The initial impression 24-year-old SZA makes is not just that of a graceful old-soul…but even more, a wise-beyond-her-years, contented loner–and one that could never be publicly pigeonholed to a single musical genre, R&B or otherwise. Which says a lot for a TDE-branded female with a rainbow of melodic influence.
Since it’s safe to say the game is devoid of any females near comparable to her style, it’s puzzling that the St. Louis-based singer-songwriter has lasted through 2014 mostly unexposed, minus some low-key, underground recognition for her April breakout studio album, Z.
So, for a rising female vocalist whose hip-hop peers are Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, and the like, a track like “Sobriety” seems like an especially soft cut, considering Top Dawg’s typically rough repertoire. The insidiously dreary track, teeming with the right smoky tones for dim coffeehouse playability and moody charm for radio-play, is actually as true to soul as it gets. But whether or not SZA’s exactly what R&B needs, she’s not down for any commitment.
Discomforting, doped-out loneliness is strewn all over “Sobriety”, the retro-voiced rarity’s outlet a sinewy, Neo-Badu fashioning of dusty 90s beats, stinging solitude, and brazen talk of Xanax-popping. Fashioned by some of the label’s sharpest beat-makers [Thundercat, LoveDragon, and others], the highly throwback, organic production rotates on a scratchy trio of church keyboards, sinking bass, and paint-brushed drums.
At times, Marvins Room-style rebuke bleeds through: (“I’mma be fine, I’mma be cool/Better than you, better than her…”), and other times, an intoxicated SZA self-diagnoses: (“She ain’t got no soul, she ain’t got no heart/ Love will stunt your growth, love will make it hard to stay sober…so hard to stay sober…”). She wins our sympathy early on, sourcing the blame for the jaded state she’s in… and makes it feel searingly familiar to us.
Stickily complex emotion and rightful guy-grudges comprise the gritty makeup of SZA’s strange charm, but only some of it. More knotty self-expression and bleak, anecdotal consolation to come, her spell’s just begun.
SZA will also be joining Jhene Aiko on her upcoming ‘Enter the Void’ tour. Check out “Sobriety” below: