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SZA & ‘SOS’ Usher in a New Era for Top Dawg Entertainment

Last Updated: January 9, 2023
Indie rap label Top Dawg Entertainment may be looking towards the “Shirt” songstress to fill the empty space left by her former labelmate Kendrick Lamar, who co-founded pgLang with Dave Free.

A void was left when Kendrick Lamar left indie rap label Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) to create pgLang with Dave Free. That void is no more. The release of SZA’s latest album SOS has cemented her as a superstar in music. SOS debuted at #1 on the Billboard chart on Friday, selling 315K.

The release of SZA’s sophomore album has been colossal.

  • 345 million: The number of streams that broke Spotify’s record for biggest opening week for an album by a Black female artist.
  • 67.9 million: The number of streams that SOS debuted with on Spotify, the fifth biggest female debut in Spotify history. which set a record for the streaming company
  • 5.76 million: The number of streams “Kill Bill” reached yesterday, marking a new daily high.
  • 23: The number of songs on SOS, but also the number of songs that debuted in the top 30 Spotify chart.
  • 8: The number of SOS songs that debuted on Apple Music US’ top 10 chart.
  • 4: The number of weeks SOS has spent at number one on the Billboard 200 chart. The feat makes SOS the first R&B album by a female artist this century to spend its first four weeks at number one. The last album to attain the accomplishment was Janet Jackson’s 1993 release, Janet.
  • 1: The number of days it took SOS to hit 1 billion total streams on Spotify.

SOS also dwarfs the release of her classic debut album CTRL. CTRL hit number three on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 60,000 equivalent-album units. SOS just moved five times that. CTRL’s highest-charting song was the cult-favorite “The Weekend,” which peaked at number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. SOS will undoubtedly have multiple songs within the top 25. In terms of sales, comparing CTRL to SOS is like comparing a beloved fashion boutique to an enormous merchandise emporium.

SZA’s SOS album art

Before I continue, let me preface this by saying this story is not meant to minimize the other artists on TDE. It is meant to highlight the moment that SZA specifically is having. Other artists on TDE have experienced success too, the scale is just different. Both rappers Isaiah Rashad and Jay Rock’s latest album releases were the biggest moments in their careers thus far. Although her labelmates have not quite reached the heights that SZA has, it does not mean they can’t. TDE has shown the capability to cultivate talented individuals into stars and superstars and SZA is next in line for the boost.

The moment is a change of the guard for TDE. Kendrick has been TDE’s frontrunner ever since the release of his mixtape Overly Dedicated back in 2010. In his 17 years with TDE, he never relinquished that seat. There were times when a labelmate may have kept the seat warm in his absence between album releases but Kendrick undoubtedly had the biggest impact of any artist on TDE. Top Dawg Entertainment knew this, too.

When Kendrick burst onto the scene 11 years ago, he was featured on his teammate’s albums. The strategy was a way for listeners to not only get a new verse from Lamar, but also to introduce them to another artist who they may like. He is featured on…

  1. Jay Rock – From Hood Tales to the Cover of XXL (2010)
  2. Jay Rock – Black Friday (2010)
  3. Schoolboy Q – Setbacks (2011)
  4. Ab-Soul – Longterm Mentality (2011)
  5. Ab-Soul – Control System (2012)
  6. Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron (2014)
  7. Ab-Soul – These Days… (2014)
  8. SZA – Z (2014)
  9. Jay Rock – 90059 (2015)
  10. Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade (2016)
  11. SZA – CTRL (2017)
  12. Jay Rock – Redemption (2018)
  13. SiR – Chasing Summer (2019)

Now that changes. There is no direct comparison between SZA’s newfound superstardom and her ability to help grow the audience of her TDE siblings yet. There is a possibility that there never will be. When TDE was on the rise, the artists had a bigger incentive to feature each other on their releases. Most of the artists who spent time building TDE are now well-established.

INDIO, CA – APRIL 13: SZA and Kendrick Lamar perform onstage during the 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 13, 2018 in Indio, California. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Coachella)

But with the label signing five new acts in the last five years there is an opening for SZA to take on the point guard role that Kendrick Lamar once occupied. She is not obligated to fill that spot and the new acts may not want her help. Still, her ability to throw lob passes was showcased earlier this year when she assisted TDE’s newest signee Doechii on the remix of her song, “Persuasive.” The record was released earlier this year and is already Doechii’s third most streamed song. It remains to be seen how TDE strategizes around growing its new artists and utilizing SZA as a springboard for them to jump into the ears of listeners.

On her own, the venue’s that SZA will tour in next year show astronomical growth from her tour in 2017. Back then SZA performed at Irving Plaza in New York City, a venue that holds 1,100 people. Next year she will perform at Madison Square Garden, which holds nearly 20,800 people. Examples of this growth is in smaller cities too. In Philadelphia, she performed at the Theatre of Living Arts, a venue that can have 1,000 people in it at once. This year she will perform at the 76ers Wells Fargo Center which holds up to 19,500.

Despite SZA expressing frustration from wanting to release SOS earlier, the decision to drop the album at the end of the year could work out in her favor. As of now, her tour concludes at the end of March (though more dates could be added). This leaves the possibility for her to jump on the festival circuit and headline some of those events. She will also be a highly sought performer on award shows next year while likely being nominated for a litany of honors. One cannot project the potential for endorsements, merchandise sales and other lucrative opportunities that may flash before SZA’s eyes in the next 12 to 18 months.

SOS establishes SZA as a force within music while also further cementing TDE’s prominence and dominance in the industry. SZA and TDE are basking in the love from fans and critics alike but I’d bet on the two swimming in cash, awards, and more success in 2023.

(This story has been updated to include SOS’ latest accomplishments.)

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About The Author
Randall Williams
Randall Williams
Randall Williams is a Staff Writer covering sports business and music for Boardroom. Before joining the team, he previously worked for Sportico, Andscape and Bloomberg. His byline has also been syndicated in the Boston Globe and Time Magazine. Williams' notable profile features he has written include NFL Executive VP Troy Vincent, Dreamville co-founder Ibrahim Hamad, BMX biker Nigel Sylvester and both Shedeur and Shilo Sanders. Randall, a graduate of "The Real HU" - Hampton University - is most proud of scooping Howard University joining Jordan Brand nearly three months before the official announcement.