About two months ago SZA issued a relatively common threat among musicians. No, it wasn't a threat, it was a declaration. The first lady of TDE quit, telling label head Punch that he was free to do with her long, long awaited album what he wanted.
Cooler heads eventually prevailed and she deleted the tweet, as close to a retraction as it gets in 2016, but as her recent Complex interview makes clear, while she may have stepped back from the ledge, she's certainly not off the roof. A string of personal hardships coupled with frustration over her album's continued place on TDE's bench had pushed her to a breaking point, and while she may not be out of the game yet, an exit is still obviously a distinct possibility.
I’ll probably just do something different, something visual, probably film. I’m really frustrated, and I’m kind of over it. I have a lot of anxiety and there’s a lot going on in my life. - SZA, Complex Interview
My instinct, our collective instinct, is to hope she stays in music. She's a rare talent who has loosies better than most album tracks (see "Sobriety"), but if we truly want the best for her and not just our music collection, maybe we should wish her farewell as readily as we ask her to stay.
We can turn an artist's music on and off, can exit the venue after the show, but they continue to live their lives even when our attention has returned to our own. It's a simple but powerful truth that's been on my mind a lot lately in the wake of Kanye's collapse, Kid Cudi's rehab, and Yelawolf's meltdown, and I'm not alone. Artists have long talked about how the music industry is uniquely constructed to destroy souls, but a newer generation of rap stars, from Kendrick to Cole to Vince Staples, have made the darkside of fame a dominant theme in their music.
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Making a living off music is an aspiration of so many, and a fantasy to so many more. And so, of course, we don't want to hear that the promised land we're striving to reach is actually dark and muddy. So for a moment let's be honest. Choosing to be an artist is a terrible career choice. It's extremely difficult to "make it," and even if you somehow manage to break down the door, an avalanche of delusion, pressure, and competition still awaits.
Maybe Dave Chappelle was the wisest of them all. People called him crazy for stepping away at the height of his fame, but leaving entertainment allowed him to maintain his sanity and happiness—what could be more valuable than that? And now he's returning on his own terms, the happiest ending of them all.
So like all artists, I wish SZA the fulfillment of all her musical dreams. But maybe those dreams would actually be best fulfilled away from the music industry. Maybe she would be happier making films, as she said, and creating music on the side under no pressure. Or maybe she can blaze a path to walk for herself that allows her to stay in music without the frustration and anxiety.
Either way, I wish SZA happiness. If that means supporting her by buying her album when it does eventually drop, I'll do that. And if that means opening the door for her as she leaves, I'll do that too.
By Nathan S, occasional keyboard hitter and beard maintainer. This is his Twitter.
Photo Credit: Instagram