Year In Review: "Ctrl" by @SZA

2017’s cup runneth over with good music, of all kinds.
From fun to enlightening. From singing to rapping. From our hometown to yours and everywhere in between, we are dedicating the month of December to reviewing and reflecting on the music that helped make this year so important.
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Solána, middle fingers up, speak your truth.
— Doves In The Wind

I've been looking for a reason to review SZA's Ctrl. Whenever the opportunity presents itself to discuss the summer released gem, I hop all over it simply because this album warranted many uncomfortable but necessary discussions. This was the first time in a long time that a body of work not only forced me to awkwardly stare at myself in the mirror, but it forced me to grow in the soil of my truth. One of the first of many affirmations received by this album was the power in patience. I have no problem admitting that I am not a day one SZA fan. I flew right over See.Sza.Run (2012) and S (2013) and joined the party right around the release of Z in 2014. If you're mad about it, stay mad. In my defense, I went back and got myself acquainted with all of the above mentioned. I was in the thick of my Top Dawg Entertainment adoration so in my eyes, anyone they were signing and endorsing, especially a quirky black queen that can make me sing and swoon, was deserving of my attention. The features and free projects did not suffice though.

After the release of Z, minus a few features here and there, Solána was laying low. The twenty something year old small town Jersey native is known for wearing her heart on her sleeve. So as fans, we witnessed the obstacles and struggles she faced on the journey to CTRL (See what I did there? Heh.) If you follow the gifted songstress on Twitter then you remember the night she almost threw it all away. Frustrated with the constant delays and push backs, my girl ( in my head of course) said "f*ck this, I'm out" and that was all she wrote...almost. I've always been told that right when people give up is usually around the time they were about to hit a breakthrough. I don't know who talked her off the ledge, or whether she had some sort of cosmic "come to Jesus" talk with herself but six months and five Grammy nods later, the power of patience prevails. I can only imagine the blood, sweat and tears some artists put into their first studio album. Its their baby. A declaration as to why out of all the talent this world has to offer, they were chosen. So expectations were high for the female representative of TDE. There was enough pressure coming from sharing a label with a powerhouse like Kendrick Lamar but the rest of TDE is no joke either. As a small but mighty label with quality and timeless projects on their resume, SZA was going to either have to come with it or ... actually there was no other option. She either came with it or didn't come at all and baby, Solána showed up. 

The first time I heard Ctrl, I cut it off. It initially felt whiny. Through surface level listening, I heard a beautiful woman begging for the attention and approval of a man who clearly didn't value her. I heard a woman bragging about being limited to only weekends with a taken man and quite frankly, I was good on hearing anymore. After all, I was just SO evolved from my past mistakes, misjudgments, and insecurities, that there was no way I could possibly relate, right? [ Insert eye roll] I couldn't stop listening though. Even if I had convinced myself that I couldn't relate, there was no denying the beauty in the production and compilation of this album. The easy, breezy beats complimented the summertime so well and if you know anything about Texas heat then you know it will bring the truth up out of you because it is entirely too damn hot to front. No matter how I felt about the subject matter, SZA's brash vulnerability was unspeakably refreshing. The first gut punch came in the opening track "Supermodel". SZA puts her cards on the table almost immediately as she tells about insecurities heightened by a past lover. She croons about the her consequences for unrequited love and establishes the impenitent tone of the album.

Why I can’t stay alone just by myself?
Wish I was comfortable just with myself
But I need you.
— Supermodel

"Supermodel" segue into the first single off the album Love Galore featuring Houston’s own Travis Scott. This track gave us the chant of the year. “Why you bothering me when you know you don’t want me?” SZA has always had a true gift with songwriting but I was impressed with her ability to not over complicate her message but still maintain its depth. While she is being as direct as she can, she still leaves so much room for discussion and interpretation. Her round the way persona makes her music relatable. Imagine someone taking notes at girls night and making it an album. 

When you think of a TDE artist, the idea that all the production would be that of heavy bass lines and gritty hip hop beats crosses your mind but their individuality shines through in each of their projects. CTRL features the airy R&B beats we have become accustomed to but also gives us the eclecticism that reflects so much of our generation. Gone are the days of pinning certain artists to certain sounds. On the track "Drew Barrymore", named after the 90’s icon, we get guitar riffs and rock undertones as well as the next track “Prom”. Not to be overlooked is SZA’s ever growing vocal abilities. As distinct as her sound is, you can’t help but to blink a little faster when she shows off her range. 

One of my favorite parts of this album are the endearing anecdotes and gems made by the matriarch of SZA’s family. Apart of our growth is admitting that sometimes (most of the time) our Mothers were right. We tend to forget they were once twenty somethings navigating their way through adulthood as well. So as we shed our teenage angst, we learn to find solace in their words. 

And Solana, if you don’t say something and speak up for yourself, they think you STUPID. Know what I’m saying?
— Love Galore

For the remainder of the album SZA continues to serve up painful introspection and hard truths about herself. She continues to air her own dirty laundry in the name of self reflection. On the ever so controversial track “The weekend”, she openly admits to being the other woman but presents it as a strength rather than a weakness. Remember when I said that this album provoked some uncomfortable discussion? After receiving backlash for the “home wrecking” lyrics, the song opens the floor to have an open chat about not only the different perspectives of the song but why women are somehow always to blame when a man makes the decision to step out in his relationship. The “you like 9-5, I’m the weekend” line struck a couple nerves but it did it’s job. It lit a fire and evoked emotion as music is meant too. When asked about her stance on the song and what she meant, Solana says that she made the song to exemplify how these men are for everybody. So, there’s that. 

SZA ends the album with a few more beautiful ballads that truly show her growth as a songwriter. She ends the album with an ode to the highs and lows of our 20’s with “Twenty somethings”. 

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As a woman who is unashamed to admit her own pitfalls in love, SZA truly challenges my self proclaimed inhibitions. What is control? What do you control? She takes ugly connotations takes her power back from them. This was for women who have allowed worldly standards to define them at some point. This was for those who have allowed lables to tell their story. It’s the same way Women have taken the word “Hoe” and shifted it’s weight. For so long this man made word stopped us dead in our tracks. It dictated how we walked, talked, dressed and even sat. CTRL expresses the importance of acknowledging where you have been so that you can properly navigate where you are going. This album was a declaration of power. There is so much power in erasing the idea of shame. As SZA so eloquently puts in “Pretty Little Birds

You are but a phoenix among feathers
You’re broken by the waves among the sea
They’ll let you die, they’ll let you wash away
But you swim as well as you fly.
— Pretty Little Birds

This was truly one of my personal favorites of 2017.

CTRL is apart of the soundtrack to my road to liberation at 27.

SZA kept the features light so that we could hear her clearly. As always, music is open to interpretation so others may not have had the same experience with this album that I did and that’s okay. We’re not meant to all have the same opinions, but my opinion stands. This was a beautifully crafted and solid body of work that meant the world to me for where I am in this life. I am beyond enthusiastic about watching SZA grow personally and professionally. This new wave of R&B is definitely not what we’re used too but it is new, exciting and promising and for that I’m thankful. Now, somebody let Solána know we still need the rest of “Wavy”; STAT.

Get SZA's Ctrl, here..

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Come back tomorrow and every day in December for Year in Review!