The road to SZA’s (née Solána Imani Rowe) major label debut album was rocky and at times hopeless, but she triumphed in releasing a body of work that expertly captures her raw energy and brilliant mind in a capsule of 14 songs.
Ctrl features masterful production that pleases the ear from the start, with the album opener “Supermodel” this track features SZA’s trademark witty lyrics and a fuzzy guitar line that introduces the listener to her world. A world where SZA is in control. The drums that come in on the second half of “Supermodel” quite possibly make for the single best production moment in music this year, it’s stunning.
The pre-album singles, the gorgeous “Drew Barrymore” and the deliciously vicious “Love Galore (feat. Travis Scott),” sit nicely in the album and help propel the narrative of control, or the lack thereof, in certain situations. Of the two pre-order tracks, “Broken Clocks” and “Doves In The Wind (feat. Kendrick Lamar),” the former is one of the best songs of the year and the latter is one of the most initially shocking songs of the year. “Broken Clocks” is where SZA fully embraces her pop sensibilities and uses them to her advantage to create a gorgeous track about the loss and recollection of control during the work week. On “Doves In The Wind,” Kenny and Solána use the word “pussy” a staggering 26 times and preach about the perils and the protection that “pussy” comes with.
Another great moment on Ctrl comes in the form of the vocal production on the outro of “Anything.” On the outro a choir of SZAs chant “Do, do you even know I’m alive?” in a unique cadence that compels the listener to truly contemplate the question even though there is no answer. The next big R&B song, “The Weekend,” also finds a home on Ctrl. On this track, in a silky tone, SZA explores the idea of using a man as a time-share as opposed to being cheated on by him. “The Weekend” finds itself sandwiched between two severely underrated tracks “Prom,” reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s “Lost,” and “Go Gina,” a slow-burning bop in the vein of Beyoncé’s “6 Inch.”
On August 22, 2017, on BET’s “Black Girls Rock!” telecast, SZA performed the heart-wrenching penultimate Ctrl track, “Normal Girl.” On “Normal Girl,” SZA comes to terms with the fact that being in control of yourself sometimes means you lose control of your reputation and outside perception. “Normal Girl” introduces the final track on Ctrl, “20 Something.” This remarkable track captures the feeling of despair that accompanies the liberation of your 20s with ease and grace.
Ctrl works because SZA is believable. Ctrl feels like a piece of art that popped out of the left side of SZA’s brain, it feels authentic and raw. SZA’s story of control is hers and hers alone, and we can’t wait to hear the next chapter.