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American singer and songwriter SZA's music blends R&B, rock and soul; her first album, 'Ctrl' (2017), was certified platinum.

Who Is SZA?

SZA is often called an R&B singer, though her music also encompasses elements of rap, rock and soul. Her first studio album, Ctrl, launched at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. As a songwriter, she draws upon her own insecurities and concerns. Having felt ostracized in her youth, SZA is very welcoming to her fans. Her artistic collaborators include labelmate Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Doja Cat and Justin Timberlake.

Early Life, Education and Real Name

SZA was born as Solána Imani Rowe in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 8, 1990. The name SZA, pronounced "sizzah," is an acronym of words from the Supreme Alphabet. The Supreme Alphabet is part of a philosophical system established by a former member of the Nation of Islam.

SZA grew up in Maplewood, New Jersey. She has said her family was "one of the only Black families in our five-block radius." Her father worked at CNN as a producer, while her mother had an executive role at AT&T. Her father was Muslim, and SZA attended an Islamic prep school, though she later stepped away from that faith.

SZA has described a lonely childhood. "I didn't have any siblings that lived with me, all my siblings are 10 years apart, and when you don't have any friends or playmates there's a lot of room to get weird." She was a gymnast and a dancer, but she was also an outsider who was bullied in school.

Growing up, SZA listened to all kinds of music, from jazz to indie rock to boy bands. Yet she didn't expect to pursue a career in the music industry. She went to Delaware State University to study marine biology. She transferred schools once, then dropped out.

Breaking Into the Music Industry

SZA had a rapper brother who had her sing hooks for his mixtapes. This led to SZA creating her own music while working jobs such as salesperson at Sephora and strip club bartender. SZA used SoundCloud to share songs like "Aftermath," which attracted fans. Her debut EP, See.SZA.Run, came out in 2012.

In 2011, SZA encountered Terrence "Punch" Henderson, the head of Top Dawg Entertainment. After hearing some of her music, Punch was impressed enough to continue listening to SZA's work. In 2013, SZA released another EP, S. That same year she signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, making her the first female artist to join the label. She released the EP Z in 2014.

First Album: 'Crtl'

SZA's debut album, Ctrl, was subject to numerous delays before it came out in June 2017. SZA had wanted to include her song "Consideration," but after Rihanna heard the tune, the superstar added it to her own album, Anti. SZA still produced and was featured on the song. The album-making process also forced SZA to deal with other issues. As she explained after the album's release, "I have some anxiety. It’s hard for me to complete things because I feel like people will hate it."

When Ctrl finally arrived, it was greeted with acclaim. SZA's mix of R&B, rock and soul, accompanied by her mother speaking, unveiled vulnerabilities that connected with twenty-somethings, particularly younger Black women. Issa Rae was so drawn to the record that she used multiple Ctrl tracks on the second season of her TV series Insecure.


November 8, 1990
SZA was born in St. Louis.


Further Resources



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June 4, 2019
In April, R&B star SZA said a Sephora employee called security to monitor her. Now the makeup store will take an hour off to address diversity and inclusion.
Reuters Editorial
June 3, 2019
LVMH's Sephora beauty chain said it will close all its U.S. stores, distribution centers and corporate offices for an hour on Wednesday to conduct diversity training for employees, a move that follows a racial incident involving a Grammy-nominated singer.
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