SZA’s “Ctrl” Empowers

SZA

SZA my dear, I love your music. Even though your album has been out for some time now, I must write about it. I fell in love with your surreal sound about a year ago when Spotify introduced us. At first, I was thrown off by your ethereal aura which resonates through much of your music, but it is also what caught me. I was instantly attached when I heard “Warm Winds.” The streaming service continues to keep this love strong when they throw in your tracks from time to time on my playlist. So of course, I feel I must dedicate time to addressing my feelings towards your latest project “Ctrl.”

SZA, you are phenomenal. Weird and honest. Beautiful and loving. An emotional warrior who is true to herself and owns her self-discovery through the highs and lows of relationships. It is the combination that I see and others see, that makes you so easy to vibe to. Thank you for going against the norm and charging forward in your truth. This expression of said truth is eminent in “Ctrl.” This songstress is rated R – raw, real and relatable. Her music stands a testament to what many of us want to say, but have difficulty in finding the words.

In her track “Normal Girl,” the beat has a trance like energy that intertwines with a hip hop sound. This track resonates with me through its message. Many want their parents to be proud of them. However, it is difficult to be yourself with the weighing feeling of your parents’ approval. Now to be approved by your lover’s folks too? Ugh! It’s tough to get a break.

I can hear the passion from her croons in “Broken Clocks.” I cannot see her, but I feel it in the way she sings. “Ohhhhhhh!” Yes girl, I hear you. Her story is truth; she sings of having an overwhelming job while dealing with a chummy dude. LIFE!!!!! Hahahaha. Many of us deal with situations in which we shouldn’t entertain our energy into. But yet, nothing is ever so simple to do, because you know, “You love me.”

SZA continues in tales of self-discovery through “Pretty Little Birds.” Poor aves, they got to deal with flying into the stupid window repeatedly. And yet, they still flap their little wings and fly towards the sky. “Pretty Little Girls, Pretty Little Girls, we hit the window a few times;” in truth we are very much like these feathered creatures in how we make mistakes but are dynamic in our strength to never give up. My soul wants to twirl to this track. Heavenly and full of flight, the collection of sounds can make one want to soar.

Ms. Twenty Something herself reveals her truth about the fear of love, not being where she thinks she should be and holding onto those who matter most to her heart in “20 Something.” We stumble through these times making mistakes repeatedly trying to figure how to do this adult thing right. May she survive the stormy waves of this period; when the waves are rough they always become calm again.

Another tune about birds comes through in “Doves in the Wind.” The song is lit. The end. Oh, and clearly, we control men with our babymaker “flowers.” With bars from Kendrick Lamar describing the wonders of our wombs and the hype, the smooth sound pounce into the ears making one enamored with excitement from the track. Sit back, bob your head and chill to this feature.

SZA packs in a gutsy punch of honesty in  “Supermodel.” We all want to be a supermodel to someone. Perfect skin, hair, butt, boobs, abs, lips or whatever it is that society is telling you must be excellent in to make you a match for that person. She goes in on this track letting it all pour out on how much she needed her man and how she gave him a gift of “dirt” after he left her for someone else.

“Why I can’t stay alone just by myself, wish I was comfortable just by myself, but I need you, I need you, I need you.”

Whoever is reading this, I want you to look in the mirror, look into your eyes and say “I need you.” There is no one out there that can do more for you than yourself. You can be happy with yourself. You can have peace by yourself. Whatever you are looking for in that other person is already residing right from within. Heaven knows, I used to feel like I needed to be someone’s supermodel, but I am super in just being myself; flaws and all. Know that you are too.

More tunes from this package of sound give me life through her journey of sharing a man in “The Weekend,” not-your-average girl anthem in “Drew Barrymore,” her bubbly wild tale “Love Galore and more. SZA makes us listen and warms the hidden parts of us afraid to live in our imperfect truth. This daring dive into her attempts for control decked out in 80s sounding nostalgia and hip hop grooves allow one to feel freer in accepting their own truth. For sure, I know I do. Thank you Queen for doing what you do best and never feel afraid to lose control.

