Review of SZA’s reputation-solidifying album ‘SOS’



Pictured here is the album cover, where SZA faces the broad ocean on a diving board. This setting symbolizes her teetering on the fence of dropping into the suffocating emotion or sitting to reflect on the emotion instead.

SZA first rose to fame and became the world’s new obsession after her 2017 release of “Ctrl,” an album that placed her at #2 on the top 200 Billboard chart after its debut. She paved her own sound’s path alongside prominent singers like Jhene Aiko and Summer Walker who bring a sly confidence to R&B. Usually, that confidence comes through heartbreak, which is what mainly inspired her latest album “SOS,” released Dec. 9, 2022. 

Most tracks on this album express her frustration with this loneliness, her desperation in drowning. In “Seek & Destroy,” SZA says, “Now that I’ve ruined everything, keep it all for me. Now that I ruined everything, space is all I need,” which sets the theme as the third listed track. As most R&B productions go, she has just suffered a breakup and is tired of feeling ignored. She reflects on acting out of spite, self-isolation and demanding what she’s owed. This is a woman in recovery, growing into the independence that she owes herself. 

SZA also grew into a new production style. In her past works, she used soft indie sounds to support her melodies. In “SOS,” she uses the soft instrumentals to contrast her faster paced verses on some songs, and on others her voice seems to ride the beat. SZA has learned to use her instrumentals as a tool and not just as the background of the song. She also uses a mix of hard hip-hop beats and a few new sounds. For example, “F2F” surprises the listener with an indie-rock instrumental, something Willow would use for a song. SZA places this track right in the middle to show us that she was actively trying to change up her sound within the five years from her last release.

“SOS” was a chance for SZA to experiment and make people realize the range she has as an artist. After years of working with big names like Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott and Isaiah Rashad, she decided to bridge that longtime R&B and rap relationship herself. In this album, she raps for the entirety of some tracks, even the most popular ones like “Kill Bill,” “Blind” and “Low.” In “Kill Bill,” she fades in and out of the slow-cadenced verses and the impressively-high chorus notes. And in the last track “Forgiveless,” SZA lays Ol’ Dirty Bastard, a long past Wu-Tang Clan member, to rest as she presses bars alongside one of his old sampled verses. She also carries a rough attitude, as in one of her lines from the track, “I don’t care about consequences, I want my lick back. I don’t mind who’s watching, get to pushin’ ya wig back.”

The beat even samples Bjork’s beautiful voice from her song “Hidden Place,” representing SZA’s intentional blend of singing and rapping. She’s mixing and keeping her style fluid in the way an artist should. I see SZA continuing to be a prominent hip-hop figure for years to come.