Ctrl (pronounced "control") is the debut studio album by American singer and songwriter SZA. It was released on June 9, 2017, by Top Dawg Entertainment and RCA Records. Following the release of debut extended play Z (2014), SZA began writing for other artists and working on her debut, however her debut project was met with various setbacks. SZA followed an analog process and contributed heavily to the album's lyrics. Recording continued until 2017 by which SZA had created two hundred songs. During the recording process SZA opted for a freestyle method, relying on moments in the studio.
As creative director, SZA contributed to most of the album's lyrics and collaborated with producers including Craig Balmoris, Frank Dukes, Carter Lang, Scum and ThankGod4Cody to achieve her desired sound. The efforts resulted in a primarily neo-soul and R&B album, with elements of hip-hop, electronic, indie and soul.
The album was released to acclaim from music critics. It debuted at number three on the US Billboard 200, moving 60,000 equivalent-album units in its first full-tracking week. It generated the singles "Drew Barrymore", "Love Galore", and "The Weekend". As of October 2017, the album has been certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for accumulating over 500,000 in album-equivalent units and pure sales. The album and its songs were nominated for four Grammy Awards, while SZA was nominated for Best New Artist.
After meeting members of Top Dawg Entertainment during the CMJ 2011, 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. Two years later, 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, through this deal SZA released Z (2014). Following the release of Z (2014), SZA began working on her debut and writing for other musicians including Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj, and Anti's opening track "Consideration" for Rihanna, which she featured on. However the debut album faced various setbacks, initially promised at the end of 2015, then at the start of 2016. In October 2016, she criticized her label for her album delays and stated she would be quitting.
SZA revealed that her debut would be similar to S and would include trap influences with more aggressive lyrics, she also announced that she began working with James Fauntleroy, Hit-Boy, and long time collaborator Felix Snow. Speaking on the conception of the album, SZA stated that she had spent four years just doing music, I’ve been burying friends, burying family members, burying weight, the way I feel about myself, the way I feel about God, the way I process information. The album was also inspired by SZA’s view of control in her life. Speaking on this she stated "Ctrl is a concept, I’ve lacked control my whole life and I think I’ve craved it my whole life."
Writing and recording
The albums sessions began in 2014 and took place at the TDE Red Room in Carson, California. The albums recording process was described as being analog and featured the unplugging and re-plugging of wires in order to create the desired sound. During the album's studio sessions, SZA and the album's producers would go into the studio, and filter through the recorded songs and beats to decide if the songs were good or worth experimenting with in order to make better. SZA would search songs that were in the top forty charts during various years including the 40's and 80's, she would then listen to their style, beats and synths to gain some inspiration. Throughout the album's recording process, record producer Rick Rubin helped SZA's creative process. "I had this mentality that 'more is more' -- more reverb, more background ," stating "I played him a bunch of songs, and he would tell me, 'The more you take away from any piece, the more room you create for everything else to be beautiful and grow.' I never felt that before, the editing urge. Once you strip everything down, you're forced to say something."
The album was recorded in Carson, California.
SZA contributed heavily to the album's lyrics co-writing all fourteen tracks. SZA would freestyle the songs in a hope to "let the moments happen in the studio." Initially she tried to record phone notes and write down ideas in journals in order to help her write. SZA's record label TDE confiscated her hard drive during the albums recording, because SZA could not decide on the songs she wanted on the finished album, from the 150 - 200 she recorded. She also detailed how her anxiety issues affected her songwriting process: "I freestyle everything, all the way down. And I listen back and think, what’s shitty? And if something’s too shitty and I can’t put my finger on it, and I think, wow this sucks to me, then I get way frustrated, and usually scrap the song."
When recording the album, SZA would record from drafts of paper, recording one draft all the way down, before listening back and rephrasing it. However, with the album's opening track "Supermodel", SZA took on a different approach stating. With other songs from the album SZA would often hear the beat and see "an idea unfold", however when SZA heard 'Supermodel', she couldn't even imagine what the song would sound stating "I just wanted. I just wanted to sing.I wanted to think." SZA recorded "Drew Barrymore" after hearing a production that reminded her of the film Poison Ivy, noting the emotion Ivy felt in film was something SZA connected with stating her character was "lashing out because she was lonely and pissed that her life was like this".
"The Weekend" was produced by ThankGod4Cody who was given the idea to sample "Set the Mood (Prelude)/Until the End of Time" from a member of his team. After being handed the sample he added chords, a "glittery layer" and bass. After some experimentation with the vocals from the sample, the drums, and some additions in the reverb, he placed the song's snares and hi-hats, and rounded it all out with a cymbal, as he told the website Genius. The production was made with SZA in mind. SZA said about the sample in an interview with Associated Press, "I didn't even think about anything I was saying. I was just happy to be singing over that Justin Timberlake sample... I was just like, ‘This is for fun. This is crazy."
Ctrl is predominantly an R&B and neo soul album, and draws influences from indie rock. The album contains a precise sonic methodology, which takes influence from pop, hip-hop and electronic genres. The production was characterised as predominantly hip-hop-influenced with hints of soul and pop. The album has a confessional theme, which touch upon SZA's personal experiences of love. The album's lyrics were noted as being "honest" and "often comically blunt".
The album opens with "Supermodel" which is built over an electric guitar riff, and reads as an "exposed diary entry" that lyrically talks about relationship betrayal and fallout. The song talks about SZA's ex partner who left her on Valentine’s Day.
