Ctrl (SZA album)

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Ctrl
SZA - Ctrl cover.png
Studio album by SZA
Released June 9, 2017 (2017-06-09)
Recorded 2014–17
Studio
  • No Excuses
  • The Lake House in Michigan
  • EngineEars
  • Platinum Sounds
  • Top Dawg House of Pain
  • Josef Leimberg's studios
  • Windmark
  • 1500 or Nothin' Studios
Genre
Length 49:01
Label
Producer
SZA chronology
Z
(2014)
Ctrl
(2017)
Singles from Ctrl
  1. "Drew Barrymore"
    Released: January 13, 2017
  2. "Love Galore"
    Released: April 28, 2017
  3. "The Weekend"
    Released: September 26, 2017
  4. "Broken Clocks"
    Released: January 9, 2018
  5. "Garden (Say It Like Dat)"
    Released: June 19, 2018[1]

Ctrl (pronounced "control") is the debut studio album by American singer SZA. It was released on June 9, 2017, on Top Dawg Entertainment and RCA Records.[2] Originally scheduled for release in late 2015, it was delayed by SZA's experience of "a kind of blinding paralysis brought on by anxiety." She worked and reworked the album until the record company took away her hard drive in the spring of 2017.[3]

SZA wrote most of the album's lyrics and collaborated with producers including Craig Balmoris, Frank Dukes, Carter Lang, Scum and ThankGod4Cody to achieve its sound. The efforts resulted in a primarily neo-soul and R&B album, with elements of hip-hop, electronic, indie and soul. Lyrically the album has a confessional theme, which touch upon SZA's personal experiences and complexities of modern love; including desire, competition, jealousy, sexual politics, social media, and low self-esteem.

The album was released to acclaim from music critics. It debuted at number three on the US Billboard 200, moving 60,000 equivalent-album units in its first full-tracking week. It generated the singles "Drew Barrymore", "Love Galore", "The Weekend", and "Broken Clocks". As of March 2018, the album has been certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America for accumulating over 1,000,000 in album-equivalent units and pure sales.[4] The album and its songs were nominated for four Grammy Awards, while SZA was nominated for Best New Artist.

Background[edit]

After meeting members of Top Dawg Entertainment during the CMJ 2011, a friend attending the show with her foisted early SZA songs onto TDE president Terrence "Punch" Henderson, who liked the material and stayed in touch.[5] Two years later, in June 2013, Top Dawg Entertainment announced they were planning to sign two more artists.[6][7] On July 14, it was revealed Top Dawg had signed an upcoming female singer named SZA to the label; through this deal, SZA released Z (2014).[8] Following the release of Z (2014), SZA began working on her debut and writing for other musicians including Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj, and Anti's opening track "Consideration" for Rihanna, which she featured on. However the debut album faced various setbacks, initially promised at the end of 2015, then at the start of 2016. In October 2016, she criticized her label for her album delays and stated she would be quitting.[9]

SZA revealed that her debut would be similar to S and would include trap influences with more aggressive lyrics, she also announced that she began working with James Fauntleroy, Hit-Boy, and long time collaborator Felix Snow.[10] Speaking on the conception of the album, SZA stated that she had spent four years just doing music: "I’ve been burying friends, burying family members, burying weight, the way I feel about myself, the way I feel about God, the way I process information."[11] The album was also inspired by SZA’s view of control in her life. Speaking on this she stated "Ctrl is a concept. I’ve lacked control my whole life and I think I’ve craved it my whole life."[11]

Writing and recording[edit]

The album's sessions began in 2014 and took place at the TDE Red Room in Carson, California. The album's recording process was described as being analog and featured the unplugging and re-plugging of wires in order to create the desired sound. During the album's studio sessions, SZA and the album's producers would go into the studio, and filter through the recorded songs and beats to decide if the songs were good or worth experimenting with in order to make better. SZA would search songs that were in the top forty charts during various years including the 40's and 80's, she would then listen to their style, beats and synths to gain some inspiration.[12] Throughout the album's recording process, record producer Rick Rubin helped SZA's creative process. "I had this mentality that 'more is more' -- more reverb, more background [vocals]," stating "I played him a bunch of songs, and he would tell me, 'The more you take away from any piece, the more room you create for everything else to be beautiful and grow.' I never felt that before, the editing urge. Once you strip everything down, you're forced to say something."[13]

