In July 2013 indie hip-hop superpower Top Dawg Entertainment announced that they signed singer-songwriter SZA, making her the newest member to the TDE family. She self-released two projects, See.SZA.Run and S, prior to 2014. Her trance-inducing vocals and hazy glitter-trap instrumentals attracted warranted buzz. Prior to this April, she also lent her vocal talents to TDE projects such as Isaiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo and Schoolboy Q’s Oxymoron. There are plenty of reasons to be excited for her future projects.
On April 8, 2014, SZA dropped Z, an extremely nuanced EP that borrows from trap, pop, R&B, chillwave, and a little funk. The genre bouncing can be a bit jarring, but this project has much to appreciate. For instance, the intro, “Ur”, is a beautiful piece expertly produced by none other than Mac Miller, who also produces part of “Warm Winds”. The instrumental is slow and syrupy as one familiar with SZA’s style would expect. SZA’s lyrics here question the reality of freedom and shine a light on the weary path of a strong, confident façade for society’s sake. These themes play throughout the entire EP. Tracks such as “Green Mile” and “Shattered Ring” help fill the album with somber tales of broken relationships and an inability to be oneself. Even some of the seemingly upbeat tracks turn out to be quite sobering upon review. “Julia”, a track that uses 80s pop percussion and synths, seems like a fun track, but we find her reminiscing on her tattered relationship with her father and how that tarnishes any romantic relationships she pursues. “Sweet November”, a track that samples Marvin Gaye’s “Mendota” instrumental, is a nice surprise. The prominent bass guitar grooving throughout the track makes this sound like an early 70s period piece, and SZA’s vocal style fits perfectly. This song is unlike anything she’s released before and is a huge testament to her versatility.
The most exciting moments of Z come from the features. The song “Warm Winds” includes Isaiah Rashad, and although the rapper’s contributions only include singing, his voice fits well with SZA’s to create a smooth second half to the track. The themes of being young, dumb, and vulnerable can truly be felt in the darkest way. “Child’s Play” featuring Chance the Rapper is a thoughtfully crafted remix of XXYYXX’s “About You”. Chance’s transition and fun loving flow weave a verse filled with clever word play and double entendre, making this song a standout. However, the most epic track on the EP would have to be “Babylon”, which features Kendrick Lamar on the album version. A haunting vocal sample starts the track and continues throughout the instrumental. This helps with the spiritual theme that is present throughout the entire album. SZA’s delivery is somber, but the deliberate production makes this track frightening and sultry at the same time. Only time will tell if this song reaches mainstream popularity, but it’s definitely a gem.
This is an extremely dark EP, but the final track “Omega” seems to find SZA with some form of acceptance. The song resolves with an air of triumph. This is definitely a project that will leave you thinking. This album delves into the mind of a troubled woman using music as her medium of relation to the world outside of herself. Lyrically, it’s nebulous and open to interpretation. This adds a lot to the character of the project. The spiritual nature of the themes and production of this EP make one want to blast it through huge speakers in a dark empty cathedral. I hope you can enjoy it in the way that I have.
Howard Mingo ’16 is a Psychology concentrator in Cabot House. When he’s not making jokes with or pretending to psychoanalyze his friends, he’s likely contemplating the meaning of life. He’s yet to come to a conclusion, but he’s sure it involves trap music.