The day after Thanksgiving, we spoke with SZA, the Top Dawg Entertainment-signed songstress with an ethereal voice. She's intelligent, cool but not pretentious, easy with a giggle, and told us that all she'd eaten the day before at her mom's was collard greens --since she's a non-grain-eating vegetarian.
She's performing shows just about every day this week around Miami for Art Basel -- tonight, alongside her labelmate Kendrick Lamar at Mana, hosted by Flaunt Magazine, 3P Production, and Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami and she has a solo gig on Friday night at MOCA.
The New Jersey-bred singer's name is said like RZA, and also is formed with the supreme alphabet. But this songstress isn't just talking the talk, she was raised a hijab-wearing Muslim. There's about a million other interesting things about her, and we had the good fortune to ask her about a couple of them. We even uncovered a Bieber and Bjork related typo.
New Times: You have a Wednesday show with Kendrick Lamar and a Friday show at MOCA North Miami, do you have other secret shows that nobody knows about down here?
Yeah, I do. There should be one at Soho Beach House, and there's one at Bardot with Shlomo.
That's a lot. This is your first time playing Miami?
The last time I went to Miami, I was like 16 with my mom and my homegirl for Memorial weekend because I didn't want to go to prom. I skipped out on prom and spent all my money on South Beach.
That's a better deal. Memorial Day weekend here is nuts. What do you remember from the trip?
That was insane. Literally it was probably the best time of my life. I was 16, and I didn't drink once. I was out till like 5 a.m. everyday for no reason, just like spectating and watching everyone get naked and crazy.
You'll be performing with Kendrick Lamar here, and you are labelmates. How do you feel about him? What's your guy's relationship?
We're definitely homies. He's one of the most humble, sweetest, most genuine people I've met in life. He's through and through just a hundred grand. He's really rare. And that's not shit-talking. He's amazing. On top of that, he's just a really great person to use as a mold, to look up to, in terms of his work ethic. I've never seen anyone with a work ethic like that. He's obsessed with his work. It's awesome.
You're both with Top Dawg Entertainment. What's the label all about.
It's basically a collective of artists: me, Isaiah Rashad, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock. It was headed by Jay Rock initially. It's tight-knit, family-oriented, but super free-flowing. All of us have completely different styles, musically, aesthetically, but for some reason, we all find a way to get catered to. All of our music is able to be released in it's own separate facets, but still have the collective, we all get on each others songs or share beats. We record in the same studio, so, it's like one big musical family.
You started out as a gymnast growing up. Do you feel like you learned discipline from that?
I think I lack discipline. I definitely learned how to channel my obsessions. When I'm in love with something, there's nothing that anyone can do to deter me from what I'm doing. Gymnastics was probably the first place where I figured that out. There've been times where I broke my own arm at a meet, but I really wanted to try something new, so I went for it anyway. I was obsessed, beyond reason or safety. So I think music is the same way. I'm literally just obsessed with what I do.
In Rolling Stone, you talk about your height and weight. It's awesome that you're comfortable with yourself. What do you feel about the pressure to look a certain way put on women or you in music?
There is really no pressure put on me aesthetically. Like none. The way I am is the way I am. People will lay out dresses, crop tops, and booty shorts, and I'm just like, nah, I'm not into that. They'll try again and ask a couple more times, and I'll still say no, and then we'll move on.
Other that that, everyone around me is much more focused on the product, like my actual work, my actual music. What my music sounds like. TD is so music-centric. They don't care about marketing or any of that. Everything is 100% about the product. As long as I don't go crazy. When I performed at the AMAs, Top (Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, CEO) asked me, "How come your hair isn't curly?" But that's the only thing he asked me about my look. He didn't care what dress I wore or any of that, he was just like, hey, your hair's not curly. And that's it.
The pressure's more on in the pop realm.
One of the people I look to a lot is MIA, for sure. She made an entire career based on herself. She's started the platform. I think if you start the platform now, you can condition people to like care about particular things. I would rather condition my fans to care about the music and me as a person, as a being, than like, what does her hair look like today, what do her clothes look like today, is her ass out or no?
You grew up Muslim, and I read that you're returning to that after years of not being very involved. What's the attraction to going back to it?
I feel like there's so much romanticism about spirituality right now. It's almost fantastical. People are like into this show, and the song and the dance and the lights and the crystals. All the things you can post on Tumblr. And I think there's so much comfort in the clarity of Islam. And the rigidity. There is no song and dance, there is no show. Either you're with it or not.
I just respect that, especially what I'm going through right now. In the space where I'm in, there's so much iffy-ness. I like things that are familiar that I can count on for sure. In that sense, mentally and spiritually, I can count on that. Cause it'll never change. There'll never be a new pop-up shop mosque with a performer. It'll always be what it was. And I like that.
You said you wanted to make a song with Justin Bieber. What's that all about? What's the attraction of the Biebs?
Can I tell you that is the craziest typo of life. I never said that. And it sucks because I don't want to be like mean. He's a really cute kid, and I think he's awesome, but in the same token, I never said that. I said I would make a song with Bjork.
They were like Biebjork?
I thought it was funny, I literally cracked up for like 8 hours.
You'll now always be known as someone who wants to make a song with Bieber. So what about Bjork?
I think she's one of the most vocally fearless people. Even before she started wearing those costumes, I'm talking MTV Unplugged, 1992, her vocally fearless approach to everything. She was so simple, but she let it all hang out. It was beautiful I love her.
Are you looking forward to anything at Basel?
I've never been. I think I want to check out this street art exhibit for sure, and I want to check out the Frank151 stuff. I definitely want to walk around the MOCA. I've never been. I'm so excited for everything. I'm just going to go everywhere.
SZA with Kendrick Lamar and DJ DZA as part of Flaunt Magazine, 3P Production, and Mana Wynwood's three-night concert series. Wednesday, Dec.4. Mana Wynwood, 318 NW 23rd Ave., Miami. Call 786-449-1258. Ages 18 and up. Visit artbaselmanawynwood.com.
SZA. 9:30 p.m., December 6, at MOCA, 770 NE 125 St., North Miami. Visit mocanomi.org.