8 Life Lessons with SZA

Photo by SSENSE
The alternative R&B revolution has a poster-child, her name is SZA. Here’s what SZA taught us the lessons she's learned in her rise to the top of the music game.

The alternative R&B revolution has a poster-child, her name is SZA. The 24-year-old songstress Solana Rowe’s energy is reminiscent of that girl in your dorm whose room you would swing by for a bag of Doritos and totally off-the-wall candid conversation. Her thoughts flow as fluidly as the whimsical yet vivid lyrics of her songs. 

Two years ago SZA was a fairly anonymous girl with a self-released EP, See.SZA.Run, posted to her Soundcloud page. Now, she’s released two more projects, she’s the first lady of the dynamic label TDE, has zoned out on numerous festival stages, and joined forces with Jhene Aiko on the late 2014 Enter The Void Tour. She’s even put her lyrical pen to work for the Queen. Bey, that is. 

When ESSENCE caught up with this rising songbird it was 2 a.m. She was fresh off the stage, and patiently waiting for her band to deliver her a delicious Philly cheesesteak from Ishkabibbles. But that didn’t stop her from chatting and dropping some knowledge. Here’s what SZA taught us. 

Role models should have grace.
I look at women like Phylicia Rashad and like my mother, people who are full of grace and poise. You know like, I didn’t even lotion this morning and my socks don’t match, my hair is a mess and I never wash my makeup off before I go to bed. I’m just all over the place.

Go hard. Or don’t go at all. 
I just feel like before I was super boring and it was because I was afraid to let go, I was afraid to look stupid. Even now, I can’t do it [perform] in every room, it has to be the right energy. I just told myself, alright, all that scared petty bullshit that you are holding on to before, you have to let it go because this is the first time that this many people are going to be seeing you consistently every night, so it’s like this is your first impression. I figured I’d put it all out there. If I look stupid, so be it, but at least I left it all out there. 

Don’t mess with the funny kid in the classroom. 
I never read reviews! I read one review when I was in Vancouver once from some weird tabloid, and I was so mad. The venue said that I was 90-minutes late. We weren’t late, we were on time, they pushed our set back. So my dad called me and he was like “I just wanna talk to you about being on time.” I was so pissed, I couldn’t believe I got yelled at and admonished because of a tabloid. I realized I have to stay off the internet and I need everyone around me to stay off the internet as well. Social networks are like that kid in the cafeteria who’s so funny and always rips and roasts everybody but you don’t wanna laugh too hard or enjoy it because he’s gonna get in yo ass next and you’re not gonna be able to fully recover. It takes too much to recover so I don’t fuck with the funny kid in the class, basically. 

Comfort is king. 
I couldn’t fathom myself doing what I do and being uncomfortable because I can’t maintain that. I literally feel like I can’t feel myself when I have on tight clothes or anything that’s very constricting or too revealing because my thoughts all go to “can they see my belly, can they see my butt, can they see my thighs, are my boobs out, I need to breathe, I need to suck it in.” It’s just too much. When I’m comfortable and I’m in my moment, all my thoughts are just clear. I can appreciate everything for what it is instead of projecting whatever my insecurities are. 

When Beyonce is speaking, listen. 
I met Beyonce and that was pretty crazy. I wrote with her for Nicki’s [Nicki Minaj] album, I wrote her verse on “Feeling Myself.” She’s so dope and so wise. It was very surreal. I kind of stanned out on the inside. She told me, “Consistency is where everybody fails, always be consistent and always be 100% at what you do.” That changed my whole way of thinking. 

Too busy to do your hair? Then don’t. 
When I first started, it was easier to do twist-outs and do all that nice shit that you’re supposed to do to your hair and take care of it and condition it and do your whole deep condition and braid outs, but I had to let that shit go! My hair was getting so dry and it was exposed to the elements all the time the more I started running around. I’ve never done this before, so adjusting to the schedule was killing me and my hair as well. So I started taking short cuts to make my hair look good but then I stopped caring for it. I texturized the front of my hair so that I wouldn’t have to wait for my braid out to dry for as long and then my hair broke off. So basically now I just braid it up, it depends on what it is. For the tour, I have tracks in the back and some highlights I threw in there. It’s so much easier because I don’t have to prep my hair three days in advance. Also, I sweat so much on stage, I was sweating my hair out every time! For a photoshoot, usually it’s just a clip in. For the tour I sew in the 18 to 20 inch with highlights! 

You say: Labor of love. SZA says: Love is labor
It’s complicated. It’s deeper than complicated. It’s like a journey and a half. A very long, confusing, painful, stressful, but extremely joyous and unique journey. I’m not the Instagram-my-boo kind of person. I don’t like making a big scene but if you look hard enough, it’s obvious. I think what makes it [love] such a catalyst [for songwriting] is that I’ve actually been in love before and I don’t think a lot of people really have, to really know what it looks like. It’s scary because you realize it’s a whole other thing to understand that it’s so much more than just words and wants and needs and pictures and picnics—it’s so much work. Love is an actual labor. People say something is a labor of love, but love itself is labor. 

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