The buzz around SZA grew a lot louder following her Los Angeles performance at The Novo Monday evening. It was the latest stop on her 44-date Ctrl Tour with featured artists Smino and Ravyn Lenae. And between audience shout-outs and passionate sing-alongs — plus a slew of “Isn’t she great” comments from singer and fan Keyshia Cole and various industry executives in attendance –Top Dawg Entertainment/RCA Records’ latest breakthrough effortlessly underscored why she’s the real deal.
With a confidence belying her short time on the scene, SZA and her band set the tone right off with opening number “Supermodel.” It was the first in a string of songs that the singer-songwriter performed from her major label debut album, Ctrl, which bowed at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and No. 2 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. In addition to the album’s popular singles, “Love Galore” and “The Weekend,” SZA powered her way through “Anything,” “Broken Clocks,” “Go Gina,” “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” and the anthemic “20 Something.” She also included selections from her 2014 top 10 EP, Z (“Childs Play” and “HiiiJack”). Kicking up the fervor another notch: Kendrick Lamar made a surprise appearance to reprise his cameo on Ctrl’s “Doves in the Wind.”
The raw, engaging honesty that has drawn fans to SZA’s unique vocals and inventive take on R&B also comes across in her bubbly, easygoing stage banter. “You guys have been so beautiful,” she noted halfway through the show. “Literally, I was so shook beforehand but you all are like fucking family.”
She also didn’t let a few technical difficulties get in the way while performing “Love Galore.” To the audience’s delight, she blithely launched into an earthier acoustic version of the song after the first go-round. “I got it on the second time,” SZA proclaimed with a laugh.
In addition to the aforementioned Keyshia Cole and Lamar, SZA drew a contingent of key industry executives. Among those spotted in the house were RCA senior VP of A&R Tunji Balogun, VP of urban promotion Brad Davidson and senior VP of publicity Theola Borden; Universal Music Publishing Group chairman/CEO Jody Gerson and director of creative Sterling Simms; Recording Academy project manager for urban music Jeriel Johnson and former BET president of programming Stephen Hill.
The next stop on SZA’s Ctrl Tour is the House of Blues in New Orleans (Sept. 28). Upcoming stops include Houston, Miami, Norfolk, New York, St. Louis and Chicago before the tour wraps in December.