In August, the cheery 23-year-old with a weakness for chocolate almond milk and gluten-free snacks celebrated signing to top-shelf label Top Dawg Entertainment. But all that fairy dust raining down on her can sometimes have the unintended effect of clouding up her compact. We discovered that when we asked her to break down the lyrics of her glittery "Castles," from her acclaimed spring EP, S.
Looking back on her childhood, SZA said she suffered more than her share of Black Girl Problems: "I don't have a perm, I can't do my makeup the way you do your makeup — or my teeth! I have horse teeth... these things are, like, super awkward about me as a kid with a large head and big hair and big teeth and freckles and all these things. It was just really awkward, and I think it just kinda like stuck with me.
"I never really fit in with what I saw," added SZA, (pronounced Si-zuh), of the predominantly Caucasian neighborhoods in Maplewood, New Jersey, and Missouri, where she grew up in a close-knit, Muslim household.
The opening verse of the Felix Snow-produced "Castles" document those years:
Wish I was prettier a little for ya
Maybe I'll understand when I get older
I just don't get it yet, I'm not finished yet
"My parents were just like, 'What's in your head is way more important,' the See.SZA.Run singer recalled, "which is cool now that I'm grown, but as a kid ... it's hard."
In a way, SZA's ability to call up the gawky Jersey Girl who didn't cop the "newest Nikes and clean Patagonia wear," has made her the captivating songwriter she is now. (Equally so onstage, like when she played alongside TDE labelmate Schoolboy Q for Fader's "VitaminWater Uncapped" series last Monday in NYC.) And while her enviable head of hair, cocoa complexion and smattering of freckles have made for a stunning display of selfies, she still gets in the ring with her real-girl insecurities from time to time.
"Even when I look at my peers, or like Rihanna's, like, perfect and shiny — and has nice kneecaps!" she giggled. "And I don't even shave my legs so I guess I'm just weird in that sense. I'm just me."
SZA's followup EP, Z, is in the works.