The official major label album debut for Solána Imani Rowe, professionally known as SZA, is upon us. 2014's Z was technically termed a mixtape for the resident R&B singer on the Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) imprint (home, of course, to roster mates like Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Isaiah Rashad) but nonetheless functioned as a quick, gauzy intro for the New Jersey-based artist.
CTRL has been a long time coming -- the project suffered a few delays, coupled with whispers of internal industry drama with Top Dawg Entertainment -- but what's presented here is "new neo-soul" personified.
Originally titled A, the debut album from SZA was meant to conclude a trilogy of self-titled releases following 2013's S and 2014 's Z--her official entré into the music world. The release date was originally projected for summer 2016 and, as she revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly at the time, it was going to be a frank recounting of her romantic life, warts and all. "I'm talking a lot of grimy shit, but it's truth," she said.
L anguid and soulful, the debut album from New Jersey singer SZA is an immersive dreamscape, book-ended poignantly with her mother's musings on the subject of control. The obvious touchstone is the meandering R&B of Frank Ocean - these are delicious slow jams with delicate yet powerful vocals and intimate insights into femininity, self-esteem and youth. On Normal Girl, SZA laments that she isn't one, while on Pretty Little Birds she candidly considers shaving her legs.
As a twenty-something woman who's been single in the age of social media, SZA's confessional debut album CTRL is strikingly relatable. But what's remarkable about it is that she has spun her personal experiences into a soulful, touching R&B record with broad appeal beyond her particular demographic--case in point, rap mogul Diddy posted nearly two minutes of himself vibing to it on Snapchat, declaring, "I'm obsessed. " But for those who've had to navigate sex and relationships in the era of DMs and dick appointments, CTRL feels as honest and timely as Goth Shakira's funny, feminist memes about searching for connection in a social media-saturated world.
A look at must-hear, recently released music, as chosen by The Times' pop staff. SZA, "Ctrl" (Top Dawg Entertainment / RCA) Falling into music after walking away from studying marine biology, SZA -- born Solȧna Rowe -- released a pair of mix-tapes before she became the lone female voice of L.A. hip-hop powerhouse Top Dawg Entertainment and delivered her breakout 2014 EP, "Z." "Ctrl," like her earlier work, sees SZA navigating the complexities of love, sexual freedom, family, personal growth and self-esteem through the gaze of a woman who grew up in an Orthodox Muslim home.