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Forest Hills Drive Album Review

As a writer, I appreciate a great story teller; J. Cole is a rapper born to tell a story. From his first mix tape The Warm Up, I fell in love with his raw honesty on “Lights Please.” Such a deep brother is a nice inhale of fresh air from the smog filling my soul on a daily basis from the crap on the radio. And it’s not just me. People are loving this renaissance of “realism” in our music. The other day, I was watching his video for “Crooked Smile” featuring TLC. It’s truly an uplifting tune, but I was actually paying more attention to the video. Commenters on YouTube (Best believe that there is ALWAYS a fight in the comments section) argued that the visuals had nothing to do with the lyrics which I actually agree with. But here was J. Cole retelling a true story about a man getting arrested for selling a dime bag of weed. But that’s not the real heartache. The cops stormed into his house like it was a drug raid, arrested him, and shot his daughter on her birthday when they saw her peeking out from her room. He leaves us with this at the very end: And Please Reconsider Your War on Drugs. It had me scratching my head like what does that mean? In the comments section, two people were having an intense discussion about the war on drugs. One spoke about a documentary called “The House I Live In.” I found it on Netflix and was mind blown about what’s really going on in the prison system. It’s terrible and is practically a legal form of genocide. The point I’m trying to make is just from checking out J. Cole’s video, my mind was able to expand; my conscious was taken to another world. It opened me up to a new issue I never thought twice about. J. Cole really makes you think and I respect him so much for that. I listened to Forest Hills Drive the other day and just felt I had to write about it. For anyone who’s a fan of his knows it came out last year, but it’s better late than never right?

When listening to Forest Hills Drive, imagine sitting right across from Cole. You’ll see the emotion spread across his face as he lets you into his past, his dreams, his fears, his life all in an hour and six minutes. Feel the acne and butterflies from teen years rise up when tuning in “Wet Dreams.” This time warp of a track takes us back to two teenagers, young Cole pretending to have “experience” and a young lady who is indeed inexperienced facing intimacy for the first time. It’s so cute it will make you blush; Oh what the imagination of a young man will make him do. In “Adolescence,” he literally shares the thoughts of his teenage self – a shy guy wanting more out of life. He almost gets into the drug game, but his wise “mentor” wakes him up and reminds him of his own potential. The lone wolf cries combined with the slow beat take my senses to the cold fence he was once perched on in this self awareness tale.

“A Tale of Two Cities” and “Fire Squad” go into the desperate minds of the cunning living in a land where trying to survive is not enough. His flow in “Fire Squad” has my head bobbing so much I might be tempted to drop some F bombs at random in the street with my arms pumped up. Side Note: I do not curse. I love the message he relays from the middle to the end about how rappers are always talking about who’s the best instead of waking up and realizing who’s taking their sound. He further goes in to say that we are all kings; we shouldn’t “cling to the need for power….Today I know we are the same…….we’re all poets, cause deep down inside I know we all just want to be loved.” #Truth.

The very next track brings the mood down from high intensity to cool grooving in “St. Tropez.” The low tempo collection of drums, violins, a saxophone and the dreamy lulls of the chorus can teleport you right to the beach. Now only if it could literally do that, it would be the dopest song EVER. “Role Models” has such a HOT beat. “Don’t save her. She don’t to be saved. Don’t save her. She don’t want to be saved” – Damn, this song really has me going. It speaks a depth of truth about some (not all) women in our society who are just “lost.” And of course “Apparently,” his hit single from this album, is one of my favorite tracks to listen to right now. His realization about the integral people in his life, including the one who carried him for nine months, is both refreshing and uplifting to listen to.

I could literally write about every song on this album, but I will stop here. Forest Hills Drive is an astounding package of the exemplary electrical impulses going on in that pink mush of his. It makes you dive into the deep waters of adolescence, surviving in the game, gratification for loved ones and self awareness. It’s a true testament to what conscious music is all about.

