Album Review: Smokin’ on SZA’s Sophomore Album,”SOS”

“I need your touch, not your scrutiny” Gone Girl, SZA [SOS 2022].

Happy Pisces Season! ‘Tis the season to immerse yourself into your spellbinding dreams and delusions, I could only conceptualize how deep into your bag most of you are. The emotions are high, people are learning to feel their feelings and for many, SZA’s sophomore album, SOS has been a part of that playlist.

For clarification, we know SZA isn’t a Pisces, but she is a water sign— and one thing about the water signs, we’re definitely going to FEEL those feelings, okay? Also, the Astro-streets are saying thats she’s a pisces moon… a win, is a win! 

I hooked on to SZA during her 2014 release of her EP titled, “Z”, as she echoed throughout Tumblr and Youtube. She was indeed a new fascination; from her hair, style, & writing. There was a lot of wallowing to “Warm Winds” featuring TDE’s Isiah Rashad and manic-bliss to songs like, “HiiiJack”— ahh, good times. Two years later, SZA dropped CTRL, released in 2016, shifting her into the mainstream. She even has some acclaimed leaked unreleased music displayed all over Soundcloud and YouTube! It was definitely a time to remember, actively watching SZA change the landscape to R&B— arguably, alongside another Tumblr great, Frank Ocean; easily creating the emerging formation into alternative R&B music.

SOS is SZA’s sophomore album, released through Top Dawg Entertainment and RCA Records on December 9th, 2022. The album features artists appearances from Phoebe Bridgers, Don Toliver, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, & Travis Scott. I wanted to give myself an ample amount of time to really process SOS. It’s been five years since she released a full body of work and palpably, I needed about two months and some change to let her work metabolize into my being. I’m ready to finally review the album.

SZA is currently on her nationwide* SOS Tour and it’s been an admirable time to watch her go from underground artist to grammy-winner and sold-out arenas. There’s nothing I enjoy more than watching a favorite artist grow into a fortified star. Despite the ticket prices looking very… three weeks of groceries or hearing “Snooze” live… tempting, huh? I was able to meet her after seeing her for the first time, in 2017 for $20 (and up close) and it was an experience.

The first reaction I had listening to SOS was honestly borderline indifferent, damn-near swaying toward negative. The tricky thing about your fave artist becoming mainstream is the Pop-like, watered-down versions of themselves they have to market. SZA has always been known to be very open about dark themes of emotions and more, but there was a point where it started feeling a bit too gimmicky. I quickly felt like she didn’t “challenge herself” enough. To me, most of the album sounded like it would have sonically fit maybe two years or less after releasing CTRL (2016). We’re still talking about unrequited love? Being insecure about ashy knees? Wanting chaos? I thought to myself, damn like your main fans have aged for the past five years—approaching our 30s! Where’s the introspection? The themes about lessons learned? Not accepting unrequited love anymore? I was pretty tight about it.

Then I smoked (hehe) and relistened to it. Over, and over again. It hit me… Where’s the grace? Most folks who keep a close ear to music production should know that whatever an artist makes at that specific time could possibly be a hit within the next year and on. That’s most definitely a thing! Here I am being extremely ungrateful for an anticipated project while she gave us her lessons, feelings, and thoughts in music form— from that span of five years.

I saw a lot of listeners criticize and correlate her age and her content. Some did bring to light some good points about “growth” & “healing”, but we can’t forget that some people can be late bloomers. Keep in mind, a lot of folks are experiencing an “age freeze” due to the pause the pandemic forced us into. A thrust into new age brackets and still feeling like you need some guidance, somehow. Age also doesn’t mean you can’t still be learning hard lessons… I don’t think there’s a goal post… you learn when it’s time.

Source: Daniel Webster / Courtesy TDE / RCA Records

Here’s a brief track-by-track review of SZA’s sophomore album, SOS (2022):

SOS: SZA started with the album-titled track, SOS talking her sh-t. “Nah lil b-tch can’t let you finish! Yeah that’s right I need commissions on mine”. I was not mad that she started off strong, yes! It was the perfect reminder for many that it’s time we get used to reclaiming our time and power. Remembering that you possibly were there to help things shake (without credit) and you just want what’s yours. We know in life, people and things tend to take— especially if you’re giving. It quickly becomes a case where you really have to remind people, that you’re not “the one” to be played with.

