A girl’s twenties are rough, man, and SZA gets it. Born Solána Rowe of New Jersey, the 26-year-old singer-songwriter has been a quiet, energizing force in music's background. Despite being signed to Top Dawg Entertainment -- a label that boasts a roster of some of the most visible rappers out now, led by Kendrick Lamar -- as well as scoring a critically acclaimed Chance The Rapper-featuring single, "Child’s Play," and co-penning Rihanna’s ANTI deep cut "Consideration," SZA’s ethereal vocals were stil mostly known to those who waded in SoundCloud religiously.
Dating back to 2012, her early efforts -- 2012's See.SZA.Run, 2013's S and 2014's Z -- provided audible baptisms for fellow travelers but are ultimately littered with shards of uncertainty you’d be hard-pressed to find in her work now. With CTRL, her much anticipated 14-track debut LP after a three-year hiatus, SZA paints all the colorful and dark insecurities of being a 20-something in love and life with a newfound assurance, stripping to delicate, bare-bone vulnerability. With less than a handful of features -- Lamar, Isaiah Rashad, Travis Scott and a far-too-short appearance by James Fauntleroy -- SZA crafts a perfectly poetic and equally straightforward body of work, not unlike fellow R&B outlier and storyteller Frank Ocean.
A minute after pressing play on album opener “Supermodel,” her dreamy voice details adulterous revenge (“I’ve been secretly banging your homeboy”) and temporary love while flipping through things everyday women can relate to -- like finding security in yourself, a common theme throughout. Later, SZA gives the rundown of a part-time situationship on “The Weekend,” a tickling, smooth cut that sonically seems ripped right from a batch of '90s hits. And on “Doves In The Wind,” her breathy tone spews a deeper, soul-snatching power of a woman’s sex emphasized by Lamar’s lyrical acrobatics.