August 19, 2013

sza2Will Hagle is warning you now: this post is acronym-heavy.

Several days ago, Top Dawg Entertainment’s roster consisted entirely of Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and Ab-Soul. Although there have been rumors that others were to join the label in the wake of its recent success, nothing was official until news broke yesterday that an R&B singer named SZA will be joining the roster.

The addition of SZA to TDE will inevitably be a point of discussion The singer hails not from South LA, but from the tiny suburb of Maplewood, New Jersey. This is a fact that is sure to cause Papoose and Cassidy to blab on more stale beats about how they’re the real kings of New York. SZA also doesn’t rap, and her music is fully-formed enough that it wouldn’t be right to reduce her to the role of TDE-hook-girl ala Jhene Aiko. In short: she’s an outsider.

TDE’s behavior emulates tons of labels before it, but a more recent comparison can be drawn to Cash Money Records. Birdman’s label, once the platform for Louisiana rappers like the Hot Boys and Juvenile to breathe energy into Southern hip-hop, is now home to Limp Bizkit and Kevin Rudolf. That’s not to say that SZA’s signing will lead TDE down a slippery slope towards a pool of washed-up rap/rock acts. That’s absurd. But it’s there as a cautionary example and reminder that the best labels usually have artists that work together for the right reasons. It’s always been chemistry over money, word to Walter White.

Yet there’s a certain wisdom to the move. SZA actually fits quite well into the TDE mold. Her songs are airy, glitchy and weird. She’s a powerful singer with a tendency to forgo the verse-chorus-verse of R&B traditionalism, which puts her on par with her male contemporaries.

So many artists have crafted a stage name by adding -ZA to another letter that at this point it’s essentially the equivalent of calling yourself “Lil’” something. GZA and RZA will remain at the top of the -ZA hierarchy, but there will inevitably be more. I thought it would be clever to mention what’d it be like if the Wu ZAs, Smoke DZA and SZA collaborated on a track, but a quick scan of the YouTube comments of any SZA video will reveal the rest of the internet’s already been thinking the same thing.

A search for “SZA” on Wikipedia, however, will direct you to the page for the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich Array, a group of telescopes intended to discover more about dark matter. At least that SZA is based in California.

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