Kill Bill: I don’t like this song. It’s an “ear-worm” and that’s all it’s good for. As aforementioned, yes, it’s a song to possibly fuel the rage phase of healing from your exes. Yet still, not a fave. SKIP.

Seek & Destroy: SZA reminds us that it is absolutely human to get your lick back!

Low: This track is a cute club/dance song that celebrates the tricky theme of enjoying “sneaky links”. It’s a great song to pregame to while getting ready to head out, especially if you’re about to be on your absolutely bad behavior— I’ll leave that up to the reader to suggest their own definition of “bad” though.

Love Language: Sultry song to get the intimacy going between yourself and your second party, for sure. It’s giving, romanticize your “situationship” while it’s still good— you know that part where the sexual chemistry and intimacy hits harder than an egotistical heavyweight champion maintaining its title? Yeah, very that. I was a tad bit bothered that she kept the pre-chorus of “Hit Different”, and yet totally disregarded the thought of adding it to SOS, I digress.

Blind: One of my personal favorites on the album. The song reminds me of the intrusive thoughts we pour into our notes app or private journal around 4am. Just getting all those noises of worries, anxieties, and sins encircling your current psyche onto the paper to quiet down your mind, fundamentally gaining some “head-peace”; getting your mind to a balanced state. The track alone was brilliant because it was a great example of how SZA displays that she’s able to transcend her emotions and anxieties into art. To some, it may have sounded childish and whiny, but it really was brilliant— aside from the visually impaired being rightfully agitated by the chorus, of course.

Used (feat. Don Toliver): Same feelings as Blind; this was my favorite leak, I’ve countlessly replayed reverbed versions on Soundcloud. I was grateful she officially released it, I feel like it’s a song that deserves proper publishing. I thought Don Toliver was an interesting feature.

Side note: SZA does this thing where she reminds us that we have a shadow side. When it comes to our shadow side I’ve come to learn that it isn’t beneficial to hide it but to identify it, learn about its roots, and how we can co-exist with it. Your shadow side exists to balance out your light.

Not everyone is healing from patterns and traumas at the same frequency. I think it’s best we should extend that same grace to our loving friends and family. Imagine finally learning how to manage your own insecurities and lessons, which can take months and even years— to swiftly judge a friend who is still learning how to navigate their way through their own darkness… it’s unjust, isn’t it?

In fitful cases, it’s good to notice those dark feelings & thoughts, (obviously not to make decisions based on darkness, yet most of us humanly do it) and to let it safely just pass by, and impurely give yourself grace.

Anna Webber | Getty Images for Spotify

Snooze: another album fave; big shout out to Leon Thomas for penning the track! I’m a sucker for a great lovey-dovey song. Expressing how much you love someone is always going to be one of those things that make the human experience worth it. Love, in itself; but actually expressing those feelings, yeah. Tell me more!

Notice Me: Just like Kill Bill, she made this for her new young fans. You know they love a toxic ass song glorifying unrequited love. I lived that phase, so I’m not going to say much. Situationship soundtrack. I skipped.

Gone Girl: Another fave. A song highlighting the growing pains of literally navigating through life as yourself. I love the “old-school” construction of the song, the tone change towards the end, keeping a hand on the contemporary R&B rulebook. Gone Girl is the perfect Coming-of-Age song for young people getting older and surrendering to the ever-changing which life has forced them into.

One thing about SZA is when she makes music being open about the growing pains, it’s just gonna hit. The Scorpios are great for that. Reaching deep into that pain and transmuting it into something amazing… the head honchos of transformation, literally. “This is how my pain made me a better person” — Scorpios.

Smoking On My Ex Pack: Favorite; I personally love when female artist talk their big sh-t on any kind of project because, yes. Letting people know (especially from your past) that things have changed and you can’t approach me the same anymore. Further pushing the fresh narrative of having confidence in who you are and relearning your self-worth. Turning your past into ashes, hence “Smoking on my ex pack tonight”.

