American singer/songwriter SZA performs genre-blurring R&B influenced by avant-garde jazz, alternative rock, and hardcore rap. Her major-label debut, 2017's Ctrl, helped SZA score the most nominations of any female at the 2018 Grammy awards. In addition, she was the key component on a handful of Top Ten pop hits from the likes of Maroon 5 ("What Lovers Do") and Kendrick Lamar ("All the Stars").
Born Solana Imani Rowe in St. Louis, Missouri in 1990, she was raised in New Jersey, where she excelled in high school gymnastics and cheerleading. After leaving college, Rowe shuffled around different jobs, recording on the side, until a fortuitous meeting in 2011 led to an introduction with Top Dawg Entertainment, home to Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q. The budding relationship would later bear fruit and help propel SZA into the mainstream.
Inspired by the likes of Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Björk, and Wu-Tang Clan (whose RZA inspired her performing name), Rowe self-released her debut EP See.SZA.Run in late 2012, quickly followed by S in early 2013. The pair of EPs formed a dreamy, alluring, and occasionally unorthodox introduction to her alternative R&B and neo-soul style. After maintaining contact over the years, Rowe eventually signed with Top Dawg and entered the studio to record her debut LP, all the while staying in the public eye with strategic features, touring, and EP releases. A fantasy-like video for the S EP's "Ice Moon" was released in November 2013, and additional exposure came shortly thereafter through "His & Her Friend," off labelmate ScHoolboy Q's Oxymoron. The digital-only Z, a trippy ten-track set with assists from Lamar, Chance the Rapper, and Isaiah Rashad, arrived in April 2014 and entered the Billboard 200 at number 39. Appearances on a string of well over a dozen tracks — Travis Scott's "OK Alright," Rihanna's "Consideration," and Lamar's "Untitled 04 | 08.14.2014" among them — followed in 2015 and 2016.
Signed to major-label RCA, Rowe issued the critically acclaimed Ctrl in June 2017. Featuring collaborations with Pharrell Williams, Frank Dukes, and Top Dawg regular Tyran Donaldson (aka the Antydote and Scum), the album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 and topped the R&B/hip-hop chart. Platinum-certified, Ctrl garnered five nominations at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist and Best Urban Contemporary Album. She followed the album's success with "What Lovers Do," a Top Ten hit collaboration with Maroon 5, as well as a spot with Khalid and Post Malone on a remix of Lorde's "Homemade Dynamite." In early 2018, Rowe appeared with Lamar on the shimmering "All the Stars," the lead single from the chart-topping soundtrack to the film Black Panther. That year, she also joined Cardi B on the rapper's "I Do." In 2019 she collaborated with Travis Scott and the Weeknd on the track "Power Is Power" from For the Throne, a compilation of music inspired by HBO's Game of Thrones series. ~ Andy Kellman & Neil Z. Yeung