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Solána Imani Rowe (born November 8, 1990), known professionally by SZA (; short for either "Sovereign Zig-Zag Allah" or "Savior Zig-Zag Allah"), is an American R&B singer-songwriter. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, later relocating to Maplewood, New Jersey. In October 2012, Rowe self-released her debut EP, See.SZA.Run, which she then followed up with her second EP, titled S, in April 2013. In July 2013, it was revealed that she had signed to the hip hop record label Top Dawg Entertainment, through which she released Z, her third EP and first retail release, in April 2014.
SZA's debut studio album, Ctrl, was released on June 9, 2017, to universal acclaim from music critics. The album debuted at number three on the US Billboard Top 200 and spawned the platinum-certified singles "The Weekend" and "Love Galore", which features rapper Travis Scott. Ctrl received several Grammy Award nominations, including Best Urban Contemporary Album.
SZA is a neo soul singer whose music has been described as alternative R&B, with elements of soul, hip hop, minimalist R&B, cloud rap, witch house and chillwave. Rowe's lyrics are described as "unravelling", that revolve around themes of sexuality, nostalgia, and abandonment. SZA cites a variety of artists as influences, including Ella Fitzgerald, Meelah, Björk, Jamiroquai, and Lauryn Hill, among others. SZA also takes influence from non-musical artists, including filmmaker Spike Lee.
SZA was born on November 8, 1990, in St. Louis, Missouri, before later relocating to Maplewood, New Jersey, where she was raised. Her father was an executive producer at CNN, while her mother was an executive at AT&T. Rowe was born to a Christian mother and a Muslim father. She was raised as an "Orthodox Muslim", and has an older half-sister, Tiffany Daniels. She attended a "Muslim Prep-School" every day after her "Regular School". Rowe attended Columbia High School, where she was very active in sports, including gymnastics and cheerleading. However, due to the September 11 attacks, Rowe was subjected to bullying, leading her to stop wearing her hijab. SZA continues to practice Islam. As a high school sophomore, she was ranked among the best gymnasts in the United States.
After graduating from high school, Rowe later went to Essex County College to study liberal arts. She eventually dropped out and took random jobs in order to make money. Rowe formed her stage name from the Supreme Alphabet, taking influence from rapper RZA, the last two letters in her name stand for Zig-Zag and Allah, while the first letter Rowe says can mean either savior or sovereign.
2011–14: Career beginnings and EPs
SZA first met members of Top Dawg Entertainment during the CMJ 2011, when her boyfriend's clothing company sponsored a show in which Kendrick Lamar was performing. Her early music was given to TDE president Terrence "Punch" Henderson, who liked the material and stayed in touch with her. SZA's early music was recorded with her friends and neighbors in which they "stole a bunch of beats off the Internet". On October 29, 2012, SZA self-released her debut EP See.SZA.Run.
On April 10, 2013, SZA released her second EP, S, which was met with positive reviews from music critics. SZA promoted the extended play with the release of a music video for the song "Ice Moon", directed by Lemar & Dauley. On July 14, 2013, it was announced that Top Dawg had signed SZA. In October 2013, SZA went on a four show tour with Swedish band Little Dragon; starting on October 17 at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles and ending on October 24 at the Music Hall of Williamsbug, Brooklyn, NY.
In December 2013, SZA released the song "Teen Spirit" which was followed by the release of a remix featuring American rapper 50 Cent, along with a music video directed by APLUSFILMZ. In 2014, SZA featured on a variety of songs from her label-mates albums including two songs for Isaiah Rashad's debut EP Cilvia Demo as well as featuring on Schoolboy Q debut studio album Oxymoron.
On March 26, 2014, R&B artist SZA released the single "Child's Play" featuring Chance the Rapper and produced by Dae One & XXYYXX. Her debut studio EP, titled Z, was released on April 8, 2014 and was preceded by the release of the lead single, "Babylon", which was accompanied with a music video directed by APLUSFILMZ. To promote Z, SZA performed at several performance showcases at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. SZA made her chart debut in the UK, where Z charted at number thirty two, on the R&B Charts, during the week ending April 19, 2014. Z debuted on the US Billboard 200 at number thirty nine, selling 6,980 copies in its opening week; the album also peaked at number nine on the Billboard Hip-Hop/R&B chart.
In May 2014, SZA announced she was planning to embark on an local tour and also began recording her third EP entitled A. In July 2014, SZA featured on Kitty Cash's single "Moodring". Later that month, SZA released a collaboration with Jill Scott called "Divinity". On July 11, 2014, SZA released a video for her song "Julia" from Z. In early October, Jhene Aiko tweeted SZA, which led to speculation that the two would be working together; however on October 23, 2014, Aiko announced that she would be headlining a tour entitled "Enter The Void tour" which would be supported by SZA and The Internet. The tour began on December 12 at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, California. On November 18, 2014, SZA released a song called "Sobriety".
In September 2014, SZA revealed that A, initially planned as a third EP, would instead be released as her debut studio album. Whilst working on her debut album, SZA began writing songs for other artists including Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. Along with Rihanna and Tyran Donaldson, SZA co-wrote a song entitled "Consideration", which was featured on Rihanna's eighth studio album Anti (2016); besides writing, SZA was also featured on the track. SZA later performed "Consideration" with Rihanna live for the first time at the 2016 Brit Awards on February 24, 2016.
