In 2013, New Jersey native SZA dropped S, a self-released album that left fans starving for more vibrations from her extraterrestrial soul. Now, the first lady of Top Dawg Entertainment is ready to take her star to the next level with Z, a sampler of her unique blend of R&B, gospel, jazz, hip hop and classic soul music into a cohesive experience.
She gets psychological on “UR,” questioning the romantic compatibility of personality types via layers of whispered vocals. On “Child’s Play” she sings about ripping the heads off her Barbie dolls and makes Nintendo controllers sound intimate. Chance the Rapper provides the assist as his awkward flow blossoms smoothly into a duet with SZA. "Memories keep playing back, all the nights we used to love," they croon in imperfect unison.
"Julia" is a change of pace thanks to an upbeat '80s dance track sprinkled with airy synthesizers. SZA gets sassy over the throwback beat, proving she can raise her energy level, singing passionately, "I stood for you, will you stand for me?"
"Warm Winds," on another note, forces her sultry voice to rise to a wail over slow horn stabs and a schizo drum track. "Show me a better way! I wish you could," she screams before labelmate Isaiah Rashad joins her on the beat's more stable second act.
"Green Mile" is a massacre, with "bodies arriving every day" and shotguns "to the back of the heart." "Let it ring out!" she commands over a tornado of electro drums and synths.
SZA slows down to get soulful on "Sweet November," a new age throwback á la Amy Winehouse. "Jesus called me collect last night, it took all of me not to answer" she sings woefully.
Things continue in that spiritual lane on "Babylon," with SZA asking to be crucified as angels sing and snares smack behind her. "Bring on the thorny crown" she calls out before Kendrick Lamar delivers another flawless verse.
By the time Z closes with the church organs and distorted drums of "Omega," any music fan will be converted into a believer in SZA's blessed voice and brilliant lyrics. "Keep your feet firmly planted in the sky," she coos, capping off another stellar project from Top Dawg.
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