"Doves in the Wind" features rapper Kendrick Lamar and is built over a "woozy" production. The songs themes revolves around sexual freedom, yet still having a hunger for intimacy. "Doves in the Wind," makes reference to Forrest Gump, describing the character as the kind of male who see's women as more than sexual objects.
"Prom" is a pop song, that was noted for being built over muted guitars which were compared to Police, whilst the lyrics discuss teen angst. "The Weekend" is an R&B song that samples Justin Timberlake's "Set the Mood (Prelude)". SZA stated that the song has dual meanings since it's about different scenario's in which she and other girls got cheated on and betrayed by the same guy. It's about having been in a relationship with a guy to later find out that he cheated on her with more than one girl, but at the same time it's also about her knowing what it's like to be the other girl who finds out that the guy she's seeing already had a girlfriend and was playing her all along.
riginally titled A, the debut album from SZA was meant to conclude a trilogy of self-titled releases following 2013’s S and 2014 ’s Z—her official entré into the music world. The release date was originally projected for summer 2016 and, as she revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly at the time, it was going to be a frank recounting of her romantic life, warts and all. “I’m talking a lot of grimy shit, but it’s truth,” she said. In the year the album sat in the wings with her label TDE, the fearless style of her grimy shit fermented into a powerful R&B set piece that is unlike any released in recent memory.
Over a lonely electric guitar riff on CTRL’s opening track ”Supermodel,” she sets the tone: “Let me tell you a secret/I been secretly banging your homeboy/Why you in Vegas all up on Valentine's Day?” This sorry setup isn’t fiction, either. In the same EW interview, she said that one of the songs on her album would be about her ex-boyfriend leaving her on Valentine’s Day while she slept with his friend as revenge. “[It] will be the first time he hears about it,” she said.
Boyfriends and more, ahem, casual acquaintances are taken to task across the album, but this isn’t a pity party. CTRL is about sexual freedom while still having your hunger for intimacy be taken seriously. On the woozy “Doves in the Wind,” SZA sings about Forrest Gump—not a figure running through her mind like Frank Ocean—but the kind of guy who sees women as more than just their bodies and who “deserve the whole box of chocolates.” Born Solána Rowe, the Jersey singer seems to take comfort in the freewheelin’ Forrest Gump character Jenny Curran (on Z track “Warm Winds,” SZA quotes young Jenny’s “Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far away” prayer). But SZA finds solace in the sweetness offered to the adult Jenny by Forrest. That sentiment (without literal Gump references) bleeds through on tracks like the heartbreaking “Normal Girl,” about being unable to find a paramour who wants to take her home to meet his family, not just home to his bedroom. But when she sings, “I really wish I was a normal girl?” it’s a stinging reminder that with so many platforms to meet people, there are just that many more people to be hurt by. What if not finding an emotional connection means there’s something fundamentally wrong with you?
SZA’s scrutiny of modern dating is not always self-effacing. “Love Galore,” featuring an able Travis Scott, is the perfect anthem for the not-looking-for-a-pen-pal set. SZA and Scott coo, “Why you bother me when you know that you don’t want me?” It’s a sentiment that feels especially potent in 2017 when loneliness is so much easier to combat fingers-to-screen instead of face-to-face. Ask a friend and she’ll tell you she quit Tinder because she was tired of having ten text-boyfriends but not one who’s ever asked her out on an actual date. Its foil comes in “The Weekend,” a song about sharing a boyfriend with other women. The hook rings, “My man is my man is your man, heard it’s her man, too,” with a tone of both freedom and a muted sadness over settling. She knows there are concessions one makes to boost their sense of self-worth and little fibs we tell ourselves to turn a bad situation into something we think we want.
It's ironic that the album’s little misfires do not really come from SZA herself. “Doves in the Wind” features a verse from Kendrick Lamar who employs the song’s all about vaginas theme to produce some inscrutable lines like, “Pussy can be so facetious,” and, “How many niggas get mistaken for clitoris in a day?” No matter. SZA shines so bright, her honeyed voice making lines like, “I'm really tryna crack off that headboard/And bust it wide open for the right one” sound sweet instead of like bawdy pillow talk.
The album’s finest moment arrives with “Prom,” a meditation on the existential worry of youthful aging—“Fearin' not growin' up/Keepin' me up at night/Am I doin' enough?/Feel like I'm wastin' time”—that sounds like it was pilfered from The Forbidden Love EP-era. But SZA has never been one to glom onto trends. Other areas on the album have more of an indie influence, as well, like “Supermodel” which blooms from its spartan guitar intro into something more in line with old Jimmy Eat World than the undefinable “alt-R&B” tag. Even when there is trap percussion, like on “Garden (Say it Like Dat),” it’s still clear why SZA cites artists like Jamiroquai and Björk as influences. CTRL’s adds indie rock and neo-soul flourishes on its radio-friendly fare, while its cottony production centers the album and pushes against the borders of R&B. She’s not looking to fill the SoundCloud status quo.
SZA deals outside of the confines of her genres, a distinction that is all but meaningless in the polygluttonous context of 2017. Her forebears are more Keyshia Cole and Mary J. Blige, who have hurt and have been fearless enough to sing about that hurt, from Blige’s heart-crushing second album My Life to Keyshia’s chart-topper “Let It Go,” around and around again. People will go to extremes to absolve themselves of judgment, whether it’s for liking something as benign as “The Bachelor” or by mining the depths of psychology to determine that breaking someone’s heart was somehow just an act of radical self-care. SZA has the grit to say that it doesn’t just feel shitty, it is shitty. She is in touch with love’s fragilities and understands that it is worth protecting, there is just a lot of tireless work to get it. The record is all the more beautiful for it. User Comments