Social media and music streaming have radically revolutionized the velocity at which music travels, in ways that weren’t imaginable ten years ago. Effective marketing campaigns remain a necessity no matter how many followers an artist has, but in this hyperspeed, viral climate, an ardent fanbase makes for the best word of mouth. Active posts, shares, and streams can combine to give a new song the same market visibility as a Super Bowl ad.
“Good Days,” released by SZA as a surprise last Christmas Day, isn’t arranged like a contemporary hit record. There’s a soothing, ambient build up rather than an immediate, striking beginning. The rhythm is unhurried, while the instrumentation is tender, delicate, gentle as a baby’s yawn. The writing is lucid and pensive. Her voice evokes a natural, emotive calmness. Falling upon the Los Hendrix, Nascent & Carter Lang production like raindrops upon warm asphalt. The vibe is undeniably hypnotic, but not obviously commercial — more traditionally like an album deep cut than a lead single.
But despite not sounding like a no-doubt smash structurally, musically or conceptually, it’s been received with viral fanfare. The single reached No. 1 on the US Spotify Streaming Chart by January 5th. On January 15th, “Good Days” was included as 1 of 46 songs in the Issa Rae and DJ D-Nice curated playlist for the inauguration of the 46th President & Vice president of the United States. A few weeks later, it would reach a No. 2 peak on Billboard‘s Streaming Songs listing.
All the fervent replaying elevated “Good Days” commercially, making it SZA’s first solo record to reach the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 — currently No. 9 — and her third top 10 on the chart overall. The RIAA certified the single as a Gold record with over 500,000 units sold on January 22nd, just three days shy of being a month old. It’s safe to consider “Good Days” a four-minute digital wildfire, an instant hit of the streaming era — and with a forthcoming music video and a possible Frank Ocean remix, the single likely hasn’t peaked yet.
The speed of the success found by “Good Days” doesn’t quite mirror the amount of time needed to bring the song from a voice note to a global sensation. Before a lyric was written, first came the guitar melody, which sets the mellow tone of the ethereal production. Los Hendrix, the producer behind that lush foundation, was in an L.A. studio session with a singer and a few songwriters when he first laid down the easy-on-the-ear six-string hook nearly three years ago.
“It was funny,” Los remembers to Billboard. “I thought [the melody] was dope. The songwriters in the room thought it was dope. One writer is super well-known — she told me it was beautiful. But the main artist wanted to move on and try other vibes. So in my head, I’m thinking, ‘Is this really not dope? Am I tripping?”’
Los had a strong feeling about what he made and wasn’t ready to give up on the idea. He sent a voice note of the guitar melody to friend, producer, and close collaborator Nascent to get his thoughts. The two have worked on several records together, most notably co-producing “Trust,” along with “Clouded” and “Been Way” off Brent Faiyaz’s 2020 EP, F–k The World.
“Los sends me this message like, ‘Is this wack?’ Nascent recalls, the memory still fresh in his brain. “I thought it was fire,” he continues, adding drums to the loop before Los made it home from the session. That night Los touched up the foundation by including bass and the textured background sounds to create a more stripped-down version of what would ultimately become the “Good Days” beat.
“I sent it back to the artist from the session and they still didn’t bite on it,” Los explains. “After that, it was nothing for a little bit.” Following a month of not finding a proper home for their collab, the two had a thought, “Let’s get the beat to SZA.”
There’s no sure thing in the record business. Producers are always guessing and gambling on what production is perfect for which artists. “Sometimes you make a beat and say, ‘Kendrick Lamar would sound crazy on this!’ and he won’t even like it,” Nascent says with a laugh. At 31 years old, he’s been getting placements with significant artists, the first being 50 Cent, since he was 18. Chance the Rapper’s “Grown Ass Kid,” A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s “Voices In My Head,” Saba’s “Something in the Water,” and Buddy & Kent Jamz “She Thinks” all feature his production.
Thirteen years of industry experience has taught the Chicago-born, LA-based beatsmith you can’t have expectations when reaching for the stars. “But,” he confesses, “I felt this would be one of those rare moments where she would f–k with this.”
