Alexa, the AI voice behind the widely popular Amazon Echo smart speaker, is considered by Wikipedia as "an intelligent personal assistant."
However, when I asked the Alexa that conveniently/creepily lives in my bedroom to play the album CTRL, the studio debut from Top Dawg Entertainment's dulcet-toned duchess SZA, Alexa choked and reverted from "intelligent personal assistant" into dumb, stupid idiot.
Alexa was not brilliant enough to recognize that CTRL=control and truly struggled with the whole SZA equalling Si-Zuh factor (as she clearly lacked intel on the history of the ZA's in rap, where GZA=Gizza and RZA=Rizza). This resulted in a thirty-minute, back-and-forth war between myself and a 180 dollar Target purchase.
Me: Alexa, play "Control" by "Si-Zuh."
Alexa: Now shuffling greatest hits by Scissor.
Me: Alexa, play "Control" by "S.Z.A."
Alexa: Now playing "Control" by Halsey from Prime music.
Me: (Frustrated tonal elevation and absolute clarity in voice) Alexa, play the album "Control" by "Si-Zuh" from Spotify.
Alexa: I do not understand your instruct-
Alexa was then unplugged and nearly thrown out the window. She is OK now, and we have moved on. In fact, I eventually got to listen to SZA's CTRL, and the 14-track, 50-minute debut journey of self-respect/esteem/image and emotional intelligence is as elegant, smooth, witty and fucking cool as Alexa was not.
"Supermodel," the album's opening track, brings a gorgeous tone of unrequited love akin to something off of Frank Ocean's Blonde. SZA is very Frank-esque, channeling anxieties and shortcomings into the catchiest of melodies or hooks (see "Go Gina") while shifting between effortless rap-singing and all-out Freddie Mercury belting ("Drew Barrymore").
On the latter, a dejected SZA casually flows the desired details of her night after seeing an ex-lover with a smoking new gal, "Somebody get the tacos, somebody spark the blunt/ Let's start the Narcos off at episode one/ Bring the gin, got the juice/ Bring the sin, got that too."
She proceeds to seamlessly transition into the song's ballad of a hook, wondering why she wasn't "warm enough" to keep her man from leaving. At this moment, she's still struggling with the album's titular concept of control, with SZA's mom appearing throughout to offer a personal account of what control means to her. But, for now, SZA is unable to move on from the things that are unchangeable and miles out of her own hands.
Fortunately, SZA has complete domain over who she allows to feature on CTRL, and her choices are flawless, teaming with Travis Scott, James Fauntleroy and TDE cohorts Isaiah Rashad and Kendrick Lamar. On the vaginally-inspired "Doves in the Wind," Lamar (who's previously showed his female-anatomy based wordsmith prowess on tracks like "These Walls") energetically praises a unique source of omnipotence with his own twist of call and response.
"Niggas'll los they mind for it/ Wine for it, dine for it — pussy/ Spend time for it/ See no colored line for it — pussy/ Double back handicap and go blind for it — pussy!"
The track will require you to restrain yourself from screaming, "Pussy!" Kendrick-style while in public places, even though most people would probably not be weirded out and just be like, "Oh yeah, that Kendrick verse was fire, I completely understand."
Brilliant features aside, SZA is the Donald-Glover-in-Atlanta star of her own show. She candidly voices her inhibitions and self-doubts over the scintillating production of tracks like "Normal Girl" and "Garden (Say it Like Dat)" while capturing the perennial rut of one's 20s on "20 Something."