SZA's background doesn't necessarily scream "talented musician" when you dig into it. Born in Missouri and raised in New Jersey as the only daughter of a Christian mother and Muslim father, Solana Rowe supposedly led a rather sheltered and comfortable life until discovering a love of music and a bit of reckless abandon in her teen years. There are a few interesting plot twists from there, including stops at Ivy League schools and bartending at strip clubs, but no plot twist bigger than a friend handing a copy of SZA's demo to the owner of Top Dawg Entertainment. He ended up enjoying the sound and stayed in touch. One mixtape and label signing later, we find SZA releasing Z, her first full-length project through the Los Angeles-based TDE label.
A lucid amalgamate of soul, minimalism and EDM, SZA's self-described “glitter trap” sound is somewhat attractive and impressive. Think of it as a rather lovely combination of Little Dragon's musical sensibilities and airy atmospheres coupled with Quadron's soulful sound effects and mastering. Musically astute with her choice of producers and samples, you'll find people like Toro y Moi, Mac Miller, Emile Hayne and Marvin Gaye credited throughout Z. Compositions created float between realms of modern hip hop to '80s synth-pop ("Julia") or channeling Sade's "Love Is Stronger Than Pride" vibe ("Childs Play"), while her own sonic appeal lies in strong but breathy, delicate vocals.
An interesting aspect of this album is SZA's lyricism. Her lyrical content, though vague, abstract and dark at times, remains accessible and intriguing to say the least. Tackling issues of intimacy, sex and love head on and addressing lonely emotional shifts into adulthood while occasionally longing for a childhood that has long passed, make SZA's verbal content relatable enough to ignore the moments where I don't have a clue what her beautiful crooning actually means. Strong songs paired with stellar appearances from Kendrick Lamar on (my personal favorite) "Babylon" and Chance the Rapper's syncopated entrance into a stunning guest turn on "Childs Play," and Z definitely becomes worth a few spins.
Overall Z is a solid showing on SZA's part and a great lateral move on the part of TDE. It is encouraging to see younger artists executing projects like this nowadays. It will be interesting to see how this young lady develops her talents. Minus the occasional pop tune, this is definitely late night with your wo/man and a bottle of Riesling type music. If you're into anything like SBTRKT, Phantogram, Little Dragon or Toro y Moi's work, you'll feel right at home listening to SZA's Z.