Little Simz is Just Getting Started
by Liam Thomas
When asked in a BBC radio interview about the music of Little Simz and the potential to collaborate with her in the future, Kendrick Lamar was almost immediately on board. He described little Simz as “one of the illest doing it right now,” and if he ever worked with her, he knew “the vibe would be right.” While a co-sign from one of hip-hop’s living legends is a great boost for any up and coming rapper, it's not something that Little Simz needs. As I’m sure Kendrick would agree with, Little Simz music speaks for itself. Up to this point in her career, it feels like Little Simz hasn’t taken a breather even once. She started rapping at a tender eleven years of age, and since then has independently released 11 albums, singles, and EP’s before founding her own record label Age 101 in 2015. Yet, while the breakneck pace at which Simz has been putting out material over the past few years paints an image of a voracious young artist with no intention of slowing down, Simz appreciates moments of introspection more than anything else.
Little Simz detailed the importance of contemplative silence in a superb Bandcamp profile when discussing her tour alongside Gorillaz, and how she would take time to herself after each live performance: “No one can find me for 10 minutes, because I just need to digest and take things in and make sure I’m good.” While her previous releases (including the exciting and imperfect 2017 album Stillness in Wonderland) were packed to the brim with ideas, they each carried this sinking feeling that Simz was in a rush to express them. Her early work was wild and unchecked and possessed a feeling that Little Simz was throwing all the paint at the canvas. However, on her water-tight, whip-smart new album GREY Area, Simz has finally begun to color inside the lines. The result is the most revealing, exciting, and cohesive rap projects of the year thus far.
GREY Area feels like the result of Little Simz decade long journey of self-reflection through music. Now in her mid-twenties, Little Simz uses GREY Area to unpack the universal by way of the personal and vice-versa, effortlessly elucidating topics both familiar and elusive to those who inhabit the same transitional grey-area from adolescence to early adulthood. The project sees Little Simz abandoning the concept-album aspect of Stillness in Wonderland, allowing her to fully explore her own personal relationship to music instead of filtering her experiences through the vehicle of an album-spanning fictional narrative. In choosing to ditch the straightforward narrative structure on GREY Area, Little Simz gave herself an opportunity to focus on crafting a unified instrumental tone. Simz’s childhood friend Inflo produced every track across the project’s 10 song run, and while his jazz-infused live instrumentation shifts from irresistibly upbeat to bitingly caustic from track to track, Simz brings everything together by effortlessly running circles around each and every beat thrown her way.
On album standout “Selfish” (ft. Cleo Soul), Simz dissects the line between self-care and selfish behavior over a jazzy low-key instrumental, cutting directly to the heart of issues she has seemingly circumnavigated on previous releases. A line from “Her (Interlude)” from 2016’s Stillness in Wonderland highlights Little Simz’s initial reservation to bare too much of herself in her music; “Is the heavens my place? I’m forever in space // Got some shit I need changing, I’ll confess to your face.” GREY Area, specifically tracks like “Boss”and “Venom”, Simz not only ferociously asserts her femininity, but also sheds light onto the uselessness and superfluousness of the “female rapper” title. Again, this is an issue that Simz has briefly touched on in the past, with lines like “I am not a female rapper, call me that and I won’t listen // They think I’m killing shit, I haven’t even started my vision” dotting her discography as early as 2014. Yet, that’s all they were: lines. Quick asides that scratched the surface of Little Simz true feelings. These concepts are explored in depth on GREY Area, making it all the more clear that Little Simz is truly only beginning her vision, and with only four carefully chosen features spread across the album’s 10 track run, Little Simz claims her position as the true star of the show.