In 2015, SZA was introduced to Carter Lang, by Peter Cottontale in Chicago. After performing together at Lollapalooza that same year, SZA and Lang along with producer Tyron "Scum" Donaldson began to develop a rapport on the road to creating her debut album. The three held studio sessions across the country from Los Angeles to Chicago and even setting up shop in Carter's Michigan home in 2016, where they constructed the Travis Scott-assisted, "Love Galore", in Lang's Mom's office using studio equipment he brought there. Lang, Tyron Donaldson, ThankGod4Cody and other producers would challenge each other and send each other different music to work on. SZA would then hear the music and want to create off of that. During the producers competition of who could create the better song the collectively created "Broken Clocks". "Drew Barrymore" was conceived at Lang's studio in Chicago in 2016, while SZA was sleeping. Lang ended up notching production credits on eight tracks from the album.[14]

The album was recorded in Carson, California.

SZA contributed heavily to the album's lyrics co-writing all fourteen tracks. SZA would freestyle the songs in a hope to "let the moments happen in the studio."[15] Initially she tried to record phone notes and write down ideas in journals in order to help her write.[15] SZA's record label TDE confiscated her hard drive during the album's recording, because SZA could not decide on the songs she wanted on the finished album, from the 150 - 200 she recorded.[16] She also detailed how her anxiety issues affected her songwriting process: "I freestyle everything, all the way down. And I listen back and think, what’s shitty? And if something’s too shitty and I can’t put my finger on it, and I think, wow this sucks to me, then I get way frustrated, and usually scrap the song."[16]

When recording the album, SZA would record from drafts of paper, recording one draft all the way down, before listening back and rephrasing it. However, with the album's opening track "Supermodel", SZA took on a different approach stating. With other songs from the album SZA would often hear the beat and see "an idea unfold", however when SZA heard 'Supermodel', she couldn't even imagine what the song would sound stating "I just wanted. I just wanted to sing. I wanted to think."[12] SZA recorded "Drew Barrymore" after hearing a production that reminded her of the film Poison Ivy, noting the emotion Ivy felt in film was something SZA connected with stating her character was "lashing out because she was lonely and pissed that her life was like this".[12]

"The Weekend" was produced by ThankGod4Cody who was given the idea to sample "Set the Mood (Prelude)/Until the End of Time" from a member of his team. After being handed the sample he added chords, a "glittery layer" and bass. After some experimentation with the vocals from the sample, the drums, and some additions in the reverb, he placed the song's snares and hi-hats, and rounded it all out with a cymbal, as he told the website Genius. The production was made with SZA in mind.[17] SZA said about the sample in an interview with Associated Press, "I didn't even think about anything I was saying. I was just happy to be singing over that Justin Timberlake sample... I was just like, ‘This is for fun. This is crazy."[18]

Composition[edit]

Ctrl is a fourteen track set that departs from traditional R&B leanings. Ctrl's songs are predominantly alternative R&B, R&B[19][20] and neo soul.[21][22] The album tests the borders of traditional R&B, drawing influences from trap and indie rock.[23][20][24] The album contains a precise sonic methodology, with a fluent production, containing influences from pop, hip-hop and electronic genres. These influences were compared to a mixture of different artists work including Sade, Lauryn Hill, Purity Ring, Yuki, Björk and Billie Holiday.[22] The production was characterised as predominantly hip-hop-influenced with hints of soul and pop.[22] The album has a confessional theme, which touch upon SZA's personal experiences of love. The album's lyrical content was seen as being "frank" and was noted as an insight into the complexities of modern love; of how desire, competition, jealousy, sexual politics, social media and low self-esteem can derail a relationship.[25] A reviewer from Pitchfork described the album's lyrics as being "honest" and "often comically blunt".[23] SZA's vocals were noted for containing echoes that were achieved by turning down the reverb; this was done to give the album an "intimate, confessional tone".[25]

"Love Galore" is a woozy trap-ballad that features American rapper Travis Scott.

