RS500 #472: SZA — Ctrl

Cover of the album ‘Ctrl’ by SZA

Year Released: 2017

Have I Heard This Before?: I did listen to this album back when it came out, and it just missed out on my top 10 of the year at the time. I thought it was good, even great at points; it just didn’t quite connect with me.

High Points: Four years later, and I think I get Ctrl way more than I initially did. I still have mixed feelings about the “emo” side of hip-hop and R&B, but I’m far more interested in hearing SZA’s soul-baring honesty than any number of dudes whining about the women that did them wrong. Ctrl is astonishing in its instrumental minimalism, which only goes further to emphasize SZA’s frank discussions of love, sex, rejection, and aimlessness. SZA is a captivating vocalist, her voice alternating between yearning and coy with ease. The result is an album akin to Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE in the psychological journey it takes us on, and I imagine that Ctrl will only grow in stature as time passes.

Low Points: This is so much SZA’s story and her album that the guest spots, while sparse, sometimes bring things down. Kendrick Lamar fares best, largely because he’s brilliant, but a performer with as outsized of a personality as Travis Scott feels out of place on an album so low-key. But these are minor complaints about an excellent piece of music.

Loose Thoughts: I feel like everything you need to know about the Grammys can be summarized in their treatment of SZA; Ctrl was nominated (but didn’t win) for Best Urban Contemporary Album (which is Grammy-speak for “R&B album made for a demographic our old white asses don’t understand”), yet SZA would end up nominated for the big 3 categories a year later for the mostly fine Black Panther soundtrack. Go figure.

Rating: Sure, its placement on the list may be a little premature, but Ctrl is definitely a Great album, and I suspect it will be ranked higher once Rolling Stone redoes the list again in 20 years.

A somewhat exhaustive run-through of Rolling Stone’s updated 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list to see if they’re all truly great.