Since her platinum debut album “Ctrl” dropped last year, SZA has won five Grammy nominations and a legion of fans from hipsters to hip-hop heads. As further proof of her far-reaching impact, the alternative-R&B diva has just gotten back to the US this week after performing in Indonesia.
That’s a long way from where she grew up in Maplewood, New Jersey.
But the day after her flight from Southeast Asia to Los Angeles, SZA has somehow found the energy to multitask, doing her phone interview with The Post while at the gym. “Gotta do it,” she says of working out while jet-lagged. “But I’m good. I’m not angry or anything. I was angry at, like, 3:45 in the morning when I couldn’t get the f–k to sleep.”
SZA is getting that pump in ahead of her Saturday performance at the Panorama Festival at Randalls Island Park, where she’ll rock the main stage with moody, mesmerizing hits such as “The Weekend” and “Love Galore” just before headliner Janet Jackson. But the singer, whose real name is Solána Rowe, insists her “Ctrl” album was not directly inspired by Jackson’s “Control” LP that launched her into superstardom in 1986.
“No, it wasn’t at all, but it was so cool [of a coincidence],” says SZA, 27. “I was thinking of computers and concepts, thinking too hard probably in my own world. But whenever you go into self, you connect with others. So me being in whatever that creative deep space was for me, it doesn’t surprise me that I connected with another woman of color who was having a powerful manifestation of her creative moment. It’s just a matter of oneness.”
SZA gets some of that spirituality from growing up Muslim, although that didn’t always make life easy for her because of the Islamophobia she experienced. “9/11 happened in, like, the seventh grade, and it was a mess,” says SZA, who has since explored Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity. “I stopped wearing my hijab. I was embarrassed. All the Islamophobia that’s happening right now is like a crazy, weird-ass flashback.”
Still, SZA flourished as a competitive gymnast through her senior year at Columbia High School, where she was inspired musically by an older alum, Lauryn Hill. And when it eventually came time to pick a stage name, she looked to the Supreme Alphabet: S standing for Savior or Sovereign, Z for Zig-Zag and A for Allah.
Before releasing “Ctrl,” though, SZA put out three EPs, wrote for artists such as Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, and collaborated with acts including Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar. In fact, the latter is her labelmate on the Top Dawg Entertainment roster, where SZA is the only female in the mix.
“For a while I wanted to just be considered like one of these dudes,” she says. “But I see how important it is to impress upon respecting women right now, because it’s so crazy.”
One woman who has had a significant impact on SZA is Drew Barrymore, whose movie roles were the inspiration behind the “Ctrl” single “Drew Barrymore” before the two ever met. But when it came time to make the song’s video, Barrymore made a cameo. “I love her. We’re, like, friends,” says SZA. “She’s exactly who I fell in love with as a child, if not more. I’m so f–king grateful to know her in real life.”
For her biggest hit this year, SZA teamed up with Lamar on the “Black Panther” soundtrack single “All the Stars,” but while the pair may have great musical chemistry, she says that they’re hardly two of a kind. “He’s always thinking. He’s a lot more internal and cerebral,” says SZA of the Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper. “I’m just a little more wild than he is.”
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