As one of the most renowned singer-songwriters of her generation, SZA — born Solána Rowe — would just be a fantasy collaborator for most beatmakers. But the producer pair had a mutual colleague in close proximity to the R&B star: Both Nascent and Los Hendrix have worked frequently with Carter Lang, the Chicago-born, LA-based producer who co-produced on 8 of the 14 tracks found on SZA’s multi-platinum, GRAMMY-nominated debut album, CTRL.
“Nascent and I have been hanging out for at least seven years, playing each other music back and forth,” Lang says of his friend and their relationship of sharing music. “We were in Chicago… and he played me a beat that he and Los had done, it instantly caught my ear. I love a lot of Nascent’s beats. I try not to take more than I can chew, but that one has a lot of melodic space. Maybe it was some musical signal that caught my ear, but I knew it inspired me.” Carter held onto the beat until his birthday in late 2018, when he got a call from his friend Michael to come by a SZA studio session.
“I show up, we’re hanging, and I’m playing a few different vibes,” he recalls of the session. “While scrolling through my folder, I saw the “Good Days” beat, and a lightbulb went over my head. I wanted to see what would happen. So I pressed play, and she got to writing. It was instant pen to paper. We naturally locked in on it together. By the time we left, it was late, but I had a demo of the first verse and the chorus. I put it in the vault, and I didn’t bug her about it.”
The following day, Carter messaged Nascent saying, “SZA cut to it,” and “not to give the beat to anybody” — but it happened to be the same week he worked with a brand new artist, and the first song they worked on was a record over the “Good Days” beat. “Do you go with the amazing song that’s already done or the song that might come out?” Nascent says of the sudden dilemma, “I had to make the call.” After all, a cut record doesn’t guarantee a release. As Carter said, it was in the vault, with the possibility of staying there. “I decided to wait,” Nascent reveals, “It was SZA. With certain artists, you have to take a risk.”
So the production trio waited. Conversations between the TDE star and Lang kept them all informed of the song’s progress, but there wasn’t a major update throughout 2019. The next year began with some whispers about the record, but nothing concrete. The waiting continued for the first six months, but then on July 15, 2020, SZA teased a short snippet of “Good Days” on her Instagram story — with additional vocals by Grammy-nominated singer Jacob Collier.
“I NEED THE WHOLE SONG RN, I CANT STOP LISTENING TO THIS SNIPPET,” tweeted @cironshielddd_, an emblematic Twitter reaction that foreshadowed the budding excitement around the record. Another short teaser of the song appeared as the outro of her music video for the Ty Dolla $ign-featured single, “Hit Different,” released last September. “I came across a one-hour loop of “Good Days” from the “Hit Different” outro on YouTube,” Los recalls with a laugh, “She really had brothers out here starving.”
Between the two teasers, nearly two years after they began the song together, SZA told Lang that she had started working on “Good Days” to complete the record. As she laid the vocals on her side, Lang was recording and added the additional instrumental parts that he would arrange around her acapella. Building the intro, outro, and bridge took a few weeks of reclusive creation.
“Nascent and Los had provided a crazy-ass foundation,” Carter says in praise of his collaborators. “So I wanted to lay down everything that I could and then whittle it down to the most perfect supporting musical pieces. She made the beat her world, and I wanted to preserve that world with the mix. It was a crazy perfect alignment of events. Nascent, Los, and I all were waiting to get that one together. This piece of music really does represent what we love. Having gone so far back with Nascent, and Los, and SZA for sure, it’s just a family record.”
All three producers expressed a collective enthusiasm for the outcome: not just because of how well the song is doing, but because they were able to do it together. Years of knowing each other, patience, and believing in the process allowed all the stars to align. Los called the record, “The best Christmas gift he’s ever received.” The sense of relief is something they all share. All aware that there was a time where they weren’t sure if the song would ever come out. “It was kind of a mystery,” describes Nascent. “And now it’s the biggest song I’ve ever done.”