Solana Rowe (born November 8, 1990), better known by her stage name SZA, is an American singer-songwriter. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, later relocating to Maplewood, New Jersey. In October 2012, Rowe self-released an extended play (EP) titled See.SZA.Run, which she then followed up with her second EP, titled S, in October 2013. In July 2013, it was revealed that she had signed to Hip Hop record label Top Dawg Entertainment, through which she released Z, her third EP and first retail release, in April 2014.
SZA is an PBR&B and neo soul singer whose music is described as Alternative R&B, with elements of soul, hip hop, minimalist R&B, cloud rap, ethereal R&B, witch house and chillwave. Rowe’s lyrics are described as “unraveling”, that revolve around themes of sexuality, nostalgia, and abandonment. Rowe cites a variety of artists as influences including Billie Holiday, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bjork, Jamiroquai, and Wu-Tang Clan. SZA also takes influence from non-musical artists including gymnasts, ice-skaters, painters and movie directors, including Spike Lee.
Solana Rowe was born in November 8, 1990, in St. Louis, Missouri, United States before later relocating to 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 was raised as an Orthodox Muslim and has an older half-sister. She attended a “Muslim prep school” and attended secondary school everyday after her “regular school.” After the September 11 attacks, Rowe was subject to bullying, leading her to stop wearing her hijab. After secondary school, Rowe attended three separate colleges, in her freshman year she “got high and failed out.”
Rowe went to college to study a major in marine biology, with the intention to go to graduate school in order to be a scientist and travel. The plan never materialized, and she then 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 developed herself switching it from savior to “sovereign.”
2011-14: See.SZA.Run, S and Z
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. A friend attending the show with her foisted early SZA songs onto TDE president Terrence “Punch” Henderson, who liked the material and stayed in touch. SZA first began recording music by accident; after recording one song, she continued the process until she decided she should make “something out of it.” SZA recorded the songs with her friend and neighbor in which they “stole a bunch of beats off the Internet.” On October 29, 2012, SZA released her debut self-released EP entitled See.SZA.Run, which featured production from brandUn DeShay, APSuperProducer, amongst others.
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 music video for the song “Ice Moon”, the accompanying video was directed by Lemar & Dauley. On July 14, 2013 it was announced that Top Dawg had signed an upcoming female singer named SZA, to the label. In October 2013, SZA went on a four show tour with Swedish band Little Dragon, starting on October 17 at the El Rey Theater 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 XXYYXX. SZA announced the title and release date of her next EP, and released a new video. The 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 APLUS.FILMZ. To promote the Z EP, SZA performed at several performance showcases at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. SZA made her chart debut in the UK, where Zcharted at thirty two, on the R&B Charts, 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 US Hip-Hop/R&B chart.
In May 2014, SZA announced she was planning to embark on an international tour and has begun recording her fourth EP entitled A. In July 2014 SZA featured on Kitty Cash’s single “Moodring”, the same month SZA released a collaboration with Jill Scott called “Divinity” the song was produced by Om’Mas Keith and lasts for seven-and-a-half-minutes. On 11 July 2014 SZA released a video for “Julia” from her EP Z, during the songs accompanying video featured a snippet of a new song entitled “Tender”. In early October Jhene Aiko tweeted SZA, which lead 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 begins on December 12 at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, California and more dates will be announced at a later time. On November 18, 2014 SZA released the song “Sobriety,” the song was produced by Thundercat and lyrically talks about candid confessions and love over a “moody” beat.
In September 2014, SZA revealed that “A” would be released as her debut album, continuing to say that “A” would be similar to “S” and would include trap influences with more aggressive lyrics, she also announced that she has begun working with James Fauntleroy, Hit-Boy and long time collaborator Felix Snow again.
SZA described her vocals as having a “rasp” which she initially tried to “tenderise”; SZA also listens to Ella Fitzgerald for vocal influence. 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 musical style is 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 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 predominately 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. Micheal 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 work contains “unraveling lyrics”, that touch upon themes of sexuality, nostalgia, and abandonment. According to Micheal Madden from Consequence of Sound, SZA lyrical is sometimes “purposefully general” and sometimes “an ambitious but quick reference”, which Madden compared to the rapper Angel Haze and her debut album Dirty Gold.
SZA cites a range of musical artists as influences, as a child she grew up listening to jazz music, growing up SZA “couldn’t do anything other than what” her dad did. So she listened to a lot of his music collection which included Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, and Louis Armstrong. Later musical influences happened by “accident” according to SZA. During one of her classmates bar mitzvah SZA was given a mixtape which introduced her to artists including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, LFO and Macy Gray, she “loved” the CD and “played it until it was finished”. Via her sister she continued to broaden her influences when she was first introduced to rapper Lil Jon, her sister continued to introduce SZA to rappers including Wu-Tang Clan and members of Cash Money.
SZA later began listening to rapper Common, Bjork, and “a lot of Wu, Nas, Mos Def, Hov”, she described the artists music she discovered as sticking “hard”. SZA cites Bjork as being a major musical influences, speaking on Bjork, SZA said her “personal influences came from dancing with American Ballet Theatre and doing pieces to Björk. 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,” whom she also grew up listening too.
During an interview, SZA said she was never really inspired by musicians or to become a musician, but was interested in creating a form of art; she 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 inspired by film director Spike Lee. SZA commented that singer Lauryn Hill was one of her personal and style influences saying she looked up to Hill. During an interview, SZA spoke again on her style influences, saying a large amount of her style inspiration comes from movies, expanding on this SZA commended Wes Anderson films and his use of “Pantone color palette” continuing to say the “wardrobe in all of his films and I would love to dress like a character from Moonrise Kingdom. Or perhaps Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic.”
SZA defined her style as being “Girl next door chic.” Solana’s hair became a point of interest during the early stages of her career and she discussed it in interviews with Vogue magazine and Harper’s Bazaar. During performance SZA tends to wear “free-flowing” clothes that are easy to move and has been known to wear pajamas onstage in order to execute her vocals and enhance her performance.
SZA is known as TDE’s first female signee and first singer, which drew attention during the early stages of her career, which Rowe described as uncomfortable and did not like the attention, Rowe also stated she felt uncomfortable with being seen as a “public figure” and did not like the idea of people forming opinions on her. During her career Rowe, her music and her image were compared to neo-soul artists Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill which Rowe has disagreed with and states that she has no “desire to be that” and just wants to be able to make her own style of music.