The album opens with "Supermodel" which is built over an electric guitar riff, and reads as an "exposed diary entry" that lyrically talks about relationship betrayal and fallout. The song talks about SZA's ex partner who left her on Valentine’s Day.[22][23] "Love Galore" is a trap-ballad that features American rapper Travis Scott.[26] Speaking on their collaboration SZA stated "I think he merges that super-fine line between melody and syncopation and pocket. And I love his pockets, and I love his note choice. He’s just gnarly. He’s perfect."[27] "Doves in the Wind" features rapper Kendrick Lamar and is built over a "woozy" production. The songs themes revolves around sexual freedom, yet still having a hunger for intimacy. "Doves in the Wind," makes reference to Forrest Gump, describing the character as the kind of male who sees women as more than sexual objects.[23]

"Drew Barrymore" is a "sluggish" R&B song with introspective lyrics, whilst "Prom" is a pop song, that was noted for being built over muted guitars which were compared to those of the Police, whilst the lyrics discuss teen angst.[28] "The Weekend", features writing from Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, and Danja who were credited as the song samples "Set the Mood (Prelude)/Until the End of Time" from the 2006 album FutureSex/LoveSounds.[17] "The Weekend" is an R&B[29] and neo soul[30] track. Although some online publications called the song's narrator a "side chick", SZA sings from the perspective of a woman who only sees her partner on the weekend, while other girls have him during the week.[18] “Go Gina” is a reference to Tisha Campbell’s role of Gina on the ’90s sitcom Martin. Lyrically, the song reflects on an environment that dislikes determined women, the song goes on to discuss how people try to simplify her problems in a self-serving.[31]

"Broken Clocks" enfolds SZA amid blurry keyboard tones and a watery sample of men's voices as she ponders memories of an old romance that still haunts her."[32] Joshua Espinoza of Complex magazine regarded the song as "a mid-tempo cut about optimism and perseverance".[33]

Release and promotion[edit]

SZA performing in Toronto, Canada on the Ctrl the Tour in August 2017.

SZA premiered "Drew Barrymore" on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. She also announced the title of her debut studio album, initially titled A, but was later renamed to Ctrl.[34] On April 28, 2017, SZA announced she had signed her first major-label recording contract with RCA Records.[35][36] Following the announcement of Ctrl, SZA releases a promotional video narrated by rapper RZA. RZA opened with a dialogue stating "I’m zoning in with my homegirl, SZA—Self Savior, Zig-Zag-Zig Allah." Followed by a short verse "Yeah, I think you can take that far, Mama. Ya know what I mean? Cut loose the drama, no melodrama. Rise to the top, claim ya karma. And it’s my honor to drop this lesson, it’s my honor to give this blessing."[37] On June 2, 2017, "Broken Clocks" was released as the first promotional single.[38] On June 8, 2017, "Doves in the Wind" was released as the second promotional single.[39][40]

On July 5, 2017, SZA announced an official North American headlining concert tour titled Ctrl the Tour to further promote the album. The tour began on August 20, 2017, in Providence, Rhode Island, at Fête Music Hall, and it is scheduled to conclude on December 22, 2017, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at The Fillmore Philadelphia.[41] Despite there being no European leg of the tour, on July 10, 2017, American singer and rapper Bryson Tiller announced that SZA would be opening for the European portion of his Set It Off Tour in support of his studio album True to Self from October 17, 2017, to November 30, 2017, separate from Ctrl the Tour.[42] Due to tickets for Ctrl the Tour quickly selling out, this prompted additional dates to be added. Due to health problems, the first three dates of the tour were rescheduled, causing the tour to begin on August 20 instead of August 16 as originally scheduled.[43][44] On July 31, 2017, SZA released a music video for "Supermodel", exclusively on Apple Music.[45]

