|EP by SZA|
|Released||April 8, 2014|
|Studio||TDE Red Room
Z is the debut extended play (EP) by American singer and songwriter SZA. It was released on April 8, 2014, by Top Dawg Entertainment. After amassing two self-released mixtapes, See.SZA.Run and S, as well as meeting with members of Top Dawg Entertainment, she subsequently signed a recording contract with the indie label. The recording of the EP took place in Carson, California during the summer of 2013 with the help of her Top Dawg labelmate Isaiah Rashad, among others.
A PBR&B and neo soul album, Z has a diverse musical style that incorporates contemporary urban genres such as soul, hip hop, and minimalist R&B, as well as 1980s synthpop elements. Its production is characterized by layers of sliced, delayed, and reversed vocals, which are synthetic and fluid. Its lyrics explore the complexities of romantic relationships, sexuality, nostalgia, and abandonment. The album was written by SZA herself, with production handled by Mac Miller, Emile Haynie and others.
Upon release Z received generally positive reviews from music critics, who commended its production and musical style. Critics also praised the EP's lyrical content and SZA's vocals, as well as comparing the EP to the work of singer and songwriter Lorde. Z debuted on the US Billboard 200 at number thirty-nine, selling 6,980 copies in its opening week. The EP also peaked at number nine on the US Hip-Hop/R&B chart.To date, the EP has sold over 12,600 copies in the US.
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. On October 29, 2012, SZA released her debut self-released extended play entitled See.SZA.Run, which featured production from brandUn DeShay and APSuperProducer, amongst others. In June 2013, Top Dawg Entertainment announced they were planning to sign two more artists. On July 14, it was revealed Top Dawg had signed an upcoming female singer named SZA to the label. SZA's intention was to release another EP, however she felt she owed "people more", leading her to release the full-length album.
SZA said the public could expect to hear a "completely different level of insight" into her life through this album. She described the recording process as not being "rushed or afraid", and that she had "vocal freedom" during the process. During the writing process SZA felt she "ran out of shit to say", which led her to force herself to "dig deeper", continuing, "It's funny because I get to choose all these crazy producers who I never got to work with before, so I'm getting to know myself around some of the most creative minds ever."
In May 2013 SZA revealed that she had been working with producers Holy Other and Emile Haynie, the latter of whom had previously worked with Lana Del Rey and Kid Cudi. The majority of Z was recorded in Carson, California in the summer of 2013, in a "little club house" along with labelmate Rashad. The experience gave SZA a crucial ally within the crew, and the two have since made a habit of collaborating. SZA spoke on the recording of the EP saying, "Him and all his producers would kick open my door in the morning and jump on the bed and light blunts at 9 AM... Now we're each other's security blanket, in a way. We just get each other really well." SZA met producer Felix Snow via a mutual friend and they later began "hanging out". SZA described him as being "completely not the textbook producer". On working with Felix, SZA said,
If you've ever seen him he wears sunglasses inside all day and sandals all year round. He's basically always in yacht mode. He has a Tamagachi and a Giga Pet, so he's a character-and-a-half. But we're like family. I went to his house in Connecticut and played with his menagerie of animals and met his parents and ate soup.
Z contains modern R&B style, neo soul, and hip hop genres; the albums instrumentals have a "vary in groove". The album's production is characterized as being "mainly synthetic" with guitar work scattered throughout. Z featured a genre "agnostic utopia dripping with mood"; the album was described as straddling the "line between minimalist R&B, '80s synth pop and soul". The production is "consistently fluid" and built over "layers of sliced, delayed, and reversed vocals." Thematically, the album has "unraveling lyrics" that touch upon themes of sexuality, nostalgia, and abandonment, and which have been compared to the work of Lorde. SZA’s vocals were described as merging and melting into the album's production, creating a "chilled aesthetic".
According to Michael Madden from Consequence of Sound, Z follows in the same vein as her previous EPs See.SZA.Run and S; Madden noted that, like her previous work, Z sounds "organic and self-sufficient. The tricky part is getting to that point". Madden described the album's genre as being "agnostic", noting that Z is not just one style of music and is versatile, with a musical style that is not just "R&B, pop, soul, or one thing at all". Madden described the album's lyrical content as sometimes being "purposefully general" and sometimes "an ambitious but quick reference", which he compared to the rapper Angel Haze and her debut album Dirty Gold.
The album opens with "U R", a "slow-moving, emotional track" that was produced by rapper Mac Miller. "U R" is a "disorienting" song that is built over a variety of instrumentals featuring "twangy guitar, subtle synthesizers, echoing vocals, delicate piano chords, and futuristic sound effects." The musical style then moves into a more upbeat, energetic set of songs. "Child's Play" features American rapper Chance the Rapper. It was produced by DAE ONE & XXYYXX and contains minimalist drums and synths. Its lyrics mention Nintendo and Street Fighter. "Julia" is an uptempo synthpop song that contains a "danceable, energetic vibe" that was described as being built on a "glorious" and "glittering" production, with lyrics that revolve around romantic relationships. The album's fourth song, "Warm Winds", features American rapper and labelmate Isaiah Rashad, whose vocals have been described as sounding like backing vocals.
