SZA drops near flawless LP, an intimate review of Ctrl.
Solána Imani Rowe, famously known as SZA, has grown a lot since her 2014 project with the Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) label. Her first EP, Z, featured big names—Chance The Rapper, Isaiah Rashad, and Kendrick Lamar—who arguably took the spotlight. Chance’s verse in “Childs Play” rose high in popularity, while SZA’s own voice seemed to be pushed against the sidelines. To tell the truth, Z is an incredibly produced collection of passive and amateur artistry. Then earlier this month, SZA released Ctrl and forced her way onto center stage.
Ctrl is a gospel to pussy power. It preaches the indispensability of the female body and presence. With features from Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar, James Fauntleroy, and Isaiah Rashad, SZA’s verses sprint circles around her male TDE counterparts. Just listen to the rhythm in its first track “Supermodel” and her demanding transition from independent artist to household name becomes immediately recognizable.
In “Drew Barrymore”, SZA plays with irregular measures and accented word rhymes, somehow making sure her voice fits into every single second of the song. Its complementary music video even features an appearance from actress Drew Barrymore herself. The song uncovers the singer’s chronic loneliness, body-consciousness, and unrequited love—themes which reoccur throughout the album and among many women alike. Still, it’s important to notice that SZA is never shy with her thought.
Womanhood becomes artfully complicated in songs like “The Weekend” and “Love Galore”, where she discloses her own role in an adulterous relationship. Not especially a friend to prettier women, SZA most of all embraces her sexuality and humility with men. Like many of the uncertainties of modern love, she fluctuates in and out of singing “I belong to nobody” to “Wish I was comfortable just with myself”. Parts of the album struggle with the idea of not being her man’s only lover, while others are upbeat in self-love and consideration of her own sexual wants.
Without doubt, “Doves In The Wind” is the album’s showstopper. Not only might this be a record for the number of times the word “pussy” is used in a song, but this track boasts SZA’s vocal personality: cheeky, sexy, and dominating. Unlike Kendrick’s previous feature in Z, his appearance on Ctrl sings praises to the abundant wealth of the female body. The song’s partnership with Kendrick and its similarities with his own song “These Walls” off To Pimp A Butterfly is really a most powerful testament for female sexuality. As both artists convey, it is the woman’s necessity, desirability, and undefeated-ness that define female power. Never, not even for a second, is SZA’s voice placed in the background: “You could never trivialize pussy.” As a matter of fact, she works off of Kendrick’s feature, making herself foreground, center, and always rising to the loudest.
The entire sophomore album is impressive on so, so many levels. Reeling true to the genres of R&B, soul, and hip hop, SZA is making a name for herself as a reminder to listeners, perhaps even as revenge to the men in her life, that pussy is power. Beyond the domains of sex and love, Ctrl is symbolic of a resilient black woman’s fist in the air. Her mom’s monologues in-between songs string together a timeless message for an era of contemporary love—that lovelessness does not equate to lack of control. That control, to SZA, is human, womanly, and personal.