On December 9, 2017, SZA appeared on Saturday Night Live making her the second artist from her label to appear on the program following Lamar. The performance received critical acclaim for its power and a new verse she added to her song "Love Galore" in the absence of Travis Scott.[46]

Singles[edit]

On January 13, 2017, SZA released the album's lead single "Drew Barrymore".[47] It was produced by The Antydote and Carter Lang. On June 20, 2017, SZA released the music video for "Drew Barrymore", which featured a cameo by Drew Barrymore herself.[48] Commercially, the song did not fare well since it was not released to radio. On April 28, 2017, SZA released the album's second single "Love Galore".[49] It features American rapper Travis Scott and was produced by ThankGod4Cody, Carter Lang, Scum and Punch. The music video for the song, directed by Nabil, premiered on April 27, 2017.[50] It was uploaded to SZA's Vevo channel on April 28, 2017.[50] Commercially the song fared well in North America, charting on Canadian charts and entering the top forty on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching number thirty-two.

On September 26, 2017, "The Weekend" was sent to urban contemporary radio as the album's third single.[51] As of the chart dated January 3, 2018 it has peaked at number twenty-nine on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming her highest charting solo single in that region. A music video for the song directed by Solange Knowles was officially released on December 22, 2017. Both "Love Galore" and "The Weekend" have been certified Platinum by the RIAA.

"Broken Clocks" was sent to urban contemporary radio on January 9, 2018 as the album's fourth single after being previously released as a promotional single as a part of the album's pre-order.[52]

Garden (Say It Like Dat) was released as the album’s fifth single on June 19, 2018. Both “Broken Clocks” and “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” have been certified gold by the RIAA.

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
Metacritic86/100[53]
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic4/5 stars[54]
The A.V. ClubA−[55]
Consequence of SoundB+[56]
Exclaim!9/10[30]
The Irish Times4/5 stars[57]
The New Zealand Herald5/5 stars[58]
NME4/5 stars[28]
The Observer4/5 stars[59]
Pitchfork8.4/10[23]
PopMatters8/10[21]

Ctrl received acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 86, based on 15 reviews, which indicates "universal acclaim".[53] The Observer's Tara Joshi said the songs are "delicious slow jams with delicate yet powerful vocals and intimate insights into femininity, self-esteem and youth".[59] Pitchfork's Claire Lobenfeld called the album "an opulent, raw R&B album that constantly tests the borders of the genre", and named "Prom" as one of the standout tracks.[23] Siena Yates of The New Zealand Herald described it as "a brutally honest, sonically rich leap down the rabbit hole."[58]

In his review of the album, The New York Times's Jon Pareles said of SZA: "But now, she fully commands the foreground of her songs. Her voice is upfront, recorded to sound natural and unaffected, with all its grain and conversational quirks."[60] Vibe's Jessica McKinny said the album "has definitely kick-started her journey in the right direction. It's raw, soulful, rhythmic and uplifting in all the right places and will surely be a summer gift for old and new fans." She also referred to the album as "stripped down perfection".[61] Gerrick D. Kennedy of Los Angeles Times called the album "equal parts aching, brazen and gorgeously honest" and said of the songs, "The records are tender, vulnerable and often defiant."[62]

Ryan B. Patrick of Exclaim! referred to SZA as "the full package in terms of artistry: killer singing and songwriting abilities with a distinct perspective on life, love and destiny". He went on to say that Ctrl "is craft in action, a uniquely excellent album from a uniquely excellent artist."[30] Paste's Nastia Voynovskaya called the album "strikingly relatable" and likened her vocals to that of Amy Winehouse and Billie Holiday.[63] Jamie Milton of NME said it "effortlessly winds between narratives and genres like it's child's play" and went on to say that the artist "isn't a star in the making, it's a fully-fledged talent who's practically showing off." They also named "Prom" as the standout song of the album.[28]

Accolades[edit]

