Solána Imani Rowe (born November 8, 1990), known professionally as SZA (//), is an American singer and songwriter. In October 2012, SZA self-released her debut EP, See.SZA.Run, which she then followed up with her second EP, S, in April 2013. In July 2013, she signed with the hip hop record label Top Dawg Entertainment, through which she released Z, her third EP and first retail release, in April 2014. In March 2020, it was reported by Billboard that SZA had signed with WME for representation in all areas.
SZA's first studio album, Ctrl, was released on June 9, 2017, to universal acclaim from music critics. It debuted at number three on the US Billboard 200 and was eventually certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). "The Weekend" from her Ctrl album peaked at #29. The album and its songs were nominated for four Grammy Awards, while SZA was nominated for Best New Artist at the 60th annual ceremony. Ctrl was ranked as the best album of 2017 by Time. SZA collaborated with Maroon 5 for their 2017 record "What Lovers Do," earning SZA her first US Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. She later followed that by featuring on the 2018 Black Panther record with Kendrick Lamar, "All the Stars," which peaked at number 7 in the US and was also nominated for the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
SZA is a neo soul singer, whose music has been described as alternative R&B, with elements of soul, hip hop, minimalist R&B, indie rock, cloud rap, witch house, and chillwave. SZA's lyrics are described as "unravelling" and her songs often revolve around themes of sexuality, nostalgia, and abandonment.
Solána Imani Rowe was born on November 8, 1990 in St. Louis, Missouri and raised in Maplewood, New Jersey. 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 has an older half-sister named Tiffany Daniels, and an older brother, Daniel, a rapper named Manhattan. She was raised as an orthodox Muslim.
She attended a Muslim prep school every day after her regular schooling. However, due to the September 11 attacks, Rowe was subjected to bullying in 7th grade, leading her to stop wearing her hijab. Rowe attended Columbia High School, where she was very active in sports, including gymnastics and cheerleading. As a sophomore, she was ranked among the best gymnasts in the United States.
After graduating from high school in 2008, Rowe later went to three separate colleges, finally settling at Delaware State University to study marine biology. She eventually dropped out in her last semester; however, she immediately started taking on random jobs in order to make money. Rowe formed her stage name from the Supreme Alphabet, taking influence from rapper RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. The last two letters in her name stand for Zig-Zag and Allah, while the first letter S can mean either savior or sovereign.
2011–14: Career beginnings and EPs
SZA first met members of Top Dawg Entertainment during the CMJ New Music Report in 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 was surprised with the quality of the material. The two stayed in touch, and after SZA began generating buzz with the release of her two EPs, TDE stepped in to sign her in 2013, making her the label's first female artist. 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, Top Dawg 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. A studio EP, Z, was released on April 8, 2014; the lead single, "Babylon" 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.
SZA subsequently began recording her fourth EP, 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 December SZA and The Internet supported Aiko's "Enter The Void" tour. On November 18, 2014, SZA released a song called "Sobriety".
2015–18: Ctrl and breakthrough
Whilst working on A, (now repackaged as her debut studio album and later retitled Ctrl), SZA began writing songs for other female artists including Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. Along with Rihanna and Tyran Donaldson, SZA co-wrote "Consideration" for Rihanna's album Anti (2016); besides writing, SZA also appeared on the track and later performed "Consideration" with Rihanna live at the 2016 Brit Awards on February 24, 2016.
In January 2017, SZA released "Drew Barrymore", the lead single from her upcoming album Ctrl. On April 28, 2017, SZA 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.
From August 20 to December 22, 2017, SZA promoted the album on a North American concert tour. SZA opened for the European portion of American rapper Bryson Tiller's "Set It Off Tour" in support of his 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 Red Pill Blues. The single reached number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. This marked SZA's first top 10 hit as a featured artist on the Hot 100. The following month SZA released "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 worked 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. Despite this, she did not end up winning any of the awards she was nominated for.
