SZA | Z (Album Review)

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We all listen to music; consciously seeking entertainment while we are simultaneously subconsciously in search of honesty.  With creative artists in this very realm, the two parts are played out like roles in a play.  Some artists seek to merely entertain, whilst the true entertainers seek to bring their audience to a more vulnerable and trusting state.  Because that’s what music has the power to be to us all and is just that, an escape and an outlet; an exodus.  SZA has released her first project on Top Dawg Entertainment with the incredibly intimate EP Z.  This project stands as her debut exodus for her audience, as we now follow her as she leads us through the now divided red sea to the promised land.

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TDE has promised us their best year to date as a label.  With a lineup of albums from each of its signed creatives to be released, we are halfway home.  First there was Cilvia Demo where Isaiah Rashad made his opening and closing statements for being 2014’s rookie of the year.  Then there was Oxymoron in which the elder ScHoolboy Q would go to punch out his most bogged down yet most anticipated junior project.  But now we turn our eyes and ears back to that one girl with the incredible Polamalu-esque head of hair giving us breathy hooks in the shadows of Zay’s “Ronnie Drake”.

Born of St. Louis, bred in Jersey, Solana Rowe flew west last year to dwell upon her promising potential.  With these two newest recruits, TDE has persisted to push the boundaries of what is familiar hip-hop to the average listener.  Maybe Ab-Soul could have signed to Young Money if he talked about popping champagne bottles as much as he does DMT.   Where new member Rashad brought southern song and dance tactics to the rap trade in LA with Cilvia Demo, SZA brings spacey, modern, sunset kissed R&B with Z. 

Featuring production by hearty names like Mac Miller, XXYYXX, Felix Snow, Toro Y Moi, and yes, even Marvin Gaye, the project oozes a display of well-woven tracks that might as well be a quality buffet in Las Vegas with choice steak and lobster.  All this not to mention SZA’s effortless and easy vocal rides.  See track two “Child’s Play” where she and homie Chance, the Rapper go about intimacy and nostalgia in a new light just as the beat does.  “Ripping the heads off all of my barbie dolls” she starts out, then later “Stuck in nintendo, get the controller, street fighters and such”.  SZA seems to play no part in mediocrity or surface level sequences, but rather slows down the day with snappy snares and subtle synths and hooks that are honest as hell.

Lest we forget to discuss her ability to turn each track into its own atmosphere.  See “Julia”, where the windows will inevitably be rolled down and the winds involuntarily pick up our minds sails; giving Charli XCX a run for her entire bank account.  SZA will make you fall in love with her, and with her version of what pop can be, or R&B, or even her classic  sounds such as “Sweet November”, which is fit for an after party at Jay Gatsbys Long Island estate.

SZA also has a knack for allowing her tracks to swell.  As swelling is to healing, SZA is to her craft and purpose.  See her poise on “Green Mile” and “Babylon”.  “I can’t recall the last time I took advice from anyone, I’m sure I’ll be the death of me” on the latter, and that’s all before K-dot murders his verse as the tracks bass bends and swarms all around the two of them, and the high hats roll out the red carpet for our savior, (“Crucify, crucify me”).  Her being so laid back about these personal notions is necessary but can be taxing.  However, this is made up for by the tracks comforting production support team.  For example, “Shattered Ring” brings both heart wrenching lyrics and paints a soundscape that transforms us to what is her waking and vivid and lucid dream.  “I know that you’d rather just disappear, now that I’m here”.

The trick to the true entertainers trade involves both the breakdown, but most importantly the prestige; the resolve.  SZA departs with closer “Omega”, and with a small taste of honey – optimism.  She sells her story to every blue chip buyer on the market as she closes her pitch with an invitation to “keep the sun at our backs, keep our feet firmly planted in the sky, and just ride” and may we be damned for ever declining such an enticing request.

9.0 – Zilla

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