With just ten soulful R&B-rap ballads and in 41 minutes, SZA stole my heart in the middle of the night. I took a chance on one of those pre-arranged Spotify playlists one evening, leading to the discovery of the young artist. I hadn’t even made it to the third song of the playlist, before “Babylon” absconded with my attention completely. Her debut album Z arrived earlier this spring and bringing alluringly raspy tracks (combining rap, r&B, jazz, and what feels like poetry) and epic collaborations with big names like Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper with it.
Z begins in a dizzying whirl of chaotic beats that quickly dissipate dropping you under the hypnotic spell of sultry vocals. The first track, “Ur,” introduces your ear to the style, sound, and funky tempo that could only have come from the mind of SZA. In interviews from various blogs and magazines circling around the internet the artist has created quite the funky persona for herself. With cheeky remarks such as “...I feel so much more compelled to create, as opposed to when I was standing around with an ear piece in, asking people if they needed help with their face cream,” or “maybe like a Bar Mitzvah mixtape,” how could one not just swoon or at the very least, not wish she was their best friend? “Child’s Play” ain’t playing around. It’s a sweet meditative tale on childhood and what happens when that child grows up. Chance the Rapper takes us out of the pensive dreamscape with whiney rap that is quite lovely. The two come back together ending the track with a blend that has as much tension as it does smoothness, “how I used to was.” (Swoon!)
We’re treated to some 80’s fun with “Julia,” a near girl anthem worthy track. The sound is disconnected from the rest of the album, but who cares? It’s fun. Evoking Childish Gambino, this album is dropping from 21st century references shamelessly and smoothly. The inspiration for this track is similar to the one for her track Sweet November. She loves the film Pretty Woman and by default Julia Roberts–hence this track. The disconnect this song might have is not alone, as several songs on the album go off on these disjointed rambles containing jarring tempo and beat changes, yet we go right along with it. The enduring wail of her voice fighting against the beats is a constant that keeps my head bobbing and my shoulders swaying.
The woman is a poet, with lyrics like “shot gun to the back of my heart,” or “bring on the thorny crown,” she takes us to some real dark moments. These moments are familiar. We’ve all had that person we call in the middle of the night, we’ve all had that romance gone awry. We’re right there with her, well until Kendrick interrupts “Babylon.” While his hook is clever, it doesn’t blend as seamlessly with her gorgeously untrained voice like Chance’s or Isiah’s did. Though, the already mentioned lyric “bring on the thorny crown,” is by far one of my favorite moments on the album and a lyric I have to add to my short but sincere list of favorite lyrics. “Sweet November” aided by a Marvin Gaye sample, is guarded with its quizzical lyrics. Despite coming from a dark moment in her life, the ambiguous track cements that SZA is having fun with this album.
When I first smelled Love Sweet Love, I was admittedly looking for the fragrance companion to Daughter’s album. Just like my discovery of SZA, and just like what this fragrance is attempting to emote (falling in love), it all happened by happenstance and I’m ever grateful that it did. It’s never happened quite like this before. That is to say that my first whiff of a new scent has never instantly brought upon the evocation of another artistic body. I normally have to try, but with these two it’s so clear. Perhaps it was the bright pink packaging of the eau de toilette that brought her album to forefront of my mind. Her album cover is adorable with the fat pink flowers and gorgeous gold typography. Or maybe it was the way in which Love Sweet Love was quick, commanding, and gone just like that. Just like SZA’s rather short album.
Love Sweet Love is strong, fruity, and dangerously close to being too sweet, but the subtle musk calms it down. The fragrance’s sporadic notes are reigned in by the stronger floral and muskier notes is not unlike the way SZA is grounded by her male features. Just like Z the fragrance moves rapidly from note to note with stark changes: citrus turns to rose which turns to musk, and then soon I’m having to breathe deep clinging to the fading remnants of a good smell gone. Both Z and Love Sweet Love end as quickly as they begin, but are sweet while they last.