In January 2018, SZA featured with Kendrick Lamar on the track "All the Stars", which was released as the lead single to the soundtrack album of the film Black Panther. The single peaked at number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, and this made SZA's second top 10 hit on the chart, after Maroon 5, "What Lovers Do" which peaked at number 9 on the chart. SZA collaborated with Cardi B on the track "I Do" for the album Invasion of Privacy.
2019–present: Upcoming second studio album and collaborations
In May 2019, SZA confirmed that her second studio album would spawn the lead single "Brace Urself". In the same month, SZA featured on DJ Khaled's eleventh studio album, Father of Asahd, on the track "Just Us". A music video was later released for the song. In an interview with Rolling Stone, SZA mentioned that "Music is coming out for sure", but stating that it may not result in an album, as of yet. She also said that the rumor that she was planning to release a trilogy of albums and then retire from music, "is nonsense". In the interview, SZA also revealed that she had spent time in the studio with Timbaland, stating that "He played fucking Brazilian jazz-type beats, and I popped off to that". She has also collaborated with Sia, who she reportedly has written three songs with. According to Vulture, SZA has earlier expressed intentions of collaborating with Justin Timberlake, Post Malone, Jack Antonoff and Brockhampton on her future songs.
On February 26, 2020, SZA and Timberlake released "The Other Side", a song part of the Trolls World Tour soundtrack, alongside its music video. In March 2020, SZA signed with WME for representation in all areas. SZA performed, together with artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Halsey, a benefit concert for the state of New Jersey, in support of the state's work fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. It took place on April 22, 2020 through at-home performances and the revenue will go to the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund. On May 25, 2020, SZA showed interest on Twitter in releasing "a music dump" of previously unreleased material, potentially containing 20 songs.
In August 2020, SZA tweeted and deleted, “At this point y’all gotta ask punch,” referring to Terrence “Punch” Henderson, who is president of Top Dawg Entertainment. In another tweet, SZA indicated that “all [Punch] says to her” about releasing new music is “soon.” This revealed that her relationship with her label owner Punch (Top Dawg Entertainment) has been hostile since the delays of her second album which was last announced back in an interview in 2019. SZA came back with her first release as a lead artist since 2017 on September 4, 2020, with "Hit Different", featuring Ty Dolla Sign, and production from The Neptunes. On December 25, 2020, SZA released "Good Days" on streaming platforms as a single after it originally debuted as a snippet in the outro of the "Hit Different" music video. English singer Jacob Collier provided background vocals for the single. The song hit its current peak of number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it SZA's first top ten single as a solo artist, despite SZA herself revealing that it wasn't initially planned to be a single. Both tracks are expected to appear on her upcoming second studio album.
SZA's vocal style has been described as taking on the "lilt" of a jazz singer. SZA is known as TDE's first female signee and first singer, which also drew attention during the early stages of her career. 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 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's musical style has been described as "alt R&B". SZA's 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, indie rock, 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 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." In an interview for Live Nation Entertainment, SZA described the meeting she had with Beyoncé for the writing of the song "Feeling Myself", affirming "Beyoncé might be the most perfect, beautiful being I've ever met in my whole life. She's the most inspirational woman on earth, next to my mother". SZA also spoke about Rihanna, admiring her strong and confident attitude, of someone who does only the music she wants to do, and that if there's anybody that she could imagine singing her words, it would be Rihanna.
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." Along with her music, SZA's image has been compared to neo-soul artists Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu. 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.
- Ctrl (2017)
- Jhené Aiko – Enter the Void Tour (2014)
- Jessie J – Sweet Talker Tour (2015)
- Bryson Tiller – Set It Off Tour (2017)
Awards and nominations
Throughout her career, SZA has earned nine Grammy nominations, a Golden Globe nomination, and an Academy Award nomination. She has earned one Billboard Music Award and received the "Rulebreaker Award" at the Billboard Women in Music event in 2018. SZA also won the Soul Train Music Award for Best New Artist in 2017 and the BET Award for Best New Artist in 2018.