“Princess of R&B” Deprived of Royalty

Aaliyah-Lifetime-Split-The-Heartbeat-Life-3

“Dirty South. Can’t Y’all Really feel. East Coast feel me. West Coast. feel me…..” The repetitive lines repeat warming the listener up for the strong, yet exquisite vocals of a young R&B goddess. The rugged beat bounces and blends into the delightful coos of the singer. Three kids are puzzled over the name of this hypnotic tune.  “It’s called “Ahh, ahhh,” a little girl says thinking it’s the occasional baby sounds in the background. “No that’s not the name,” her older cousin counters. The little girl is stubborn about the name but is also enamored by the beautiful woman on the screen. She radiates a sexy confidence even in her slightly tomboyish clothing. Mystery and beauty intertwine through her rhythmic dancing and movement. While also watching the images on the screen, they try to figure out the name of the song but retreat due to the infectious beat. After a few days, the older cousin announces the name. “It’s called “Are You That Somebody?”

Years later, the song still has it’s own little place in this writer’s musical heart. Aaliyah was an embodiment of someone I wanted to be like. Her music kept my ears happy and her spirit was a role model for who I wanted to become. Every Aaliyah fan would think whoever would make her biopic would do it justice. Unfortunately, many were extremely disappointed when their eyes peeped “Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B.” It seemed to take an arm and a leg to even get this movie on the air, but it was for a good reason. Aaliyah’s family held an embargo on her musical content to save for the opportunity for her legacy to shine on the big screen. But Lifetime wanted dibs on this “princess” even if they didn’t highlight what  truly made her royalty.

For one thing, most of the actors looked nothing like the people they were portraying. R. Kelly looked more like Joe, her brother was a Drake look-a-like (It’s ironic that the actor plays in the new Degrassi episodes) and don’t get me started on Timbaland and Missy Elliot. At least the actress (Alexandra Shipp) playing Aaliyah did resemble her a bit. Unfortunately, another aspect that sent this film to the movie dump was the acting. It didn’t feel real. The lines felt cheesy like an after school special fresh from the 50s. Stay tuned for the plastic smile; *ding.* There was no emotion. More intensity could have been felt from cardboard (no not really, but you get my point.)

It’s strange to feel no emotion from a movie portraying a woman who had such passion penetrating from her music. Her versatile sound, the compounding element that catapulted her to being one of the most influential women in R&B, was not even in the movie. All we got to hear was a bunch of covers but nothing originally from her. Lifetime couldn’t get their hands on her music, but seriously why even bother if it can’t be heard. I wanted them to take us back; a good biopic should send its viewers on a musical time machine to hear and embrace the magic of what made the artist so incredible. I was waiting to feel that magic again. Imagine expecting a sweet slice of cake and instead getting a slice of stale bread; watch this movie and you will get the same feeling.

Something about the film just doesn’t connect. It feels more like an after school special with the inspirational quotes thrown in than a visual display of a real R&B princess. However, we see how much of a business savvy woman Aaliyah was. She knew she had to be original rather than just being another ordinary singer. She took risks by being herself in her loose fitting, yet sexy clothing and choosing to work with Tim and Missy. One thing I did admire about this movie was seeing just how much control and success she had in molding the path in her career.

“Princess,” however, just dances along some of the most important aspects of what made her Aaliyah. Minutes of puzzlement filled my room at the completion of the film. It was good to see her find love again with Damon Dash. But the words they exchange the last time they see each other was the epitome of cheesy. And then that was it. They could of at least showed the reaction of the millions of fans who mourned her passing. It would have been a better way to end the movie instead of “Well she died…..The End.”

A confused little girl once, I am there again at the lack of effort presented in the Lifetime film. My earliest memory of her was ignored from a collection of clips that may have been hastily thrown together to make a movie. For years, fans have been expecting an incredible piece of art to represent the princess that was Aaliyah. Instead of a masterpiece, we got a film that was just another film. Royalty was robbed from this movie, but this isn’t it for the possibilities of keeping her beautiful aura alive. Through her fans’ continuous love for this R&B princess and the incredible wonders she left on this Earth, Aaliyah will eternally be a musical legend.