SOS: The Best R&B Album of 2022


SZA performing at her CTRL Tour.

Each year, one of my favorite artists has consistently announced that she is working on a new album or that new music is coming soon; but these promises have never been delivered—until now.


After dropping four singles and a few features, SZA, the highly praised R&B artist, made her return to music when she released her highly anticipated album, SOS, two months ago. Five years in the making, the album was well worth the wait. SZA has now solidified herself as a true musical talent with skillful vocals, catchy melodies, and excellent lyricism. 


The album cover for SZA’s album SOS, inspired by Princess Diana.


The title track and introduction to the album perfectly set the tone and introduce the overall message and emotional journey of the album. The song opens to a distress call in Morse Code that can be heard throughout different moments in the album. The distress signal is then followed by the sound of a flare gun. The album is a response to the call for help: the answer. 


The title track, “SOS,” is pure passion as SZA rap-sings, a fusion that represents her combination of resentment and loss towards her ex. “All that sauce you got from me / All that sh*t I gave for free / I want it back, want it back.” SZA explains that she wishes she could take back what she gave to her ex, physically and emotionally. But then again, she’s “Comin’ back, I’m so greasy.” Though she knows it’s wrong, she goes back to her ex: And thus, the struggle of the album is introduced. Though the song is only a minute and 57 seconds long, it is one of the best on the album. 


The album takes the listener through the five stages of grief, a few songs at a time representing each one.  The fan favorite, “Kill Bill” is popular for a reason. The charming melody and instrumental clash with the sinister lyrics, “I might kill my ex / Not the best idea / His new girlfriend’s next / How’d I get here?” With its infectious and relatable hook, “Kill Bill” is the heart of the album.


“Low” is arguably the most underrated song on SOS, though it is on par with “Kill Bill.” The 808s (a type of electronic percussion instrument frequently found in hip hop) flawlessly complement the dark and gloomy instrumental. The track features adlibs from Travis Scott, which adds momentum to the song though they are short and sparse. SZA’s flow in “Low” and throughout the entire album is unmatched, displaying her artistry. 


“Smoking on My Ex Pack” is a true rap song and a reference to Kendrick Lamar, a rapper she had previously collaborated with; a new side to SZA. With a simple instrumental, SZA’s lyricism stands out. “Abracadabra, you n**** sideshow / I’m Bobbin’ like psycho,” is the best line. SZA says the men she mentions act “crazy,” as if they are in a “sideshow” or a circus. She follows “sideshow” with “Bobbin’,” a reference to the antagonist from the sitcom The Simpsons, Sideshow Bob, who is known for his psychotic actions. Overall, SZA’s wordplay is beyond impressive. 


“Kill Bill,” “Low,” and “Smoking on my Ex Pack” represent one of the first stages of grief: anger. SZA’s resentment towards her ex is ever present in the beginning of the album.


“Smoking on My Ex Pack” is immediately followed by “Ghost in the Machine (feat. Phoebe Bridgers),” the most anticipated feature of the album. The unexpected duo surprisingly delivers a beautiful song. SZA and Bridgers search for emotional salvation in crisis. “Can you lead me to the ark? What’s the password?” SZA alludes to Noah’s Ark, using the ark as a metaphor for something to save her from her internal struggle, as the ark saved the animals from the flood. She searches for the password to unlock the answers to her seemingly unsolvable problems. Bridgers’ verse is hauntingly beautiful, from her lyricism to the harmonies. “Ghost in the Machine” is another one of the top 5 from the album, and the best feature.


“F2F” is controversial to say the least, as SZA delves into a new genre: Alternative. The verses of the song are enjoyable, but I find the chorus to be unpleasant and reminiscent of the store Hot Topic. Though many fans have expressed their love and admiration for the song, it is the worst on the album. The experimentation is admirable and SZA should continue to pursue alternative music, but hopefully the future songs will be far less tacky. 


“Special” is a sweet, slower track about feeling ordinary and wanting more. The best thing about this song is the reference to the song “Normal Girl” from SZA’s previous album, Ctrl. In “Normal Girl,” SZA sings about how she wishes she were normal in order to earn the approval of those around her. “Special” continues that storyline, as SZA explains how she changed and gave up what made her who she is in order to gain someone’s approval. “I gave all my special / Away to a loser.” The relationship between the two songs displays the progression of seeking normality, and losing yourself in the process. “Special” marks another stage of grief; depression. And as the album continues, the listener finally comes full circle with acceptance: the final stage of grief.

The outro to the album, “Forgiveless (feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard)” is by far the most memorable track. SZA brings the listener full-circle; back to rap-singing. The instrumental and lyrics are harsh, as SZA says that she can, “forgive it, not forget it.” SZA expresses that she will no longer be oblivious towards others’ transgressions, which allows people to perceive SZA as “forgiveless.” The song and album end with a sample from Ol’ Dirty Bastard. “All race, creed and colors / It’s all love, my n****.” SZA sends off the listener with a final message: despite seeing and remembering when she was wronged, she still has love for everyone. 


SOS is entertaining from start to finish. A beautifully-curated album filled with impressive vocals and songwriting that share SZA’s complex emotional rollercoaster while dealing with a breakup. Though SOS has its slight flaws, it is a brilliant project that effectively draws listeners in.