SZA: Z

[30 July 2014]

By Logan Smithson

Top Dawg Entertainment is aiming to take over. Not just the rap industry, but TDE is looking to make a splash in the R&B world with new signee SZA. If RZA, GZA, and Smoke DZA weren’t enough, we’re now throwing SZA into the mix. With Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and now Isaiah Rashad taking the rap world by storm, another artist coming through with a breakthrough release could put distance between TDE and the rest of the competition. Unfortunately, SZA’s Z is not that album.

SZA takes few chances with her major debut, and the resulting product is fairly uninteresting. If you aren’t too familiar with the PBR&B contemporary sub-genre, you may be more likely to find yourself captivated by the mellow vibe and ethereal vocals on display from SZA. If you’re used to traditional R&B this may even be a refreshing new image of what the genre can be. However, for those who have already heard the Weeknd, How to Dress Well, Jhene Aiko, and other similar artists, you’ve already heard this sound done better. SZA offers a nice generalization of the current trends going on in pop music but is far from the best representation of the genre’s apex.

This isn’t necessarily a bad album, but it doesn’t do any of the things necessary to keep it captivating. That’s not a good sign when the album is only 10 tracks spread out over about half an hour. The production has a nice laid-back vibe, but most of the songs sound too similar. This quickly turns the experience from spaced-out to just plain boring. On the surface the songs work to create a soothing atmosphere, but all the essential elements, ranging from songwriting to the charisma of communication, inadvertently get lost and die in the mist.

If there’s one trend that SZA would’ve done well to skip out on it would be the obsession with slapping out-of-place rap verses on every R&B project. I get that they want to attract the fanbases of other demographics, but it’s counterproductive when the song suffers. On “Child’s Play”, Chance the Rapper basically just pops up and interrupts SZA as if someone grabbed him by his collar and threw him into the booth, demanding a verse. SZA’s singing and Chance’s verse are fine, but they don’t complement each other on this song at all.

“Babylon” is the highlight of the album, and was a great song when it originally was released with just SZA. That wasn’t enough. You have to capitalize on this opportunity to have a big song by making it even bigger with a feature from one of the hottest rappers in the game, right? Once again, Kendrick Lamar’s verse is actually good. It just really doesn’t fit the song. The only song that sounds like it was created with a featured artist in mind is “Warm Winds” with Isaiah Rashad. Rashad and SZA have great chemistry, as displayed on Rashad’s Cilvia Demo from earlier this year, which SZA was heavily featured on. “Warm Winds” sounds just like an extension of Cilvia Demo, and along with “Babylon” serves as one of the high points of Z.

Z has all the elements on paper to make a popular R&B record, but lacks all the substance necessary for making a memorable project. Apart from a few highlights, SZA’s latest work suffers from uninspired production, forgettable songwriting, and unfitting tacked on features.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/182735-sza-z/