SZA was born Solána Rowe in St. Louis and raised in Maplewood, New Jersey. She grew up listening to classic and avant-garde jazz, alternative rock, and rap.
Rowe was raised as an orthodox Muslim. She found inspiration for her stage name from the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA and the Supreme Alphabet. The S stands for either savior or sovereign, the Z for zig-zag, and the A for Allah.
After graduating from Delaware State University where she studied marine biology, SZA started taking random jobs in order to make money. During one brief stint at clothing company Diesel, her employment was abruptly terminated after she wolfed down two marijuana-laced brownies and had a bad reaction.
She first met members of Top Dawg Entertainment label, during the CMJ 2011. A friend attending the show with her persuaded TDE president Terrence "Punch" Henderson to listen to some of SZA's material, which he liked. In July 2013 it was announced that SZA was the first female act on the TDE roster.
SZA had to borrow money from her parents to cash the first check she received after becoming a Top Dawg Entertainment artist in 2013. "The day I got signed, I was broke as f--k," she told Rolling Stone. "I didn't have bread to get to the bank and cash my check. I just looked at it and took pictures of it for, like, three days until I could get to my parents' (house), and they drove me to the bank. I told them I signed to (Dr. Dre.'s label) because they didn't know who anyone else was."
SZA helped write Nicki Minaj and Beyonce's "Feeling Myself
" in 2014 and wrote and performed on Rihanna's Anti
" two years later.