SZA (singer)

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SZA - AfroPunk Festival 2015 (cropped).jpg
SZA performing in Brooklyn in 2015
Background information
Birth name Solána Imani Rowe
Born (1990-11-08) November 8, 1990 (age 26)
St. Louis, Missouri, United States[1]
Origin Maplewood, New Jersey, United States[1]
  • Singer
  • songwriter
Instruments Vocals
Years active 2011–present
Associated acts

Solána Imani Rowe (born November 8, 1990), better known by her stage name SZA (/ˈsɪzə/ SIZ), is an American singer and songwriter. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, later relocating to Maplewood, New Jersey.[1] In October 2012, Rowe self-released her debut mixtape titled See.SZA.Run, which she then followed up with her second mixtape, titled S, in October 2013. In July 2013, it was revealed that she had signed to the hip hop record label Top Dawg Entertainment, through which she released Z, her debut extended play (EP) and first retail release, in April 2014.[2] Her debut studio album Ctrl was released June 9, 2017.

SZA is a neo soul singer whose music is described as alternative R&B, with elements of soul, hip hop, minimalist R&B, cloud rap, ethereal R&B, witch house and chillwave. Rowe's lyrics are described as "unravelling", that revolve around themes of sexuality, nostalgia, and abandonment. Rowe cites a variety of artists as influences including Billie Holiday, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Björk, Jamiroquai, and Wu-Tang Clan. SZA also takes influence from non-musical artists including gymnasts, ice skaters, painters, and filmmakers, including Spike Lee.

Early life[edit]

Solána Rowe was born in November 8, 1990, in St. Louis, Missouri, United States before later relocating to Maplewood, New Jersey.[1] Her father was an executive producer at CNN, while her mother was an executive at AT&T. Rowe was born to a Christian mother and a Muslim father. She was raised as an Orthodox Muslim and has an older half-sister.[3] She attended a "Muslim prep school" and secondary school everyday after her "regular school." After the September 11 attacks, Rowe was subject to bullying, leading her to stop wearing her hijab. After secondary school, Rowe attended three separate colleges. In her freshman year she "got high and failed out."[1]

Rowe went to Essex County College to study liberal arts, with the intention to go to graduate school and find her calling in life. The plan never materialized, and she then took random jobs in order to make money.[4] Rowe formed her stage name from the Supreme Alphabet, taking influence from rapper RZA, the last two letters in her name stand for Zig-zag and Allah, while the first letter Rowe developed herself switching it from savior to "sovereign.”[1]


2011–14: Beginnings and EPs[edit]

SZA first met members of Top Dawg Entertainment during the CMJ 2011, when her boyfriend's clothing company sponsored a show in which Kendrick Lamar was performing. 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.[2] SZA first began recording music by accident; after recording one song, she continued the process until she decided she should "make something out of it." SZA recorded the songs with her friend and neighbor in which they "stole a bunch of beats off the Internet."[4] On October 29, 2012, SZA released her debut self-released EP entitled See.SZA.Run, which featured production from brandUn DeShay, APSuperProducer, amongst others.[5]

SZA performing in 2013

On April 10, 2013 SZA released her second EP S, which was met with positive reviews from music critics.[6][7] SZA promoted the extended play with the release of music video for the song "Ice Moon", the accompanying video was directed by Lemar & Dauley.[8] On July 14, 2013 it was announced that Top Dawg had signed an upcoming female singer named SZA.[9] In October 2013, SZA went on a four show tour with Swedish band Little Dragon; starting on October 17 at the El Rey Theater Los Angeles and ending on October 24 at the Music Hall of Williamsbug, Brooklyn NY.[10] In December 2013, SZA released the song "Teen Spirit" which was followed by the release of a remix featuring American rapper 50 Cent, along with a music video directed by APLUSFILMZ.[11] In 2014 SZA featured on a variety of songs from her label-mates albums including two songs for Isaiah Rashad's debut EP Cilvia Demo as well as featuring on Schoolboy Q debut studio album Oxymoron.[12][13]

