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February 21, 2024
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Terrence ‘Punch’ Henderson Talks Managing SZA and Her Expectations: ‘She’s Her Own Toughest Critic’

Terrence ‘Punch’ Henderson Talks Managing SZA and Her Expectations: ‘She’s Her Own Toughest Critic’

Managing SZA is a full-time job. Just ask Terrence “Punch” Henderson, our Hitmakers Executive of the Year who balances his time between stoking the flames of the singer’s red-hot career with everyday duties as president of indie label Top Dawg Entertainment. 

“Really it’s about what the artist needs,” he says. “Some artists might need you to come sit in the session all day. Some might just need a phone call to say, ‘What do you think of this?’ It’s not one size fits all.” 

For Henderson, that means all hands on deck when it comes to SZA, who’s become one of the biggest stars in music over the past year. Fans had been waiting patiently for her to drop the follow-up to her 2017 debut “Ctrl,” which to date has spent more than 334 weeks on the Billboard 200. Expectations were high for her sophomore album “SOS,” which dropped last December.

Henderson, who manages SZA alongside her day-to-day MeLisa Chanele, played an integral role in helping to frame the 23-song “SOS,” an album that shattered records from Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin and would eventually become the longest-running No. 1 on the Billboard Top R&B Albums chart. Henderson would clock in at the beginning of studio sessions to talk out concepts and ideas, leaving SZA alone with her engineer to record the bulk of the album. At industry listening events for “SOS” held last summer, SZA was so concerned about the reaction that she didn’t attend, instead letting Henderson host the playbacks and field reactions over the phone. Even after “SOS” was finally released to rapturous reviews and a No. 1 debut, SZA was still making minor adjustments to the album, prompting Henderson and the team to re-upload tracks onto streaming services. 

“I don’t think she’ll ever feel 100 percent confident in the songs,” he says. “She’s her own toughest critic. So my job is to come in and reaffirm that this record is amazing and this is why.” 

SZA became an even bigger priority for Henderson and Top Dawg after the label’s longtime flagship artist Kendrick Lamar exited the fold in May 2022. 

Henderson has believed in her potential since meeting her in 2011, when she was working a merch booth at Lamar’s CMJ showcase in New York City. Since signing her two years later, he’s become a punching bag for SZA when fans get upset over music delays. SZA herself has teed him up on social media, telling her followers to “ask Punch” why her music hadn’t been released. 

“I understand that people need a fall guy, a bad guy,” he says. “So I prefer that to be me than the artist. I don’t need her focusing on that while she’s making these records. I’ll take that.” 

For Henderson, it’s all in a day’s work — and the work just keeps coming. SZA had planned on a smaller tour for “SOS” (her first tour was capped at 2,000-person venues), but she soon bumped up the trek to arenas, both to meet the overwhelming demand and to deliver on the oversized concept she envisioned for the show. She recently wrapped the second North American leg of the international “SOS” tour and a second overseas jaunt is in the works. 

With all the success they’ve achieved together over the past year, SZA and Henderson make a point of tending to their professional relationship. “As you grow with someone, you learn as you go,” Henderson says. “As long as the communication is alive, we can continue to stretch out what needs to be stretched.” 

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