“I used to be a heavy dreamer, and I used to be open to the possibility of everything. I would make these long lists all the way up until I was like 17, of things that I needed to do to be awesome. Stuff like, be cooler, be on time, be prettier; just super general things that are now in hindsight extra crazy. It was weird, but I felt like if I followed my own random steps then I will be catapulted into American Dream superstardom.”
So recalls Solana Rowe, better known as SZA, sat in her Bronx apartment. She’s been cringing her way through watching a video interview that was recorded a few days ago. “It’s f*cking terrifying for me,” she half-laughs, “I hate video interviews.”
Despite having gone from the suburbs of Maplewood, New Jersey to the roster of one of hip-hop’s fastest rising and most exciting labels Top Dawg Entertainment (AKA TDE, home to Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock), SZA no longer believes in the daydreaming of her younger years and describes herself as a natural pessimist.
“I feel like daydreaming warps your brain. Or even celebrating, or getting excited about things. It makes you feel like your chickens have come home to roost before they’re actually ready. Every time I get excited about something it just implodes, and then it’s ruined and I hate it all over again.”
“I’m Muslim and I’m black. So the American Dream isn’t something that was ever possible for me,” she explains of her pessimism and low self-esteem. “Especially as a kid. You’re black, you don’t grow up being like, ‘Yeah, everything is possible.’ Your parents try to tell you that everything is possible, or they try to ensure you that no one will judge you. But sometimes it’s institutionalised or it’s not even your fault, you just can’t beat certain cases. You just have a pre-disposed off-view of the world.
“And on top of that, being Muslim, that just alienates you from the last part of the world you had. It’s weird. And I think at some point you just have to decide who you’re gonna be, and how you’re gonna get there, and then no one is going to stop you. And that’s what I did.”