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SZA’s CRTL was one of the most highly-anticipated albums to drop this summer. But the rollout for it was shaky. Behind the scenes, the 26-year-old singer trudged through a stormy fall season. She mourned deaths of loved ones — including her grandmother — and faced creative insecurities surrounding her highly-anticipated record. In October, Top Dawg Entertainment’s only woman act caught a frustrated case of Twitter fingers aimed at label head Terrence “Punch” Henderson because of an apparent album delay. “I actually quit,” she proclaimed. “@iamstillpunch can release my album if he ever feels like it. Y’all be blessed.”

The abrupt announcement was unfortunate news for fans, who fed her strong buzz since signing with TDE in 2013. Following the release of her EP Z in 2014, Solána Rowe racked up a songwriting credit on Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé’s “Feeling Myself” in 2014. She later co-wrote Rihanna’s Anti track “Consideration.” But lucky for fans, SZA dealt with qualms about her label’s support shortly after sending the above tweet. “I spoke to Punch that night,” SZA told The Breakfast Club during an interview on June 7. “And I don’t know. They didn’t even say anything. They just listened to me,” she continued.

And really, SZA just wants to be heard. CTRL is an ego-shedding and soul-bearing show that she broadcasts without shame — whether it’s mulling over toxic dating experiences, her issues with body positivity, her vagina’s ultimate needs, or her scandalous side-chick chronicles. SZA also sprinkles wise musings from her mother and grandmother who have her back while she’s navigating the 20-something drama on the album. On her previous album, SZA whispered and dragged her withdrawn vocals behind spacey sonics. Now, she raises her voice with a playful aggressive flow and delivers direct proverbial blows about her own dirty laundry. There are no cheap shots or subliminal messages here.

For instance, on the guitar-driven “Supermodel,” SZA reveals that she sought revenge in the most ruthless way against a man who broke her heart. “Let me tell you a secret/I been secretly banging your homeboy/Why you in Vegas/All up on Valentine’s Day”

On the eerie “Doves in the Wind,” featuring Kendrick Lamar, SZA knows which men can handle her. “High key, your dick is weak, buddy/It’s only replaced by a rubber substitute,” she sings to a dude who clearly has no sauce. But that doesn’t mean SZA isn’t searching for the right contender: “I’m really tryna crack off that headboard/And bust it wide open for the right one.”

She’s seems to have found that special someone on the Isaiah Rashad-assisted “Pretty Little Birds.” She sings without reservation about her pre-sex prep: “I wanna shave my legs for you/I wanna take all of my hair down and let you lay in it,” she describes. On the ’90s-esque slow jam “The Weekend,” SZA is the woman on the side, and still has the nerve to want more time with the man. “I mean, I’m saying what kind of deal is two days?/I need me at least ’bout four of them,” she complains.  

SZA is more scattered and down on her luck on other tracks. On “Broken Clocks,” she portrays a woman who is focused on her day-to-day hustle, but distracted by a man from her past. On “Garden (Say It Like That),” SZA feels she doesn’t meet beauty standards as seen on glorified IG models and seeks validation from her man. “I know you’d rather be layin’ up with a big booty/Body hella positive ’cause she got a big booty (wow),” she laments.

It’s easy to stand on a pedestal and preach about relationships, but SZA takes the risk to deliver an emotional exposé of her innermost thoughts. She’s a woman playing many roles: from the selfish villain to the woman who’s been shred to pieces by viscous f*ck-boys. She doesn’t let misogynistic labels — that hinder a woman’s freedom to go through the up and down phases she’s sharing — shame her into silence. The inclusion of her family matriarchs takes the project to another level of vulnerability. Their comforting voices is impactful — “Prayin’ the 20 somethings don’t kill me, don’t kill me” — will fade away in time. “But see Solána, if you don’t say something, speak up for yourself, they think you stupid, you know what I’m saying?, says her grandmother at the end of “Love Galore.”

The songbird can survive if she continues to pursue truth unapologetically like on CTRL. It’s clear SZA has taken her grandma’s simple yet profound advice to heart.

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