SZA, TDE’s only female artist, rose from “you mean RZA?” to charting at #3 on the Billboard 200 with the release of her debut record, CTRL (pronounced “control”). The Jersey-native, who followed in RZA’s footsteps when it comes to the “Supreme Alphabet,” takes blunt confessions to new heights on CTRL, and it works heavily in her favor. “I’m talking a lot of grimy shit, but it’s truth. I’m exposing a lot of skeletons of mine,” she said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. The opening song “Supermodel” mentions a time when she slept with her ex-boyfriends best friend because he left her on Valentines Day, which according to SZA will be “the first time he hears about it.”
And that’s just track one on CTRL, a record that dives into all of the insecurities and “ugliness,” as she calls it, of SZA’s past, and performed as masterfully and cohesively as fellow TDE artists such as Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q’s records come together. “Right now we’re in such a state as Americans, as a society, that we don’t want to deal with anything that’s uncomfortable, “she told EW. “All my dirty laundry is on the line… this album is just straight up laying everything to bed… and I have a whole track dedicated to vaginas. It’s called ‘Doves In the Wind.'”
However, it’s not just the sheer fact that SZA speaks so bluntly that makes CTRL such a unique record. Writing a song (or two) about vagina’s isn’t all it takes for people to offer up some claps, just look at the lyrics of popular songs today and you’ll see plenty of “pussy talk” across the board from Ariana Grande to Young Thug. On “Doves In the Wind,” the “track dedicated to vaginas,” SZA compares herself to the character Jenny from Forrest Gump. In the film, the character Forrest Gump falls for Jenny, who only sleeps with him out of love, an act she initiates because Forrest never pushes for it.
SZA wants a man like that, stating in an interview with The Breakfast Club that “there’s a lot more that I can give you besides pussy that can build you.” It’s a motif of female insecurity that plays out throughout the course of the record, such as on “Drew Barrymore,” wherein she stresses her need for real connection and love as well as sex (“Am I warm enough for ya outside baby/Is it warm enough for ya inside me?”), and on “Normal Girl” (“Wish I was the type of girl you take over to mama/The type of girl, I know my daddy, he’d be proud of”). “I could be your supermodel if you believe/If you see it in me,” she says on the Pharrell Williams-co-write “Supermodel.”
CTRL isn’t so one-track-minded, however; as tracks such as “Love Galore” and “The Weekend,” are more about the sexual elements of a relationship (or more likely a one-night stand), and the complexities that come with the need for compassion and companionship as well as carnal, sexual energy. “The Weekend” is aptly just like a Weeknd song lyrically, something that I also loved to see in Syd‘s work, and in female R&B/pop artists owning that style of blunt, honest, and sexual lyrics. SZA also shows off a good amount of humor, with bits like Kendrick Lamar’s verse on “Doves in the Wind,” as he uses his “FEEL.”/spoken-word-poet-flow to muse about the power women hold over weak men, and the track “Go Gina,” which references the TV show Martin (just like Chance the Rapper on “Ultra Light Beam.”
The tiny aggravations of some of the features on the record from some of the Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar lines could have been reeled in a bit, but ultimately they’re just the side-show to SZA’s genre-bending debut. It helps that the sound of CTRL blends the softer moments of Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. with The Internet’s Ego Death under the vocals of a love-child between Rihanna and Frank Ocean, but SZA owns all the influences as if they were all her own.
With CTRL, SZA joins the ranks of a rare set of artists today that simply understand the modern human condition, and in doing so can produce brutally honest yet artistic records that somehow say more by just saying it candidly, and genuinely. “I think I spent a lot of time hiding vocally, being super low and being super metaphorical because I was scared to get ugly and deal with everything,” she told EW, “I welcome fear now.”