In January 2017, SZA announced her debut album would be titled Ctrl, instead of A. Also that month, she performed the lead single from Ctrl, titled "Drew Barrymore", on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. On April 28, 2017, SZA announced that she had signed her first major-label recording contract with RCA Records. On June 9, 2017, SZA released her debut album, Ctrl, to universal acclaim from music critics, scoring an 86 out of 100 rating on Metacritic. Ctrl debuted at number three on the US Billboard 200, with 60,000 album-equivalent units, of which 25,000 were pure album sales; the album was supported by several singles, including "Love Galore", which peaked in the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was later certified platinum. Ctrl was ranked as the best album of 2017 by Time.
On July 5, 2017, SZA announced an official North American headlining concert tour titled Ctrl the Tour, to further promote the album. The tour began on August 20, 2017, in Providence, Rhode Island, at Fête Music Hall, and is scheduled to conclude on December 22, 2017, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at The Fillmore Philadelphia. Despite there being no European leg of the tour, on July 10, 2017, American singer and rapper Bryson Tiller announced that SZA would be opening for the European portion of his Set It Off Tour in support of his studio album True to Self from October 17, 2017, to November 30, 2017, separate from SZA's tour.
In August 2017, SZA collaborated with American pop rock band Maroon 5 on their single "What Lovers Do" from their sixth studio album. The following month SZA released a song entitled "Quicksand", which appeared on the soundtrack for HBO's Insecure, and, alongside Khalid and Post Malone, was featured on the remix version of Lorde's single "Homemade Dynamite", from her second studio album Melodrama. Also in 2017, SZA announced that she had been working on a joint album with Mark Ronson and Tame Impala.
On November 28, 2017, SZA received five Grammy nominations including one for Best New Artist. She received the most nominations of any female artist for the 2018 Awards and was the fourth most nominated artist in total. On December 9, 2017, SZA appeared on Saturday Night Live, the performance received critical acclaim for its power and a new verse she added to her song "Love Galore" in the absence of Travis Scott.
SZA vocal style has been described as taking on the "lilt" of a jazz singer. According to Marissa G. Muller of Rolling Stone magazine, Rowe's vocals alternate between a "vapory husk and a sky-high falsetto". Jordan Sargent of Pitchfork magazine labelled Rowe's vocals as being "chillwave" and "ethereal". SZA disputes her music being labelled as hip-hop, R&B and pop, stating she often listens to a variety of music including Stevie Nicks, classical jazz, folk, and rap. Further, she said: "when you try to label it [her music], you remove the option for it to be limitless. It diminishes the music."
SZA musical style has been described as "alt R&B". SZA songs are built over "layers of sliced, delayed, and reversed vocals" and contains "twists and mutates". Reggie Ugwu from Billboard magazine finds her musical style to feature an "agnostic utopia dripping with mood", that straddles the "line between minimalist R&B, '80s synth pop and soul". Rowe's music is primarily PBR&B and neo-soul, but has been noted for taking influences from a broad variety of genres including soul, hip hop, minimalist R&B, cloud rap, ethereal R&B, witch house and chillwave elements. Michael Madden described SZA's musical genre as being "agnosticism corresponds", noting that her work is not just one style of music and is versatile, noting the musical style is not just "R&B, pop, soul, or one thing at all".
SZA began writing songs due to being "passionate" about writing, and enjoyed poetry; when writing lyrics, SZA "freestyles" them in order to express whatever comes to her "mind", noting that it does not always make sense to herself. Thematically, SZA's work contains "unravelling lyrics", that touch upon themes of sexuality, nostalgia, and abandonment.
SZA listens to Ella Fitzgerald for vocal influence, and has said that Lauryn Hill is one of her personal influences. SZA also cites a wide range of musical artists as influences, including Meelah, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, LFO, Macy Gray, Common, Björk, Jamiroquai, and "a lot of Wu, Nas, Mos Def, Hov". Speaking on her influences, SZA said:
[My] personal influences came from dancing with American Ballet Theatre and doing pieces to Björk [music]. That's the only time I had really any outside influence to music. So, the people that I fell in love with on a musical level were always much older. Jamiroquai is just, like, the shit for me."
During an interview, SZA said she is less inspired by strictly music, and more inspired by creating art in general; she has looked up to people who were not "typical artists" including her "favorite gymnast, ice-skater, saxophonist, painter, or movie director," continuing to say she was particularly inspired by film director Spike Lee. During an interview with W, SZA spoke on her style influences, saying a large amount of her style inspiration comes from movies, including Wes Anderson films, praising his use of "pantone color palette" and that she "would love to dress like a character from Moonrise Kingdom. Or perhaps Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic."
SZA, her music, and her image have been compared to neo-soul artists Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. SZA's hair became a point of interest during the early stages of her career and she discussed it in interviews with Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. During her performances, SZA tends to wear "free-flowing" clothes that are easy to move around in and has also been known to wear pajamas or baggy clothing onstage. SZA is known as TDE's first female signee and first singer, which also drew attention during the early stages of her career; Rowe described this attention as "uncomfortable."