“It’s all been happening really, really fast,” Solána Imani Rowe, more famously known as SZA, tells CR. “It’s been hard to ground myself, to understand everything, and to separate myself from it all. Sometimes I feel like I’m just trying to survive it all by the skin on my chin. But then again, it’s incredibly fun. I’m catching some sort of momentum or wave, maybe.”
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, and raised in Maplewood, New Jersey, the 27-year-old singer has been quietly writing and releasing neo soul songs over the past five or so years underground, heralded by and in collaboration with the upper echelon of music, those like Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar. In 2014 she co-wrote Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé’s “Feeling Myself” and then “Consideration” two years later for Rihanna’s eighth studio album, Anti, appearing on the track too with the CR star. It wasn’t until this past year, though, that everything changed. With the release of her first studio album, Ctrl, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, Rowe lurched ten steps further ahead than ever before.
Nominated for a whopping five titles at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards (this Sunday, January 28, 2018), the release fuses diverse elements from the artist’s vulnerable eclectic wheelhouse—from hip hop to indie and soul—to touch upon feelings of jealousy, anxiety, and overall emotional torment, all with a wavy groove. The fact that it’s being received so well by the Recording Academy—what many see as the peak of the music world—is no small feat. “It symbolizes a shift in the collective understanding of what people are ready for,” agrees Rowe. “Or at least, what I’m ready for. I’m trying to step up to the plate. You’re never as good or as bad as what others saw you are. It’s motivation for me to keep going. To magnify myself more because now I have the platform.”
Competing for best R&B performance (“The Weekend”), Best R&B song (“Supermodel”), Best Urban Contemporary Album (Cntrl), Best Rap/Sung Performance (“Love Galore”), and overall Best New Artist, Rowe will meet yet another milestone at the event, when she takes the stage for her first performance of this large of scale. Unlike the live physical staging, in which the artist promises to have more high-tech elements than ever before, her own process of mentally prepping is no different then normal. “I’m trying to meditate. I’m going to the sauna, and drinking a lot of water. No, really! I’m dialing back on everything,” she says. “I’m preparing like I do for any other show, because it is a show. But it’s also a moment that requires a lot of focus.”In advance of the big day, a brand new Gap campaign celebrates Rowe along with other leading culture remixers. Titled “Archive Reissue–Logo Remix,” director Tabitha Denholm—famous for working with the likes of Haim and Florence and the Machine—connected Rowe with rapper Awkwafina, Japense superstar Naomi Watanabe, and more to star in jazzy film that reflects on Gap’s own history of fashion ads. It’s set to music reworked by hit producer Metro Boomin, and the full cast—which also includes, Bria Vinaite, Connor Franta, Maya Jama, Miles Heizer, Sabrina Claudio—bops to infectious choreography by the iconic movement director Tanisha Scott.
“It was such a fun experience! We are all just vibing,” remembers Rowe, who has herself been friends with Metro Boomin (also from St. Louis) for some time now. “Tanisha choreographs for Rihanna and Drake, but before all that she did every single Sean Paul music video you’ve ever seen. The ‘I’m Still In Love’ video is my favorite. It’s hella iconic.”
It’s people like that—unique cultural signifiers that the Gap campaign also highlights—who are important for the singer, who counts running into Bill Nye at event one of her highlights of the past few months. “I literally stalked him across the room,” she admits. “I waited for him to finish the entire conversation he was having, and then I asked someone else—who was a bystander waiting to speak to him too—if I could talk to him after her. She ended up sacrificing herself for me and introduced me to him—she gave me the intro of my fucking life! As it turned out, he had already bought my album and told me he liked it. I was like, ‘How does Bill Nye know who I am? How did I get so lucky?’”END
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