SZA, Ctrl | Album Review
Alternative R&B artist SZA returns with an intriguing, major label debut, Ctrl.
SZA is back. Who? The up-and-coming, alternative R&B and urban contemporary artist associated with Top Dawg Entertainment. The 26-year old released her informal debut in 2014 called Z, suggesting she was an artist to watch. On her proper, major label debut, Ctrl, SZA showcases incredible, artistry and proving she does, “got next” indeed.
“Supermodel” commences with an intro, centered around the idea of control – the title. These spoken word interludes are embedded within Ctrl throughout. SZA proceeds to sing feistily with attitude, in a distinct tone of voice; she’s undoubtedly pissed off. She approaches “Supermodel” as a letter, informing him she’s taking control and leaving. She plays the role of an angry, heartbroken, woman scorned exceptionally well. Interestingly, she only uses the title lyrically once in the chorus:
“I could be your supermodel if you believe / If you see it in me, see it in me, see it in me / I don’t see myself / Why I can’t stay alone just by myself / Wish I was comfortable just with myself / But I need you, but I need you, but I need you.”
Following the relatively spare, subtly produced “Supermodel,” “Love Galore” maintains similar coolness. SZA writes off men, specifically black men:
“Done with these n*ggas / I don’t love these n*ggas / I dust off these n*ggas / Do it for fun.”
Even so, he hollas at her nonetheless, with the sole intent of having sex. That’s the role Travis Scott plays on the third verse. Cleverly, he references SZA leaving him, then naturally, references his prowess in the bedroom, including pornographic lingo on the final line of the verse (“Tryna catch a P.O.V.”). Electrifying would be an overstatement, but “Love Galore” packs a punch.
“Doves in the Wind”
Third track, “Doves in the Wind,” packs the biggest punch of Ctrl yet. Unapologetic, featuring overt, soulful production to match, SZA focuses on pussy. Yes, literally.
“Real n*ggas do not deserve p***y / Meaning it’s more, you see right through walls / Ain’t talkin’ about p***y / Meaning you deserve the whole box of chocolates / Come at me / Forrest Gump had a lot goin’ for him / Never without p***y / Y’know, Jenny almost gave it all up for him / Never even pushed for p***y…”
Essentially, she seems to be disgusted by shallowness. There’s more to a relationship and life than just sex. Kendrick Lamar expounds on the power of p***y on the second verse, where he utters the word at least 17 times. He gives her a shout out at the end of the verse:
“How many times she gotta tell you that dick is disposable / But if she f*ck a young n*gga like me, it’s over for you / Solána, middle fingers up, speak your truth.”
“Is it warm enough for ya, inside me, me, me, me?” SZA is clearly hurt on “Drew Barrymore,” where her ex is with someone else. She questions her worth seeing him with another woman. She’s at her worst on the second verse, where she apologizes for her ‘shortcomings’:
“I’m so ashamed of myself think I need therapy / I’m sorry I’m not more attractive / I’m sorry I’m not more lady-like / I’m sorry I don’t shave my legs at night…”
“Prom” is another clever number from SZA. Early on, she is introspective, questioning how well she is transitioning into adulthood. She essentially knows she’s not quite where she should be, but she “Promise(s) to get a little / Better as I get older.” Interestingly, “Prom” also has a sensual edge, further amplified by the danceable groove and select lyrics.
“Forget to call your mama on the weekend / You should put yourself in time out / Shame, shame on you / But lately you’ve been feelin’ so good / I forget my future, never pull out / Shame, shame on me.”
“Prom” may have its share of innuendo, but ultimately, “The Weekend” thrives off its sensual vibes. The problem is, “My man is my man is your man / Heard it’s her man too.” In other words, SZA’s man is a man about town. Her man drama is our pleasure on this straightforward, enjoyable slow jam. While brief, “Go Gina” is captivating, providing listeners with pop cultural savviness and clever wordplay, how SZA weaves between a number of different things.
“Garden (Say It Like Dat)”
On “Garden (Say It Like Dat),” SZA seems to question her worth, once again, recalling “Drew Barrymore.” She spends the second verse of the song focused on her insecurities – specifically about her butt. Does her butt really matter? No, it’s just one lyrical aspect. Ultimately, she believes – or at least hopes – her man loves her for the way that she is. She claims,
“But I believe you when you say it like dat / Only you need me when you say it like dat / Oh I believe you when you say it lake dat / You must really love me.”
SZA slays on the soulfully-sampled “Broken Clocks,” which is a continuation of HIS love for her. While he still loves her, she’s moved on:
“All I got is these broken clocks / I ain’t got no time / Just burning daylight / Still love and it’s still love, and it’s still love…/ Nothin’ but love.”
She still has a place for him in her heart, but while he dwells on the past, she’s looking to the future. Beyond the aforementioned, SZA continues to share various feelings, thoughts, and snippets about herself, all of which are brilliant.
On the brief “Anything,” she reflects on participating in smarter love. However, it seems as if SZA is in a state of confusion. She constantly sings, “Do do you even know I’m alive?” Regardless, this is another intriguing moment from Ctrl, including the unique production work and the vocal performance. She’s joined by James Fauntleroy on “Wavy (Interlude)” before desiring normalcy on the soulful, reflective “Normal Girl.”
“Wish I was the type of girl you take over to Mama / The type of girl, I know my daddy, he’d be proud of.”
SZA exhibits a particularly lovely vocal tone on penultimate number “Pretty Little Birds,” among the most mysterious and soulful joints of Ctrl. She’s joined by Isaiah Rashad, who pop-raps on the third and verse and outro. The production is exquisite, incorporating hip-hop, jazz, and soul elements. “20 Something” concludes reflectively (shocker) as SZA questions age, relationship status, and life in general. She captures the millennial spirit superbly. Fittingly, it closes with an interlude, just as the album began.
So, how does Ctrl stack up? In an age where R&B struggles to find relevancy, SZA is quite relevant. Ctrl is a well assembled urban contemporary album that’s incredibly relatable to its listeners. Amazingly, she balances simplicity and complexity to create one of the best albums of 2017. All in all, she nails it.
Gems: “Love Galore,” “Doves in the Wind,” “Drew Barrymore,” “Broken Clocks” & “Pretty Little Birds”