Album of the Year

SZA, Ctrl

There is something beautiful that is often released when pressure is at its peak; when we are backed into a corner, and nothing grants us an out but the work.

True, authentic, upstanding work. This is what SZA accomplished when Ctrl debuted. It hit airwaves by storm, forcing an artist like SZA to swiftly catapult from “Best New Artist” to an artist who now holds what I deem “Album of the Year.”

In more ways than one, months before the release of Ctrl, SZA clued fans in on her struggles and doubts in approaching this new body of work. At one point, she confessed seriously considering walking away from music all together. Her frustrations became so frequent, I had doubts we’d see this album at all, let alone for it to impact culture in the way it has.

Since the release of Ctrl, SZA has gone on an extensive U.S. tour, performed at two major music festivals (including Afropunk Brooklyn, where she was one of the headlining acts), filmed four music videos, and even held down the main stage at the BET Awards this past summer. That last one’s important. It shows SZA is being listened to by a larger Black audience, outside of those that would consider ourselves frequent Afropunk goers. For example, Keyshia Cole had the lyrics to “The Weekend” fully memorized, and at the time, Ctrl was only a month old. She recieved the Beyonce stamp of approval when her song was used as the background track in one of B's Instagram videos, and Solange recently directed her latest video release for “The Weekend.”

This album embodies its title, beautifully. Ctrl is both emboldening, and thought provoking. It remains carefully considered, while free in structure and widely appealing. Interludes give much meaning along-side the tracks, and we see SZA's vulnerability on full display. A close friend described this as "feeling her heart in every song... as she opened up about her insecurities." I can only assume much of the album's content was inspired by the season of doubt and struggle. And further, the Ctrl felt on the album was not only relational, but professional. SZA's voice rang true, and the album's authenticity was never in question. SZA's creative control of her sound and delivery was greatly felt.

This album has received massive approval. It has validated SZA in ways she likely never anticipated, and gave listeners much to anticipate. Ctrl was the sound for the year. It is undoubtedly a work that has solidified her for years to come. Here’s to more great sound in 2018.

Honorable Mentions | Best Song; Alaska, Maggie Rogers, Best New Artist; Rationale, Most Improved; Jhene Aiko

Song Exploder | Developed and hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway

Song Exploder | Developed and hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway

Podcast of the Year | Song Exploder

Hrishikesh Hirway is no stranger to astonishing accolades. Since the launch of his podcast, Song Exploder, in 2014, he has topped countless charts for his unique approach to understanding sound. Song Exploder is a podcast dedicated exclusively to interviews with artists on their song-making process. It is considered a “mandatory listen” for any serious music fan. ©

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