On March 26, 2014, R&B artist SZA released the single "Child's Play" featuring Chance the Rapper and produced by Dae One & XXYYXX.[14] SZA announced the title and release date of her next EP, and released a new video.[15] Her debut studio album, titled "Z," was released on April 8, 2014 and was preceded by the release of the lead single, "Babylon," which was accompanied with a music video directed by APLUSFILMZ.[15] To promote "Z" SZA performed at several performance showcases at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas.[15] SZA made her chart debut in the UK, where Z charted at thirty two, on the R&B Charts, the week ending April 19, 2014.[16] Z debuted on the US Billboard 200 at number thirty nine, selling 6,980 copies in its opening week, the album also peaked at number nine on the US Hip-Hop/R&B chart.[17]

In May 2014, SZA announced she was planning to embark on an international tour and has begun recording her third EP entitled A.[18] In July 2014 SZA featured on Kitty Cash's single "Moodring",[19] the same month SZA released a collaboration with Jill Scott called "Divinity" the song was produced by Om’Mas Keith and lasts for seven-and-a-half-minutes.[20] On July 11, 2014, SZA released a video for "Julia" from Z, during the songs accompanying video featured a snippet of a new song entitled “Tender”.[21] In early October Jhene Aiko tweeted SZA, which led to speculation that the two would be working together; however on October 23, 2014, Aiko announced that she would be headlining a tour entitled "Enter The Void tour" which would be supported by SZA and The Internet. The tour begins on December 12 at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, California and more dates will be announced at a later time.[22] On November 18, 2014 SZA released the song “Sobriety,” the song was produced by Thundercat and lyrically talks about candid confessions and love over a "moody" beat.[23]

2015–present: Ctrl[edit]

In September 2014, SZA revealed that "A" would be released as her debut studio album, continuing to say that "A" would be similar to "S" and would include trap influences with more aggressive lyrics, she also announced that she has begun working with James Fauntleroy, Hit-Boy and long time collaborator Felix Snow again.[24] Along with Rihanna and Tyran Donaldson, SZA co-wrote a song entitled "Consideration" which was featured on Rihanna's eighth studio album Anti (2016); besides writing, SZA also featured on the track. SZA later performed "Consideration" with Rihanna live for the first time at the 2016 Brit Awards on February 24, 2016.[25]

After teasing new music, SZA premiered the lead single from her debut album titled “Drew Barrymore,” live on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”. SZA didn’t just perform the new single on, she also announced the title of her debut studio album, initially titled A, the project will be called Ctrl.[26] On April 28, 2017, SZA announced she signed her first major-label recording contract with RCA Records.[27][28] On the 9th of June 2017, SZA dropped her debut album, Ctrl. It had been so far supported by three singles,"Drew Barrymore", "Love Galore" featuring Travis Scott and "Broken Clocks". The album features guest appearances by Kendrick Lamar, James Fauntleroy, and Isaiah Rashad.


Musical style[edit]

SZA performing in 2015 with label mate Ab-Soul.

SZA described her vocals as having a "rasp" which she initially tried to "tenderise"; SZA also listens to Ella Fitzgerald for vocal influence.[29] SZA vocal style has been described as taking on the "lilt" of a jazz singer.[30] According to Marissa G. Muller of Rolling Stone magazine, Rowe's vocals alternate between a "vapory husk and a sky-high falsetto."[31] Jordan Sargent of Pitchfork magazine labelled Rowe's vocals as being "chillwave" and "ethereal."[32]

SZA musical style is described as "alt R&B".[33] SZA songs are built over "layers of sliced, delayed, and reversed vocals" and contains "twists and mutates".[5][34] Reggie Ugwu from Billboard finds her musical style to feature an "agnostic utopia dripping with mood", that straddles the "line between minimalist R&B, '80s synth pop and soul".[2] Rowe's music is predominately PBR&B and neo-soul, but has been noted for taking influences from a broad variety of genres including soul, hip hop, minimalist R&B, cloud rap, ethereal R&B, witch house and chillwave elements.[33] Michael Madden described SZA's musical genre as being "agnosticism corresponds", noting that her work is not just one style of music and is versatile, noting the musical style is not just "R&B, pop, soul, or one thing at all."[35]