Ghost In the Machine (feat. Phoebe Bridgers): Favorite; The song graciously circled the idea of breaking out of the heavy matrix and expressing the importance of human connection. As a society, we let AI keep us dense; we have stopped seeing people as people and more as brands and profiles. Forgetting that people need community, love, and touch. The featured artist, Phoebe Bridgers, touches on the changes you can experience from having friends around, to still experiencing loneliness when money gets involved (my interpretation).

F2F: Co-written by Lizzo, so I like this song. This song is for the black alternative shorties out there to rock out.

Nobody Gets Me: The same sentiment as F2F. A song I can skip, when I’m not in the mood to be sad… yet, another side of me feels like black girls and femmes deserve pop/rock songs to relate to. We know being black is not a monolith, it’s great that everyone receives their own unique way to express themselves.

Conceited: Fave; SZA showcases that she is like a lot of us, most of us experience high highs and low lows. I like this song because I love a song about feeling thyself, it’s a cute affirmation song to feel yourself.

Too Late: Fave; out of all the situationship bops she’s made on this album, this one is my favorite. I think it’s because the tone wasn’t so… desperate? No shade. Some people do think about the past folks we used to entangle with and wonder if it’s worth doubling back to feel the passion. I’m definitely not saying to “Spin the block”, but it’s a cute song to just reminisce to.

Far: “I’m dealing with a lot of rejection”, “That’s great if nobody wants you, you’re free”. A simple yet profound transcript between herself and Sadhguru. Done with the people-pleasing! Let’s briefly talk about it; Sometimes we get lost in the expectations of others, and we start to lose our own voice. This song reminds us that sometimes we get rejected by people and opportunities for the sake of our own growth and protection. Some people and places aren’t meant for us, and if you got the hard “No”… it’s likely it could be a blessing in disguise. We know that rejection only means redirection, right?

Shirt: One of her singles I didn’t gravitate towards, since its premiere. It’s a cute song to record yourself being sensual to… and that’s all.

Open Arms (feat. Travis Scott): I’m aware this song is about forgiveness or finding a home in a person. It was a cute concept, but who exactly are we being open to? I hope it’s not the unrequited lover… “Please put a leash on me anyway. Who needs self-esteem anyway?” This song is one of those songs, I have to give SZA grace for. I’m not sure what she was going through when she made this song, but I pray she is learning how crucial self-esteem truly is. Maybe she is allowing listeners to be shameless about being a “simp” to the wrong person, cause we’ve definitely been there… but being reminded of it only reminds me of the kind of “love” that I later learned that I didn’t deserve. The presumably Yoruba chant at the end was really beautiful, it’s the only reason I sit through the song.

I Hate U: We love f-ck-that-n-gga music. Enough said.

Good Days: Forever a fave, because there ARE good days ahead. Great song for those going through the storm.

Forgiveless (feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard): Moreover, It is okay to get your lick BACK! SZA reached deep into her MC bag, which was greatly appreciated. Again, I am an advocate for people, especially self-identifying women, to always TALK YOUR SHIT. I enjoyed it all, even with the late and great Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s vocals reminding us about rap’s earlier street days.

Favorites on the album: (No Order)

SOS, Blind, Used, Snooze, Gone Girl, SOMEP, GITM, Conceited, Too Late, Far, I Hate U, Good Days, & Forgiveless.

Songs she could’ve kept in the vault or given away:

Kill Bill & Notice Me… also Shirt (I’m sorry).

Overall, I am ecstatic for SZA for reaching a stellar amount of commercial success. She’s won 25 awards and continuously molds the R&B realm into this alternative space. I hope she enjoys the hiatus she takes after touring and I hope she keeps making music— and I hope it gets weirder, like Björk type stuff— I’ll patiently be here waiting. I hope you enjoyed SOS, if not more than I currently do. You can find SOS and multiple streaming platforms. 

Photo Credit:AB + DM | Billboard

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