100 Best Albums

  • DEC 9, 2022
  • 23 Songs

Essential Albums

  • SOS


Artist Playlists

About SZA

Solána Rowe had a weird time growing up. Jersey suburbs, orthodox Muslim household, parents working their way through corporate America, wanted to fit in, couldn’t. She got bullied for wearing a hijab after 9/11 and became the kind of teenager who, on at least one occasion, drew the cops into a chase while joyriding in the family car. “[My parents] were only strict because they were reasonable,” she told Apple Music in 2017. “Like, they’re Black, they come from the South and Midwest, they don’t come from anything…they’re not tryna take a gang of risks.” That Rowe had her own ideas about how to live didn’t help. “I rebelled really hard, and I learned everything the hard way,” she said. “I’m very hard-headed, very curious.” It’s a balance—rebellious but insecure, expressive but self-conscious, dreamy but alert—that has made Rowe resonant, but also an anomaly, the kind of artist who doesn’t ignore her quirks or contradictions, but brings them to the table in all their messy human glory. After self-releasing a couple of EPs in her early twenties (she took her name from the Nation of Islam’s Supreme Alphabet—Savior Zig-Zag Allah), she became the first female artist signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, joining future collaborators Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock. Released in 2017, her debut album, Ctrl, put her at the vanguard of contemporary R&B, mixing the expressivity of classic soul with a hazy, synth-heavy atmosphere and a playful sense of lyricism that brought Rowe’s inner monologue out. “Even with the heels and tighter clothes and other things, I’m still just me,” she said. “I still have a lot of anxiety about the world, and my thoughts and what people think about my thoughts.” Following a five-year gap, SZA returned in 2022 with SOS, an album that crystallized her status as one of the most dynamic and commercially dominant singer-songwriters of her era. Coated in an eclectic mix of hip-hop, R&B, folk, electronica, and more, the sophomore LP finds SZA tackling imperfect love, with tracks like the chart-topping "Kill Bill" and the Grammy-winning "Snooze" embodying the type of songwriting that can be as ironic as it is heartfelt—a trademark for artists that turn emotional chaos into idiosyncratic grace. Her Apple Music Live session, performed at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, was broadcast in January 2024.

St. Louis, Missouri
November 8, 1989
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