"HiiiJack" is a R&B song produced by Toro y Moi, whose lyrics are about love. "Green Mile" was compared to the work of singer Jessie Ware, and is built over a "crashing" sound with "dark, shady beat". Lyrically "Green Mile", described the difficult ending of a relationship and the "massacre" of love. "Babylon" is an "alt-R&B" song featuring rapper Kendrick Lamar and produced by DJ Dahi. It has been described as having an "airy, mystical croon" coupled with Lamar's "fluid, and at times ravenous, flow". "Sweet November" is musically more upbeat than some of the album's previous material. It contains "breathy" vocals and guitar riffs, whilst its lyrics are about "love and life lessons". "Sweet November" contains guitar, piano and organ instruments and a sample from Marvin Gaye's "Mandota", which was originally featured on the deluxe edition of his 1973 album Let's Get It On. "Shattered Ring" is a pop song that contains "haunting vocals" and "guitar tabs", as well as borrowing "songwriting and vocal cues from country and acoustic music." "Omega" is a R&B song that is described as "goth-hop" with "bold and oblique" elements.
After appearing on a variety of songs by her fellow Top Dawg Entertainment artists, SZA announced the title and release date of her next EP, and released a new video. It was announced that the EP titled Z would be released on April 8, 2014. Prior to the album's release, Metacritic named the EP as one of their "45 Notable Upcoming Albums" during March and May, calling it a "noteworthy album". The same company also placed the album on their "Most Anticipated Albums" of 2014.
To promote the Z EP, SZA performed at several performance showcases at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. The EP was preceded by the release of video of the lead single, "Babylon", which was directed by APLUSFILMZ. The visuals feature SZA leaving her unimportant essentials behind as she gets baptized in the swamp's murky waters. On March 26, 2014, SZA released the single "Child's Play", featuring Chance the Rapper. On May 14, 2014 SZA released a music video for the song "Warm Winds", featuring Isaiah Rashad. The video was directed by APLUSFILMZ, and depicts SZA and Rashad running through a field and walking down a deserted path. On July 11, 2014 SZA released a video for "Julia" from the EP, and during the song's accompanying video featured a snippet of a new song entitled “Tender”.
|Consequence of Sound||B-|
At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 66, based on 15 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews." Ben Benjamin of Neon Tommy praised Z, comparing it to the work of singer Lorde and calling Z "compelling", yet "slightly static". He felt it worked well within its "narrow dynamic range", but noted that the album's end began "one of the few adrenaline boosters on the entire record", in which SZA had an "aptitude for injecting deep listening into songs that will please even the shallowest ears". Ryan B. Patrick from Exclaim! gave Z eight out of ten stars, calling the work a "quality beginning" and praised the "fresh futurist sound". He noted "Sweet November" and "Julia" as standout tracks.
Steven Goldstein from HipHopDX gave the album three and half stars out of five; he called it a strong debut. He praised the album's "nostalgic trance about heartbreak and self-questioning." On the other hand, Goldstein felt that sometimes SZA fell "victim to Pop platitudes." Brandon Soderberg from Spin magazine commended the album's "atmospheric" tones and called the album's lyrical content "compelling". However, he felt the "elements melt into the background" and described the genre as "weeded R&B." Writing for Consequence of Sound, Michael Madden commended the "organic" themes but felt the album did not "get to the point". He praised SZA's vocals, calling them her "biggest asset."
The album was included on numerous year-end critics' lists, including Exclaim!, who placed the album at number seven on their Soul and R&B albums list. Z was thirty-four on Vibe Magazine's end-of-year list, and number ten on Sweden's Nöjesguiden international list.
Z debuted on the US Billboard 200 at number 39, selling 6,980 copies in its first week of availability, where it charted for just one week. The album also debuted at number nine on the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and at number five on the US Top R&B Albums chart, where it charted for three weeks on the former and four weeks on the latter. To date, the EP has sold over 26,000 copies in the US.
All tracks written by Solána Rowe.
|2.||"Child's Play" (featuring Chance the Rapper)||3:36|
|4.||"Warm Winds" (with Isaiah Rashad)||
|5.||"HiiiJack"||Toro y Moi||3:42|
|6.||"Green Mile"||Emile Haynie||3:34|
|7.||"Babylon" (featuring Kendrick Lamar)||DJ Dahi||3:54|
|8.||"Sweet November"||Marvin Gaye||4:03|
|UK Albums (OCC)||197|
|UK Independent Albums (OCC)||40|
|UK R&B Albums (OCC)||32|
|US Billboard 200||39|
|US Independent Albums (Billboard)||7|
|US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums (Billboard)||9|
|United States||April 8, 2014||Digital download||Top Dawg|
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