SZA began writing songs due to being "passionate" about writing and enjoyed poetry, when writing lyrics SZA "freestyles" them in order to express whatever comes to her "mind", noting that it does not always make sense to herself.[4] Thematically, SZA work contains "unravelling lyrics", that touch upon themes of sexuality, nostalgia, and abandonment.[34] According to Michael Madden from Consequence of Sound, SZA lyrical is sometimes "purposefully general" and sometimes "an ambitious but quick reference", which Madden compared to the rapper Angel Haze and her debut album Dirty Gold.[35]


SZA cites a range of musical artists as influences, as a child she grew up listening to jazz music,[4] growing up SZA "couldn't do anything other than what" her dad did. So she listened to a lot of his music collection which included Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, and Louis Armstrong. Later musical influences happened by "accident" according to SZA.[1] During one of her classmates bar mitzvah SZA was given a mixtape which introduced her to artists including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, LFO and Macy Gray, she "loved" the CD and "played it until it was finished".[1] Via her sister she continued to broaden her influences when she was first introduced to rapper Lil Jon, her sister continued to introduce SZA to rappers including Wu-Tang Clan and members of Cash Money.[1]

SZA later began listening to rapper Common, Björk, and "a lot of Wu, Nas, Mos Def, Hov", she described the artists music she discovered as sticking "hard".[1] SZA cites Björk as being a major musical influences, speaking on Björk, SZA said her "personal influences came from dancing with American Ballet Theatre and doing pieces to Björk. That's the only time I had really any outside influence to music. So, the people that I fell in love with on a musical level were always much older. Jamiroquai is just, like, the shit for me," whom she also grew up listening too.[36]

During an interview, SZA said she was never really inspired by musicians or to become a musician, but was interested in creating a form of art; she looked up to people who were not "typical artists" including her "favorite gymnast, ice-skater, saxophonist, painter, or movie director" continuing to say she was inspired by film director Spike Lee.[36] SZA commented that singer Lauryn Hill was one of her personal and style influences saying she looked up to Hill.[37] During an interview, SZA spoke again on her style influences, saying a large amount of her style inspiration comes from movies, expanding on this SZA commended Wes Anderson films and his use of "Pantone color palette" continuing to say the "wardrobe in all of his films and I would love to dress like a character from Moonrise Kingdom. Or perhaps Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic."[38]

Public image[edit]

SZA defined her style as being "girl next door chic."[38] SZA's hair became a point of interest during the early stages of her career and she discussed it in interviews with Vogue magazine and Harper's Bazaar.[37] During performance SZA tends to wear "free-flowing" clothes that are easy to move and has been known to wear pajamas onstage in order to execute her vocals and enhance her performance.[39]

