singalong ballad, with an opening reminiscent of Rihanna’s Needed Me. Pretty Little Birds invites TDE label mate Isaiah Rashad for a gravel-toned verse via a jazzy diversion, while woozy boom-bap track Doves in the Wind features an excitable Kendrick paying tribute to the spellbinding power of women.
“Why you bother me/ when you know you don’t want me?” SZA protests on the Travis Scott collab Love Galore. Even in the moments of disaster, it seems as if she’s struggling for the upper hand. Ctrl is not always about winning – far from it – but it’s this sheer honesty that’s helped crown SZA as the reigning queen of her own truth.