Hitmakers: Carter Lang on the story behind SZA's Kill Bill

Hitmakers: Carter Lang on the story behind SZA's Kill Bill

SZA has been named International Artist Of The Year at the BRITs 2024.

American producer and musician Carter Lang worked on SZA’s 2017 album Ctrl before eventually co-writing the global star’s US No.1 Kill Bill. Here, Lang tells Music Week how the Quentin Tarantino-inspired smash hit came to life and went on to become a viral sensation on TikTok… 


SZA and I met in Chicago in 2015. I’m from Chicago, and after college I kind of surfed around studios with friends of mine. I had a keyboard in my car, I went with my friend Peter Cottontale to Classick Studios and I met SZA there. I didn’t really know who she was at the time or anything, so I was like, ‘I know this studio, I’m just going to do my thing.’

We started working on a beat and we just started connecting. We talked about synthesisers and sounds. She can get kind of nerdy and I really liked that. I was like, ‘I’ve got a synthesiser in the car, you’re going to love this,’ and I brought it upstairs. It was probably the first analogue synthesiser that I had purchased – this weird Roland mono synth. It was an early ’70s primitive synth and we were bugging out over it.

A month later, SZA hit me up to play with her at Lollapalooza because we had a mutual friend who was playing drums and she remembered that I was a bass player. There was an opening for me to come and play and that’s how it all kick-started. We went on tour and it was a big family affair.

 With Kill Bill, I had been trading ideas back and forth with Rob Bisel, a friend and collaborator of mine. He’d engineered with SZA for the duration of the SOS project and we had a meet-up at my spot. He left me with a few little single instrument pieces. As producers, we all stack those up from time to time and I was like, ‘Three or four of these are really dope, I want to work on these.’ I tried a drum beat right after he left because as soon as I get something, I want to jump on it. There was more of a rapping type of vibe to the beat because it felt like the music, those chords at the beginning, just led to that.

We listened to it the next week and I was like, ‘Nah, I’ve got to take a different approach. Maybe it’s not a digital drum-sounding song, maybe it’s something more organic.’ A lot of the physical instruments that I have in my studio evoke old, dusty, warm and organic tones, so I started working on it a bit more and then Rob and I finished the beat off to the point where it was something that we could play to SZA. I liked the beat a lot. We didn’t have to remake the beat a million times, it came together quickly. 

I popped by the studio that same month and we played her a few ideas before I left for the night to see if there was anything that caught her [attention]. She was humming a lot of different things. We were done with our beats and then Rob went to the bathroom so it was just her and me, and I was like, ‘Man, I want to see what this beat is saying – this might be a sleeper.’ 

It was pretty late, but SZA started finding the pocket and then that was it – the flywheel unravelled. I think they kept working on it when I left, or they worked on it the next day and Rob was like, ‘Yo, this shit sounds crazy!’ And that was pretty much that. 

We had to incubate it for a second with the rest of the songs and we started to see that it wasn’t as obscure as we thought. It started becoming a moment that we could build parts of the album around, and we didn’t have to change too much after the beat demo, it was just tweaks. I don’t know how many times SZA went over the vocals, but she definitely made sure it was airtight.

I think the title, which SZA came up with alongside Rob, also just came from the premise [of the song] and it was something that made sense of it all. Before the beat had been called Igloo, entirely different! I love a sinister line like, “I might kill my ex” over such a sweet sound. The contradiction is what makes it beautiful and it’s poetic instead of being [literal]. Everyone knows how difficult it feels to have that shadow of an ex. And I’m a huge fan of Kill Bill, the movie. I saw it in theatres and it was such an impactful film for me. I had it on DVD, what can I say? 

I’m not a big TikTok-er, but it’s great that it allows people to express themselves with music in a completely different way, and all the fans finding their own ways to have fun with Kill Bill and with songs in general on the platform is amazing. All of a sudden a song that might not have sounded like a hit has become a viral situation, although how long that lasts is a whole different thing.

SZA has her own style. Her rhythms can get so complex, it’s this crazy combination of rap and song and she finds this perfect balance which just cuts through. The tone of her voice is also just so unique. When she hits the high notes you can feel the emotion in each line. Being with her for so long helped change my perception of rhythm and melody and how I was able to work that into my instruments.

We are always keeping a few ideas floating around, but as for upcoming projects, that’s up to SZA to say. Whatever her plans are, I trust her process. I trust her timing on whatever it is that she wants to do with music. And even if it’s last minute, I’m ready. It’s exciting to me to make music that is going to have that bandwidth.

For more stories like this, and to keep up to date with all our market leading news, features and analysis, sign up to receive our daily Morning Briefing newsletter

subscribe link free-trial link

follow us...