SZA is known as TDE's first female signee and first singer, which drew attention during the early stages of her career, which Rowe described as uncomfortable and did not like the attention, Rowe also stated she felt uncomfortable with being seen as a "public figure" and did not like the idea of people forming opinions on her.[40] Rowe, her music, and her image have been compared to neo-soul artists Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill which Rowe has disagreed with and states that she has no "desire to be that" and just wants to be able to make her own style of music.[40]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Complex Music" Insanul Ahmed, 'Who is SZA?', Complex Music, September 8, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "Billboard" Reggie Ugwu, 'SZA Talks 'Z' Album & Being the Only Girl In Top Dawg Entertainment', Billboard Magazine, April 7, 2014.
  3. ^ Ahmed, Insanul (September 8, 2013). "Who is SZA?/Growing up Muslim". Complex. Retrieved June 12, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Billboard May 2013 interview" Reggie Ugwu, 'SZA Talks Quitting Her Day Job, Working With Holy Other & Emile Haynie',, May 23, 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Complex debut-EP Newsitem" Zach Frydenlund, 'EP Premiere: SZA See SZA Run', Complex Music, October 29, 2012.
  6. ^ "CoS review" Adam Kivel, 'Album review: SZA - S EP', Consequence of Sound, April 22, 2013.
  7. ^ "Pigeon & Planes announcement" Katie K, 'Download SZA’S new EP', Pigeons and Planes, April 10, 2013.
  8. ^ "Ice Moon video" Dharmic X, 'SZA Releases Mystical Video For "Ice Moon', Complex Media, November 13, 2013.
  9. ^ "Source newsitem" Khari Nixon, 'Presenting TDE New Songstress', The Source, August 14, 2013.
  10. ^ "Brooklyn vegan review" Ryan Muir, 'Little Dragon playing two NYC shows w/ SZA', Brooklyn Vegan, August 28, 2013.
  11. ^ "50ct remix" Dharmic X, '50 Cent Remixes SZA's "Teen Spirit"', Complex Media, December 6, 2013.
  12. ^ Jeffries, David. "Cilvia Demo – Isaiah Rashad > Overview". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved April 3, 2014. 
  13. ^ Jeffries, David. "Oxymoron – Schoolboy Q > Overview". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved April 3, 2014. 
  14. ^ "IndieShuffle Newsitem" Tobias Handke, 'SZA - Child's Play (Ft. Chance The Rapper)',, March 26, 2014.
  15. ^ a b c "Boombox newsitem" Trent Fitzgerald, 'SZA Reveals ‘Z’ EP Release Date, Drops ‘Babylon’ Video,, March 9, 2014
  16. ^ "UK R&B chart" Archived entry for the UK R&B chart for April 19, 2014. Accessed May 10, 2014.
  17. ^ "Hip-Hop chart April 2014" Andres Tardio, 'Hip Hop Album Sales: Week Ending April 13, 2014' HipHop DX April 16, 2014.
  18. ^ "Billboard News 2014 Erika Ramirez, 'The Juice Podcast: SZA & MoRuf Talk TDE, New Albums, Usher & 2 Chainz', Billboard Magazine, May 9, 2014.
  19. ^ "New Music: Kitty Cash & SZA – ‘Moodring’". Rap-Up. 
  20. ^ "New Music: SZA & Jill Scott – ‘Divinity’". Rap-Up. 
  21. ^ "Video: SZA – ‘Julia / (Tender)’". Rap-Up. 
  22. ^ "Jhené Aiko Announces Enter The Void Tour With SZA And The Internet Following Missed #DefJam30 Concert Performance". Retrieved June 14, 2017. 
  23. ^ "New Music: SZA – ‘Sobriety’". Rap-Up. 
  24. ^ "Kendrick Lamar's Storytelling On New Album Is "On A Grander Scale," SZA Says". HipHopDX. September 11, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Brit Awards 2016: Drake to join Rihanna for first live performance of Work at London's O2 Arena?". International Business Times. 
  26. ^ "SZA Announces 'CTRL' Album, Drops 'Drew Barrymore' Single". Rap-Up. Retrieved June 13, 2017. 
  27. ^, HipHopDX -. "SZA Signs To RCA Records". Retrieved June 13, 2017. 
  28. ^ "SZA Announces Deal With RCA". Retrieved June 13, 2017. 
  29. ^ "Redbull April 2014 interview" Aimee Cliff, 'Five things you should know about SZA',, April 7, 2014.
  30. ^ "SZA 'Z' review" Kevin Ritchie, 'Sza "Z" review, Toronto Now (vol 33), April 17–24, 2014
  31. ^ "Meet SZA, Kendrick Lamar's Newest Labelmate". Rolling Stone. 
  32. ^ "SZA". Pitchfork. 
  33. ^ a b "The Guardian NBOD 2013" Paul Lester, 'New Band Of The Day: SZA' The Guardian, March 8, 2013.
  34. ^ a b "Z Album Review" Ben Benjamin, 'SZA: 'Z' Album Review', Neon Tommy, April 10, 2014.
  35. ^ a b Madden, Michael (April 8, 2014). "SZA – Z | Album Reviews". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved April 12, 2014. 
  36. ^ a b "Refinery" Nathan Reese, 'SZA's Unlikely Path To Pop Stardom' Refinery29, October 9, 2013.
  37. ^ a b "Vogue" Chioma Nnadi, 'Why SZA's Huge Natural Hair is Our New Obsession', Vogue, March 27, 2014.
  38. ^ a b "W Magazine" Sarah Leon, 'She’s Just SZA', W Magazine, April 9, 2014.
  39. ^ "SZA’s Pitchfork Festival Style". The New York Times. July 21, 2014. 
  40. ^ a b "You Probably Don't Know Rising R&B Star SZA Yet, But You Will". The Huffington Post. 

External links[edit]