By NICOLE LOSEK, A&E Editor
Solána Imani Rowe, known by her stage name as SZA, has worked her way up to being one of the best new artists this year. Rowe coined the name SZA from the supreme alphabet. S stands for sovereign or savior, Z stands for Zigzag and A stands for Allah.
The R&B singer/songwriter grew up in Maplewood, New Jersey and tells Complex she was raised as a Orthodox Muslim by her parents. Her dad was an executive producer at CNN and her mom was an executive at AT&T. Growing up, she attended a Muslim prep school after she would attend her “normal school,” as she said in an interview with Complex.
SZA wore a hijab up until the seventh grade when the events of 9/11 happened. She was bullied at school and wanted to fit in. Throughout school SZA was a cheerleader and a gymnast. As a sophomore she was ranked fifth in the nation for gymnastics. After high school, she attended three separate colleges, but never finished.
Growing up, SZA never really thought about pursuing a career in music, nor did she know she could sing well. Her brother, Daniel, was a rapper and he asked her to sing on one of his tracks. Not knowing what to do, she sang to the notes and after hearing it back realized she wasn’t that bad. She tells Complex that was the first time hearing her voice and thinking to herself, “I can do something.”
Around that time, her boyfriend’s clothing company was sponsoring some producers who now are signed to Pharrell. Hanging around them, SZA started messing around singing and they noticed and asked to sing at one of their shows. She sang Amy Winehouse’s ‘Me and Mr. Jones.’
Everyone was blown back by her voice, telling her she should do something with it. SZA, however, didn’t feel like she fit the image of a singer and wasn’t comfortable with it.
When her boyfriend was sponsoring one of Kendrick Lamar’s shows, she met Terrence “Punch” Henderson (president of Top Dawg Entertainment) who liked her material and stayed in touch with her after the show and ended up signing with TDE in 2013.
Before signing with TDE, SZA self-release her first EP titled See.SZA.Run. She tells Complex that most of the beats are ones she found on the internet or from someone else’s session in the studio. She followed up that EP with another one, titled S, which received positive reviews.
After signing to TDE in 2013, SZA released the song “Teen Spirit” which was remixed featuring 50 Cent and promoted with a music video. In April of 2014, she dropped another single, “Child’s Play,” featuring Chance the rapper which was off of her debut studio EP titled Z.
Z debuted on the U.S. Billboard 200 at no. 39 and peaked at no. nine on the Billboard hip-hop/R&B chart. Later that year she announced that her third EP titled A would be released as her debut studio album.
Between working on her album, SZA found herself writing songs for other artists like Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. She co-wrote the track “Consideration” off of Rihanna’s album Anti.
In January of 2017, the R&B singer announced that her debut album would instead be titled Ctrl. Following up that announcement, she performed the lead single “Drew Berrymore” on Jimmy Kimmel. Five months later Ctrl dropped, debuting at no. three on the Billboard 200 chart.
Since the release of her album, SZA has began her ‘Ctrl the Tour’ to promote the album. On top of touring, she has collaborated with Maroon 5 on their single “What Lovers Do” and teamed up with Khalid and Post Malone on Lorde’s single, “Homemade Dynamite.”
Many artists have known their whole life what they wanted to do, for SZA it was like she was meant for this.
“I just fell into everything, this is so not the course that was suppose to happen. Even my parents are confused every day. ‘Who are you and where did you come from?’ It’s interesting to watch everyone get to know me all over again. Even my closest friends are like, ‘You really made a run for it, huh?’ I guess I did,” she tells Complex.