SZA: Alternative R&B’s Breath of Fresh Air

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by Lauren Dunn

SZA, the euphonic first lady of T.D.E (Top Dawg Entertainment), has created a contemporary alternative platform for women of color vocal artists. Born Solana Rowe, the up-and-coming 24 year-old songstress provides a genuine sensibility to a genre historically dominated by Black glam-a-zons and superstars.

Upon learning about her rather ordinary upbringing in a small town, with parents who very intensely regulated the culture she consumed, I began to form a curiosity and slight adoration for SZA. A native to St. Louis, Mo., SZA later relocated to the suburb of Maplewood, NJ, with her orthodox Muslim father and ultra-conservative mother.

Experiencing such isolation from popular culture and mass media ignited a fierce passion for creativity, thus causing her journey to her own artistic realm. Within this realm she began to write, causing the birth of her music.

SZA’s vocals, along with the abstract unorthodox beats (produced by Felix Snow, DJ Dahi, WondaGurl), take on the form of therapeutic expressionism. She continuously showcases her raw emotions rather than a lavishly unobtainable celebrity lifestyle that so often bombards the airwaves, perpetuating a falsified representation of Black female vocalists.

In her first video interview of 2013 with Fresh Serve Daily, she is asked to describe her sound. The artist speaks quite candidly about writing for herself rather than for any target audience. "I’m 100 percent me. I don’t dress for other people. I don’t write for other people’s ears," procilaimed SZA.

This is exactly what the singer/songwriter communicates through her soothing trance inducing melodies. Her art is a breath of fresh air amongst the laude of facades we as Black women are forced into accepting as realistic representations of Black womanhood.

The artist speaks openly about wearing a hijab and overalls at her parents demand, throughout most of her elementary and middle school years. Navigating through her adolescence, she entered into the common transitional stage between youth and womanhood, wearing tightly fitted and revealing clothing as a result to the conservativeness of childhood. SZA is brazenly candid in admitting that the constrictions placed upon her in the early stages of her life are a direct contribution to the way she now chooses to represent herself through her own personalized style of clothing. Unlike a majority of Black women in the media’s spotlight she styles herself – everything from the baggy jerseys and overalls to her natural free flowing hair.

The soulful songstress’s ability to evoke such a strong connectivity to self, produces the realness in her music.

Visit SZA’s SoundCloud to vibe out to some of her past EP’s and be sure to purchase her newly released full-length album on iTunes

A queer black storyteller, this practicing journalist aims to expose the untold and an often misrepresented experiences of oppressed people. She has a strong affinity for exposing the multifaceted complexities that POC ‘s identities encompass within cultural, political, artistic and academic frameworks. She hopes to continue creating honest, content driven stories that bring ethnic and sexual minority’s visibility to the forefront while actively engaging in the anthropological perspectives and societal norms so heavily steeped in a systematic system of oppression.

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