Under Ctrl.

The queen of the game is back. After numerous projects and features throughout her career, SZA, the Top Dawg signee, has finally released her debut studio album, Ctrl. I have been a huge fan of this incredible woman from the moment I first heard “Babylon” back in 2014, the glorious collab between SZA and fellow TDE artist Mr. Kendrick Lamar. SZA’s growth is apparent in this new project with its mature sound, while remaining extremely raw and vulnerable.

SZA teases the album’s merch on her Instagram. (Credit: @sza)

“How can I expand my vision?”

Here is what you gotta know:

  • Track 1: “Supermodel”
    • SZA’s personal fave track on the album
    • Intro features her mother’s voice, a theme that comes full circle in Ctrl‘s final track, “20 Something”
    • Song’s outro is spoken by Pharrell Williams
    • Shows and introduces the vulnerable nature of the project by immediately discussing real struggles, such as becoming involved with an ex’s friend simply for revenge
  • Track 2: “Love Galore” (ft. Travis Scott)
    • SZA is a huge fan of Scott’s syncopation, a big reason she enlisted him for this track
      • “Travis merges a fine line between melody, syncopation, and pockets.”
    • Touches on cravings of a past lover, but stresses the importance of putting herself first
    • Song was teased back in November 2016
  • Track 3: “Doves in the Wind” (ft. Kendrick Lamar)
    • First things first…that Forrest Gump line…
    • Intro is very reminiscent of DAMN. sound
    • 3rd time the pair has worked together, a beautiful duo may I say
    • This track continues the dreamy, feminine sound that is ever-present thus far in the project
  • Track 4: “Drew Barrymore”
    • Previewed December 3, 2015 (goes to show the thought and preparation that went into Ctrl)
    • SZA again questions relationships and her own self worth
    • Inspired by ’90s movies with strong female leads
    • The repeated phrase “warm enough” originated from Noname’s song (ft. Donnie Trumpet, now Nico Segal) with the same title
      • “using the phrase as a way to empower females to question insecurities”
    • Oh, and Barrymore herself is FEATURED IN THE VIDEO
  • Track 5: “Prom”
    • Similar pop-disco sound to her last EP, Z, especially “Julia”
    • Prom represents the end of high school, and the beginning of this shift into adulthood
    • Asking herself if she is maturing at a quick enough pace, again connecting with common uncertainties that 20 somethings face
    • To live in the moment or look to the future…hm…
  • Track 6: “The Weekend”
    • Breaking down relationships between men, main chicks, side chicks, etc.
    • The concept of “time-sharing” a man

“Having one person seems like a restriction, like a limitation. Everyone’s used to being overstimulated.”

  • Track 7: “Go Gina”
    • Tied to Gina from Martin
      • SZA is exploring the idea that, if she (like Gina) didn’t work so often and spent quality time with friends, her life would be more enjoyable
    • “I belong to nobody”, SZA, despite self-questioning, continues the theme of self-love and celebration
  • Track 8: “Garden (Say It Like Dat)”
    • The insightful bars do not stop my friends: “Can you remind me of my gravity?”
    • SZA would rather love blindly than find out her love is someone else/have him find out who she truly is
    • The spoken conversation with her grandmother in the track’s outro emphasizes the importance to “keep moving forward”


  • Track 9: “Broken Clocks”
    • Intro immediately reminds me of “Reasons” by Khalid
    • “STILL LOVE IS STILL LOVE” (these bars y’all..)
      • 1. meaning the love remains love
      • 2. meaning the love is stagnant and unmoving
    • As she turns toward self analysis throughout the record, SZA is beginning to conclude that the lack of balance in her life between work and romance has led to her independence
  • Track 10: “Anything”
    • The complementary pairing of a staccato beat with her tranquil voice establishes an overall calmness, despite the almost “upbeat” nature of the track itself
    • The buildup at the end is extraordinary. Listen to this track.
Ctrl’s official album artwork. (Photo Credit: Genius.com)
  • Track 11: “Wavy (Interlude)”
    • The graceful advice keeps coming, and I’m not complaining: “Give as much as you take, forgive as much as you hate”
    • The whole project creates a full circle multiple times, this interlude going back to that classic, 90’s R&B sound
      • Sidenote, the lyrics from “My Boo” by Usher fit seamlessly over this song’s melody
  • Track 12: “Normal Girl”
    • The raw honesty in this track. w o w.
    • Ctrl‘s ideas don’t stop evolving, while she explores what a “normal girl” is, knowing that she is not one
    • The simple, steady 4/4 beat mirrors the simplicity and theme of the lyrics
  • Track 13: “Pretty Little Birds (ft. Isaiah Rashad)”
      • Isaiah. All there is to know.
      • That jack and the bean stalk bar goes the hardest of the hard
      • Assuming SZA is the bird being discussed, she is accepting her mistakes and repercussions toward the album’s close
      • The TDE duo working together is a team that was so meant to be (especially in this track’s outro)
      • The production is so incredibly executed


  • Track 14: “20 Something”
    • Reflecting on where her life is/should be as “Ms. 20 Something”
    • Personal observation: this song would be especially insane performed live
    • Especially relates to her audience, being that many of her listeners are in fact “20 something” and facing these same challenges
      • Ex: hoping to keep friends, hoping to find love, etc.
    • Ends again with spoken advice from her mother (did I not tell you it came full circle)

There you have it. Summer 2017 graced us with yet another timeless piece of work. (TDE is on fire, may I say) As the goddess herself preaches, focus on yourself, focus on the glow, drink water, exfoliate, and listen to Ctrl. That’s all there is to it.

(Photo Credit: Hypebeast.com)

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