Album Review: SZA’s Ctrl

by Ayanna Jacobs-El

Singer-songwriter SZA (Real Name: Solána Imani Rowe) is currently taking the music world by storm. On June 9th she released her much-anticipated debut full-length album entitled Ctrl. In Ctrl, SZA is blunt and direct in the delivery of her subject matter and explores the idea of control. The album features an eclectic mix of genres and covers very personal territory. It also gives a glimpse into SZA’s family life by featuring spoken interludes from her mother and grandmother.

The album starts out with “Supermodel” which has an intimate electric guitar accompaniment that grows into a jazzy groove filled with bass and drum set. I like that the production in “Supermodel” is sparse enough, in the beginning, to allow her lovely vocals to shine and the melody in the chorus is very catchy. This track is a really strong opener, and possibly SZA’s favorite song off of the album. The lyrics discuss her personal insecurities and put all of her dirty laundry out in the open. In one of the lyrics, she retaliates against an ex-boyfriend who purposefully left her and was unfaithful to her on Valentine’s Day by saying, “Let me tell you a secret/I been secretly banging your homeboy/ Why you in Vegas all up on Valentine’s Day?” According to SZA, when her ex-boyfriend hears this song it will be the first time he learns about that secret.

In the second track on the album, “Love Galore,” SZA features singer/rapper Travi$ Scott and a distinctly different sound from “Supermodel.” “Love Galore” utilizes a chill trap and electronic beat that instantly puts the listener in a relaxed mood. In this song, her silky smooth voice tells off a lover, discusses how she has moved on, but also mentions how she still has some interest in him. The mellow beat is a perfect contrast to SZA’s sassy lyrics and Scott’s auto-tuned verse where he has a chance to provides the male perspective.

Exploring yet another genre in “Drew Barrymore,” the song has a soft-rock feel that blends just as well with the lush vocals as an alternative R&B beat would. It was revealed in a recent interview on the Breakfast Club that the track gained its name because when she was growing up in the 90s most of the films featured white actresses who all adhered to a very polished image.

Out of all of the popular white actresses, she could relate to and was inspired by the quirkiness and down to earth nature of Drew Barrymore (Barrymore even appears in the music video for the song). In “Drew Barrymore,” a more vulnerable, insecure, and unconfident version of SZA is presented. The song talks of a rocky relationship in which SZA’s self-worth and its value are placed front and center. I think that the subject matter in this song really speaks to and showcases how a relationship can be unhealthy and I like that SZA is unafraid to speak about her own insecurities and doubts with regard to it.

Ctrl also features other artists like rapper Kendrick Lamar on “Doves In the Wind” and rapper Isaiah Rashad on “Pretty Little Birds.” Even with features like these SZA always remains the focus with her strong lyrics and powerful vocals. In her interview on the Breakfast Club, she mentioned that while she was on tour she discovered the range of her voice because in the larger venues she was forced to test the limits of her voice and sing loudly. Even through Ctrl showcases songs of a wide variety of genres the entire album still sounds like a cohesive unit and the each track has its necessary place in the engrossing narrative SZA has created. SZA has definitely displayed, with the release of Ctrl, that she is a musical talent to watch and that she will keep growing and releasing great music for years to come.

HAVE YOU HERD SZA’S NEW ALBUM CTRL? LET US KNOW YOUR FAVORITE SONGS IN THE COMMENTS!

About the Author

Ayanna Jacobs-El
Ayanna Jacobs-El is a composer, producer, songwriter, singer, alto and baritone saxophonist, and DJ dual majoring in Contemporary Writing and Production and Professional Music with a minor in Writing for TV and New Media. You can learn more about Ayanna and hear her music by visiting www.ayannajacobsel.com.