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Release Date: 9 June 2017

Genre: R&B, Neo-Soul and Indie Rock

Label: Top Dawg Entertainment and RCA

Length: 49:01

 

Written by Jabir McMillian

 

Introduction: 

Man, SZA is a dime. Her voice plus body plus me is a threesome in and of itself. OK, now let’s get to the album. For a long time, we’d thought we would never see a SZA album, especially under her label TDE which has under its roster Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and Isaiah Rashad. So it came as a surprise that when a single with Travis Scott dropped it was announced that SZA was going to drop in June. Here is our track by track review.

Supermodel – So we come in with this lavish backdrop production wise. SZA flows over guitar strings and some light bass, which later evolves into a more spacious drum set. The content discusses how a former lover made her feel type regretful about herself, like she caused it. We get an insight into how much she loved this guy, even though there was frequent signs he wasn’t trying to lay around too long. It’s one of the smoother intros you’ll get this year and the thematic of empowerment that we find towards the end of the song (be it via sleeping with her ex’s homeboy or whatever), reveals a great piece of the fun puzzle that is this album. Rate: 8/10

Love Galore (ft. Travis Scott) – Imma tell you right now, all the features on here are dimes. Maybe not the same quality of coin, but they’re all dimes. Travis comes out with his usual barrage of ticks; “yeah” ad-libs, simplistic comical punchlines, and a rhythmic low-tempo flow that perfectly accentuates the atmospheric tone you find here. The topic on hand once again bounces back to addressing a previous lover, throwing his issues out on front street, and essentially looking in the mirror to tell herself she’s better than this. Song really seems to me like it could make a killing on commercial radio if it was a bit shorter. Rate: 6.5/10

Doves In The Wind (ft. Kendrick Lamar) – The face of the franchise and the (former) most standout member of TDE link up once again to deliver us a timeless duet. Kendrick isn’t new to the landscape of R&B, and we get to see his professionalist style to the highest degrees here. He meshes with SZA’s strong deterrence of only chasing pussy with bars like:

You overcompensate too much for the pussy

You like to throw all kinda shade for the pussy

See, that’s what pussy niggas do

I mean, his performance here is just lovable I’d say. SZA doesn’t necessarily play the back during this song, but she kinda acts as the brain to Kendrick’s body, if you see what  I mean. It’s about 50-50 contributions here. I’d like to think of this as a future “Best Rap/Singer Collab” Grammy nomination. Rate: 9/10

Drew Barrymore – First off, I had to go back and remind myself who Drew Barrymore was. Only time I ever saw her was in some movie with Adam Sandler, and God, I ain’t trying to think of Adam Sandler as my only frame of reference with this song. Thankfully, this only draws inspiration from 90s Drew, and also none of what you read matters towards the song lmao. Anyway, the actual sound and SZA’s “accent” is very akin to the Jamaican sound that’s been bit for the past couple of years. Not saying that’s what she’s going for, but. I think even though the content doesn’t change, this is us witnessing SZA at her most self-doubtful thus far. She isn’t putting up the same strong front that we get in earlier songs, which interests me from a sequencing standpoint, but I appreciate the song nonetheless. Rate: 7.5/10

Prom – So you know how prom is supposed to be like a light-hearted, fun affair? Yeah, them vibes ain’t found on this track. So I believe SZA was (is) younger than her then-boyfriend, and it seems like he was going through an existential crisis during prom season. Being younger and easy-going, SZA was trying her hardest to match his vibes and seemingly got hurt by the distance her mans was putting between them (and presumably his family). So yeah, its real touch and go for her with this guy, and I like the tone. Rate: 6.5/10

The Weekend – Even though it’s the darker side of female empowerment, in today’s world, the message of “The Weekend” might be the most important of any track on this album. SZA (or at least the character) is directly addressing her man’s main chick, his Monday-Friday gyal. During the weekend, he needs a change-up and this character accepts that. But she doesn’t want this level of acceptance to just be for her, she believes all women who are in a non-committed relationship (not married) to understand they’re keeping a man for their own various goals. I’m right with her there, these girls get mans who get to the rim on dozens of women. And I’m perfectly fine with that strategy, but you look like a brickhead getting pissed at the woman over the dude time after time. This song can eliminate a huge issue of the thot force if they just open their ears. And for that… Rate: 10/10

Go Gina – No song on this album means nothing, but this song is probably the most laid-back easy going track you’ll find on this project. Here, SZA is facing herself again, not just her at this age, but her since the very beginning and how she’s always been the same person with the core beliefs. I respect that. Gina also references the character from Martin, a show I only watched as a kid through syndication on BET. Probably a top 5 most impactful female character in the black community though. I recognize the significance. Rate: 6/10

