A known entity to me, due to her previous releases and to her affiliation with Top Dawg Entertainment, the (eh….hipster, or whatever) R&B artist has come into her own with this quality release.
The album features production from the likes of Emile, DJ Dahi, Toro y Moi (who’s doing his thing on the production tip, on the low), Felix Snow, xxyyxx, and Mac Miller (under the pseudonym, Larry Fisherman). There is even a full production credit for Marvin Gaye – more on this later.
(A quick word on Mac Miller: You can say whatever you’d like about his (improving) rap skill, but the kid has a tremendous ear and talent for making beats. He could stop rapping, and just make beats for artists – he’s getting that good.)
Let’s get to the one negative first. The album reads in a mostly narrow tone/range. This isn’t directly bad, but for an EP, which is supposed to let people know who you are, and what you could be, I would have liked a little more range into both ends of the R&B spectrum, more classic and somewhat more experimental – perhaps a track each. This is very, very tick-tacky, so we will press on to the many positives.
And, wow, there are many positives. Let’s begin with her powerful voice – the strongest feature on the album (and a sign of long-term success – the sound is built around her dynamic voice, and not the inverse). Her power is in the versatility in which it can be used, how it can lean in and out of the track, and layered throughout. Yet, the sounds wrap around her voice, and it become hard to untangle the two entities – where does she begin and the music end, and vice versa. She’s really tuned into her overall feel. The EP feels like full piece of work, not lacking in anything, save the ‘X’ mark I noted in the previous paragraph.
The production on the entire album is outstanding, and notable for staying in key, sonically in theme and tone. High quality connections are made in each track. There are a few standouts, including “Childs Play” (featuring Chance the Rapper), “Julia”, “Sweet November”, and “Babylon” (featuring Kendrick Lamar). “Babylon” is probably the strongest track on the album, and not just because of Kendrick’s (as usual) strong verse. It’s the track that best combines her amazing vocals, with elements of the atmospheric feel and the trap sounds permeating the current times. “Sweet November” is particularly interesting because it includes a heavy sample of “Mandota”, a demo track from Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On.
I’d say the album is a resounding success for SZA, and for Top Dawg’s move into something not completely expected out of the camp, even one known for smarter sensibilities.
Favorite tracks: “Babylon”
Not Favorite tracks: none.