SZA’s debut album Z retains many sonic similarities to her previous EPs, but this time around, SZA manages to intersperse some upbeat tempos between her characteristically soothing R&B playfulness. While such likenesses keep her longtime fans happy, the absence of a slightly morbid audio thread in Z, like “Rosemary’s Baby” in S, also lends to a more generally upbeat tone. Z does indeed offer us both something new and old, though SZA doesn’t necessarily take as many risks as she perhaps should.
Actually, from the start, you wouldn’t think Z is much different from S. In the opening track “U R”, SZA begins with her typical mellow aesthetics, “Clarity is a state of mind / Freedom ain’t real, who’s sold you that lie? / I ain’t buying it / No matter what the price.” In this track, SZA continues to advise her fans to stay true to themselves, the song acting as an extension of her last song from S, “Kismet”.
True to form, she is always waxing poetic and nostalgic on something or the other—if it isn’t love, then it’s musing on childhood, and on a cryptic tip no less. Case-in-point: her track with Chance the Rapper, “Child’s Play”, where she reminisces back to the times of Barbie dolls and Nintendo. Chance disrupts SZA’s nostalgia with his boyish-voice and nonsensical, self-referential, Chance-like raps: “Ash on my skin, when the record low temps for the wind blow / Only write rhythm to the tardiest of tempos / Only ride shotgun when the car is a limo.” The logic isn’t exactly evident, but then again, that is quite fitting for a song starring SZA and Chance.
Chance the Rapper, Isaiah Rashad and Kendrick Lamar’s features give Z a nice ebb and flow that’s wildly different from S, and help to both break up the monotony and set Z apart from S. SZA’s track with Isaiah Rashad, “Warm Winds”, is the album’s most notable cut, mainly due to Mac Miller, The Antydote and Chris Calor’s production. The song starts with synths, snares and SZA’s smooth voice; halfway in, the beat shifts and we find another song entirely with assistance from Isaiah. Regardless of the melancholia, the reflections on ephemeral love, and the clipping of wings, the song presents a sort of hopefulness for the listener, as it opens with, “Hey glory child, don’t you worry / Stuttering, shaken off your fear / Beauty’s never given in a hurry.” SZA bookends her album with the last cut “Omega”, an aesthetically similar track to her opener “U R”. Here, she touches on god and religion, an underlying theme throughout her album, and a fitting closer.
SZA seemed to be an odd addition to TDE, but she’s actually proved to be a sensible fit; she provides a welcome dissonance to the rest of her label-mates. Listeners won’t ever be able to escape the easy seduction of SZA’s voice, and I’m not sure they’ll ever want to. SZA straddles the line between self-assured and delicate when revealing her memories and losses, which makes her perspective even more relatable. Her music doesn’t particularly point to any one feeling, instead just riffing on the confusion and self-doubt that many people in their 20’s experience. And though she sings about love as many do, there is a compelling sincerity in her words and tone that is pretty unusual.
4 out of 5
You can buy Z on Amazon.