While R&B goddess SZA has been around for quite some time—long before her “Consideration” collaboration with Rihanna—"Ctrl" gives us a version of her we have yet to see; older, wiser, and more honest. SZA (real name Solana Rowe) has always been one to spit the truth, even when it's twisted and tangled in meaningful lyrics, but "Ctrl" takes her truth-telling to a whole new level. In addition to observing her surroundings with a keen, discerning eye, she is willing and ready to turn that microscope onto herself, and the result is an album that both screams and whispers with a raw energy that cannot be tamed.

Honest beginnings

Supermodel,” the album’s opener, is certainly a track to write home to. Already, SZA has proposed to us an album filled with mixed media: the song begins with her mother speaking on control and the fear it brings. Then, a subtle, repetitive set of chords underlay her smooth declaration of independence. It’s clear that the song is about an ex—one that left her both scorned and lonely. While Solana readily admits her own mistakes, she freely puts her insecurity on the table: “I could be your supermodel if you believe.” This deeply personal statement resonates deeply with me, considering the years of insecurity I have faced and continue to unpack. The song then fades into quiet, with SZA harmonizing and a man whispering; the silent end to a signature song.

Another vulnerable, raw song would be “Drew Barrymore.” Named after the emo teen icon, the song explores the constant pining for someone else’s affection and validation. SZA’s reiteration, “am I warm enough for you?” is haunting in and of itself: we’ve all been there, wondering if we’re good enough for someone. Loneliness and the question of work prevail throughout the song as well.

Despite the extensiveness of the song’s thematic concerns, everything blends together seamlessly through her smooth, sultry voice, and the minimalist, almost unearthly production. When I listen with my eyes closed, I’m transported to both another world and this one, in which we have suffered pain, loss, and ultimately, love.

An album that transports

And while we’re speaking of other worlds, “Anything” seems to be SZA’s arcade-game rendering that sings of being somewhere else—with that one person. Its production, which is filled with snippets that sound right out of a game of PacMan, matches the tone of the song in every manner. Even when the beat changes, the heavenly chimes mixed in with that heavy drum beat feel reminiscent of that far-off place she’s dreaming of.

20 Something,” the album’s closer, is really the summation of the album's themes: loneliness in the face of growing up, inadequacy, and the lack of love. Whenever I hear it, the song recalls to me a thirteen-hour bus trip I took back from school; I’d felt so alone in a moving vehicle full of people, and this same feeling pours from her voice and the simple guitar chord that accompanies it.

The song reaches its peak when she sings these words in a somber, quiet voice: “prayin’ the 20 somethings won’t kill me.” Coming full circle, the album ends with Solana’s mother sharing her wisdom on the illusion of control, and the abyss that follows once we unsubscribe.

Overall, I think "Ctrl" is one of the most vulnerable and most honest albums I have ever encountered. Upon each listen, SZA lets me into the back of her car and takes me on a drive to the nearest insecurity, the nearest failing, the nearest almost. When the trip is over, however, we’re back where we started, filled with a dash of hope and years of understanding. Inadequacy can only ever be dealt with once we learn from our past and look to our futures. At this point, one thing’s for sure: Solana has found her alternative hip-hop edge, and she isn’t letting go.