SZA on 'Z' and Having Kendrick Lamar as a Co-worker

SZA on 'Z' and Having Kendrick Lamar as a Co-worker
SZA's first Canadian show ended with the singer-songwriter in tears. These were the good kind however — the fact that the crowd was singing her songs, word for word, hit her hard and didn't go unappreciated, SZA tells Exclaim!

"I had a really good time. It was crazy. I was super moved," says the St. Louis, MI-born, New Jersey-raised artist, of her performance in Toronto last month.

The 24-year-old's musical career is in the beginning stages, but for someone who claims to have taken singing serious only recently, she's been getting a lot of attention off the strength of her See.SZA.RUN and S EPs. That said, new record Z, out today (April 8), is completely different, she says.

"I think my voice is the key thing that's matured the most. And my writing style, it's just way different. It's more free-flowing but I have a slightly higher skill level. It's definitely all coming together."

Since being signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, things started moving really fast, she explains.

"I didn't really expect people to like my music or care about anything. I just kind of hope it doesn't get weird," she says with a laugh. "I just feel like to get more popular, it's like everyone has an opinion, you worry about [those opinions] seeping into your brain. And next thing you know you're doing their music, not your music."

Being on the TDE label — home of Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Isaiah Rashad and more — definitely makes an artist step up his or her game, she says, adding that working with people like Lamar is a cool collaborative process.

"It's like we're all part of the same pot," she says. "It definitely makes you feel like your talent level has to be crazy, crazy high so that you can even stand next to them. It's intense."

That said, maintaining the creative vision that she originally set out on is all about keeping her trusted circle tight, "which is like two people" at the moment, she says.

Creating Z was a "super organic" process, SZA says, and the 10-track project took about a year to complete. Singles like the recently Gwyneth Paltrow co-signed "Julia," the Lamar-featuring "Babylon" (listen below) and "Child's Play" (with Chance the Rapper) — and production from Toro y Moi, Mac Miller, DJ Dahi and Emile Haynie — reflect the project's chill and breezy electro R&B sound.

"I just ended up working with people that I liked and trusted and songs I thought were the best," she says. "Which is weird because, since it took about a year to happen, then it should be the best thing ever. It's pretty tight."

Defining her sound is still something that something that she has trouble categorizing. "It's like alternative soul, something," SZA says with a laugh again. "It's definitely got R&B influences, got some electro moments, it's random."

In the past, she's cited disparate influences such as Björk, Eartha Kitt, Incognito and Miles Davis. "All those [artists] make songs that have depth. Kind of like speak to you, those long notes that hit in the back of your neck. I've always wanted to have that kind of impact and I'm just trying to grow into a full blown musician rather than just a singer."

And for how she defines success: "I [had] only ever seen it in other people. I don't even know if it's tangible or if you can like give a word to it. Freedom. I think it's freedom. If you're free and you don't have to depend on anyone or wait on anyone's opinion. When nothing can affect you, then you've reached a point of success."