Review: SZA’s CTRL

CTRL cover art, Photo Source: Instagram / SZA.

SZA’s CTRL isn’t just a debut album, it’s the climax of an essential chapter in her journey towards self-realization in love, self-worth, and purpose. With tracks penned for Rihanna and Beyoncé, we knew SZA had the writing chops and with CTRL there is no doubt that she is a force to be reckoned with. 14-tracks deep, this project is rich with potent lyricism, multilayered production, and pushes a powerful theme that creates a space for open exploration in defining our womanhood through concepts of control.

CTRL opens with “Supermodel.” Driven by a poignant guitar riff, this song is an open letter depicting revenge, insecurities, and a deep thirst for the thing that both destroys and completes her being. Pharrell tops off the track with rhythmic whispers and the seemingly hollow production lays an open foundation for the intricate and varied aural skeleton that frames this album’s soundscape.

Next is, “Love Galore.” Assisted by Travis Scott, this track offers listeners a little bounce. The visual, directed by Nabildo, supports the story of regrets in love. “Should’ve never let you hit it / I split it with you / I regret it / You gots a fetish / You gots a problem / Now It’s a problem.” In the end, SZA gets the laugh and finds a way to put self first, fully escaping her lovers control over her self-worth. The video ends with Travis Scott, love interest, savagely murdered.

With a guest appearance from fellow TDE-mate Kendrick Lamar, “Doves In The Wind” is a tale of pussy power. Kendrick snaps on his verse delivering each line with his signature texture of pocketed rhythm and melody, “Niggas’ll lose they mind for it / Wine for it, dine for it (pussy) / Spend time for it, see no colored line for it (pussy).” Followed by lead single “Drew Barrymore” and “Prom,” “Doves In The Wind” is a brief reprieve from finding answers by grappling with control in the sense of what a man does to women and rather articulates the blinding power a woman can have over men.

The sixth track, “The Weekend,” is definitely a stand out. But more importantly, it’s a side chick anthem… After listening to the song I felt the strong desire to join in on the fun and shout from the depths of my soul, “These niggas for everybody!” — Shout out Juicy J. SZA doesn’t deliver a modest or defeated explanation for side chick-ism. She re-appropriates the concept, empowering women to not get caught up in the mess of a man, but to simply get what we each need and keep it pushing. The hook reads, “My man is my man is your man / Heard that’s her man too / Tuesday and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday / I just keep him satisfied through the weekend / You’re like 9 to 5, I’m the weekend / Make him lose his mind every weekend.”

During an appearance on the Breakfast Club SZA explained the next track “Go Gina,” as being somewhat in the vein of character Gina from the classic 90s series Martin. “Gina was always like the semi-corporate, kind of stuck up, but also really beautiful and had a sense of humor, but she looked like if she lived like Pam she might have more fun.” SZA caps everything off with the idea of just living your life and not being afraid to be crazy.

Soothingly bright, “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” departs a bit from the more vibey tone of the project, but stays on the mark with the overall theme, showcasing a desire to be wanted and reassured by a lover. This track delivers the line that just might get the most Insta-caption/Twitter play, “Lie to me and say my booty getting’ bigger even if it ain’t.”

“Broken Clocks,“ released on June 2nd is a vibe for sure. If I had to pick a song that showcases the muscle of SZA’s vocals and syncopation, this would be the one. The next track “Anything,” backed by a fluttering, technology-esque beat, reminiscent of the album cover, also highlights her ability to create a trance with her raspy, yet buttery, vocals and her rhythmic flows.

If James Fauntleroy is on an album, you know it’s good. He pops up on the album’s interlude, “Wavy.” SZA mentioned on Twitter that a full version of the track exists, thus prompting us all to desperately salivate until it’s dropped. Tracks “Normal Girl” and “Pretty Little Birds,” the latter featuring another TDE artist Isaiah Rashad, prepare us for the final song of CTRL… “20 Something.” This track seamlessly puts a face to the angst that is so central to the experience of living, growing, and finding yourself as a 20-something year old. “How could it be? / 20 something, all alone still / Not a thing in my name / Ain’t got nothin’, runnin’ from love / Only know fear / That’s me, Ms. 20 Something.” I’ve been extra thirsty for this song since hearing a preview at the beginning of the short behind the scenes/documentary piece, “SZA — Where Have You Been: Road to CTRL,” released back in February. It’s the perfect conclusion to CTRL and offers a point of relief for young 20-somethings wondering if we’re in this alone.

Prior to the CTRL rollout, it wasn’t clear where SZA was going to take her career. After tweeting “I Quit,” and tagging Punch, The president of her label/management company, TDE, fans speculated that she was having issues with the TDE team. She recently mentioned during an interview, with Nessa of Hot 97, that the tweet was more about quitting music all together, but triggered by a conversation with Punch. “I am very dramatic, and I’m like easily angered and I was having an exorbitantly bad day, completely unconnected to music, on some family shit. And then I got into an argument about some music with Punch and it just took me over the edge. And I was like wow this is a hobby I don’t want to continue anymore.”

Thankfully, after four years of hoping and waiting, CTRL is out and this project is crucial for, not just urban music culture, but music culture as a whole. It’s one of those projects that are hard to box in with the, sometimes limiting, label of a genre and it’s one that could become a definitive marker or soundtrack for an entire generation. As her official debut album, CTRL, hits hard and solidifies the foundation for SZA’s freshman chapter in music, setting her up to become one of the greats.