Ctrl has appeared on multiple year-end lists in 2017. The album was listed as the best album of 2017 by multiple publications including Exclaim!, New York Daily News, Noisey, Time and Vice.[64][65][66][67][68] The New York Times (by Jon Caramanica),[69] NPR,[70] Pitchfork,[71]Dazed,[72] Billboard,[73] The Skinny[74] and Uproxx[75] all placed the album at number two on the list of best albums of 2017, whilst Complex,[76] Entertainment Weekly,[77] The Irish Times,[78] Mashable,[79] NOW[80] and Rap-Up[81] ranked the album as the third best. The album was placed at number four on Crack Magazine[82] and Fuse magazines[83] list of best albums and was placed at number five by the A.V. Club,[84] The Independent,[85] Stereogum[86] and USA Today.[87]

The New Zealand Herald and The Sunday Times both placed the album at number six on their year end lists,[88][89] while Atlantic Monthly, NME, Consequence of Sound and Time Out ranked CTRL the seventh best album of 2017.[90][91][92][93] The New York Times (by Jon Pareles) placed the album at number eight, whilst Loud and Quiet and People placed the album at number ten respectively.[94][69][95] CTRL was ranked as the twelfth best album by The Stranger, the fifteenth by Slant and the twentieth by Rolling Stone.[96][97][98] The album was also included on the lower end of numerous other year end lists including Paste (25),[99] Q (27),[100] Gorilla vs. Bear (28),[101] Drowned in Sound (42),[102] Uncut (53),[103] Resident (65),[104] and The Quietus (68) respectively.[105]

Awards[edit]

SZA received five nominations at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards (2018) including Best New Artist, Best Urban Contemporary Album for Ctrl, Best R&B Performance for "The Weekend", Best R&B Song "Supermodel" and Best Rap/Sung Performance for "Love Galore" featuring Travis Scott.

Commercial performance[edit]

Ctrl debuted at number three on the US Billboard 200 with 60,000 album-equivalent units, of which 25,000 were pure album sales.[106][107] In its second week on the charts, the album dropped to number 11 with 30,000 album-equivalent units.[108] The record remained stable at number 12 in its third week, moving 28,000 album-equivalent units and dropping to number 13 on the following week with 25,000 album-equivalent units (5,000 pure album sales).[109][110] At the end of September 2017, the album had accumulated over 394,000 equivalent units with 80,000 being pure sales.[111] On October 11, 2017, Ctrl was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for combined sales and album-equivalent units of over 500,000 units.[4] As of March 1, 2018, “Ctrl” went platinum surpassing sales of 1,000,000 units. “Love Galore” and “The Weekend” are certified 2x platinum; as well as “Garden” and “Broken Clocks” going gold.

Track listing[edit]

Credits adapted from liner notes.[112]

No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
1."Supermodel"Scum3:01
2."Love Galore" (featuring Travis Scott)
  • ThankGod4Cody
  • Lang
4:35
3."Doves in the Wind" (featuring Kendrick Lamar)Cam O'bi4:26
4."Drew Barrymore"
  • Rowe
  • Lang
  • Donaldson
  • Macie Stewart
  • Henderson
  • Lang
  • Scum
3:51
5."Prom"
  • Rowe
  • Donaldson
  • Lang
3:16
6."The Weekend"ThankGod4Cody4:32
7."Go Gina"
2:41
8."Garden (Say It Like Dat)"
  • Bēkon
  • The Donuts[a]
  • Balmoris[a]
3:28
9."Broken Clocks"
ThankGod4Cody3:51
10."Anything"
2:29
11."Wavy (Interlude)" (featuring James Fauntleroy)
  • ThankGod4Cody
  • Prophit
1:15
12."Normal Girl"
  • Rowe
  • Lang
  • Donaldson
  • Henderson
Lang4:13
13."Pretty Little Birds" (featuring Isaiah Rashad)
  • Scum
  • Lang
  • Leimberg
4:05
14."20 Something"
  • Rowe
  • Donaldson
  • Lang
  • Scum
  • Lang
3:18
Total length:49:01

Notes

Sample credits

Personnel[edit]

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
United States (RIAA)[128] Platinum 1,000,000double-dagger

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]