Garden (Say It Like Dat) – So here, you got SZA addressing what I presume is a newly found lover, and she’s deep in there. Like pretty deep. She loves exactly who this guy is and prays that he isn’t a mirage. In a way, I feel she lessens herself, predicting that there’s no way this guy could love her intricacies, and creates a contradiction of a situation. But that’s probably just the female mind. Rate: 6/10

Broken Clocks – Apparently, SZA worked as a bartender at a strip club before music. As we all know, the “love” one finds at a strip club is like the moralless, perturbed, and slightly humid version of the love one gets from meeting the one. These two polarizing worlds ends up affecting how she views the love she has back home, but it appears both sides continue sticking through it. The lines about broken clocks seems to refer to not having time for separating, just because of the griminess of her employment. Through thick and thin, one might say. Rate: 8/10

Anything – Off rip, this reminds me of Boogieman from “Awaken, My Love”. The chorus refrain where Gambino says “Yes, I can”? If you lengthen that instrumental for an entire song, that’s the closest comparison to this song’s production and cadence that I know of. I think this song directly plays off of Broken Clocks, or at least the relationship does. It seems like she really loves this guy, and even though there’s evident space between the two, she’s “down for the ride”. Holding on to strings and threads. Very up-tempo and non-contemporary pop vibe. Rate: 6.5/10

Wavy (Interlude) (ft. James Fauntleroy) – The first feature we get in 8 entire tracks, and it’s worth waiting for. James Fauntleroy, a man with a voice like butter (pause), and a legend in his own right, salsas with SZA on the chorus. The result is some high-grade chuneage. I actually wish this track was longer, although I think there is appeal added in the length. Could serve the purpose as a slow song in the club quite effectively. Rate: 7/10

Normal Girl – Earlier tracks feature the artist being unapologetic on wax about her “oddities”, the features that might make her more abrasive and aggressive than your average female. Unapologetic about how others view her. And like other other songs, SZA has a piece of her under that front that regrets her stance. Here, she just wants to be your usual keeper, a chick that plays the back and is simply her man’s girl. I’m not gonna express my own personal feelings on the situation, but it makes for another interesting conflict, but by this point, we’ve all realized we’re dealing with a conflicted young woman. The continued exposition is always appreciated. Rate: 7.5/10

Pretty Little Birds (ft. Isaiah Rashad) – The book, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”? The main character’s tale is basically this song. The plot can be summarized as: this young beautiful gyal is forced into early arraigned marriage by her dying grandmother, who experienced prime slavery years. Mainly because she realizes her daughter is an exploratory, passionate person. Who also messed with white males. The grandmother and her daughter were raped white men. In any case, she gets married to this old, black, dusty farmer who doesn’t have the capacity of expressing his true love for Janie (the granddaughter), and this loveless marriage ruins her idea of love FOR A BIT. She refuses to waste anymore time with this failure, so she runs away with the cunning Joe Starks. After time, Joe becomes a worse and worse person, physically and mentally, and intentionally tries to lessen the vitality of Janie to make her feel as bad as he does. She doesn’t let this ruin the real her and become a free bird once Joe dies. As a rich and independent woman, she keeps her options available, but really doesn’t accept anyone until one man, Tea Cake. Well, that’s exactly what this song is about. Looking for that one person still, even after years wasted of failures. Isaiah and SZA knock the execution out of the park. Rate: 9.5/10

20 Something – I’ll keep it short here, SZA puts down what we’ve all been picking up. Her life is a tangent of issues. She’s been through a lot and she’s looking for a guiding beacon in a maze of hindrances. Somewhere along the way, she realizes that it’s just life at her age. Everyone goes through these trials in some fashion. Fantastic closer. The last seconds with her grandmother featured once again also warms your heart. Rate: 9/10

Conclusion: 

Ever since I’ve tried to separate my music opinions away from those that I see on the internet and become my own man, I’ve tried to refrain from calling albums “classic” from the jump. I feel like that’s a realistic goal, I thought I did a good job of that with “DAMN.” by King Kendrick. But as someone who’s only recently started appreciating R&B with the same level of adoration as hip hop, this album is a massive change up from the usual relatively-masochist notions that are thrown around in most of her male contemporaries’ music. It’s all sexual, there’s not much love thrown in. This is a pure sounding album from start to finish. I have to put this in the same realm as a “BLONDE” when I’m discussing R&B, because it’s just that standout. You NEED to listen to this project if you’re an old head who needs a reminder that some acts out there still have potential and real talent.

 

Overall album Rating: 8.5/10

 

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