I am not normally a big fan of rappers from the UK. Giggs’ vocal appearances on More Life are a stain on an otherwise enjoyable album. Skepta’s verse on “Bet” by Octavian is comically atrocious. Admittedly, Dave’s most recent album Psychodrama is pretty great, and Tinie Tempah always has a nostalgic place in my heart. For the most part though, I dislike more of them than I like. With that being said, my favorite rapper hailing from the UK is Little Simz. Her most recent effort, Grey Area, is one of the best projects I’ve heard so far this year, if not the downright best.
For those unfamiliar, Little Simz is the pseudonym for British rapper Simbiatu Abisola Abiola Ajikawo. She has a few projects already under her belt that are available on streaming services. Stillness in Wonderland has its great moments but overall, the best thing to come from that album is its intricate cover artwork.
Grey Area is easily her most complete body of work and an impressive yet tonally different follow up to the aforementioned Stillness. Grey Area, clocking in at just 35 minutes, is much more concise than Stillness. With only ten tracks, Simz makes sure that every song counts.
The album makes a bold entrance with “Offence” and “Boss.” While these two songs are, in my opinion, the lowest points of the album, they draw in the listener with their brash and abrasive style. These are not bad songs; however, when you have an emcee with Little Simz’ talent, you want her flowing ability and lyrics to stand out. On “Boss” and “Offence,” the main takeaway is Simz’ punk-like filtered vocal delivery.
Following the first two tracks is “Selfish.” “Selfish” is a cool track, but I don’t really have too much to say about it. The song is sonically very serene with a beautifully sung hook by Cleo Sol, but it’s not super memorable. Its main importance is to transition the album into its best stretch, tracks four through seven.
There is so much to love about “Wounds.” The beat is an orchestral head-nodder, with a great string chord progression shares a striking similarity to “Forgot About Dre.” Little Simz’ patois-inspired flow is executed perfectly, never straying from the brisk beat. To round out the song, Chronixx’s soulful crooning plays as an excellent counter to Simz’ dark demeanor. The spiritual longing in Chronixx’s voice is palpable and will surely get any listener into their feels.
From a pure rapping perspective, “Venom” is without a doubt the album’s standout track. Over a very dark beat, Little Simz raps with the speed of 1000 cheetahs. What’s most impressive about the track is her ability to maintain the quick-paced flow throughout the whole track while also keeping her lyricism intact and far from cliche. “Venom” is empowering, grossly hype, and makes me yearn for a Joyner Lucas & Little Simz collab. I have no doubt that when performed live in concert this song is going to cause mosh pits and whiplash from headbanging.
Having “101 FM” directly follow “Venom” on the tracklist is a strange but interesting choice. While “Venom” is Little Simz’ rap showcase, “101 FM” is best described as a light bop. Over a slightly goofy yet fun beat, her flow throughout the song is cool and catchy with a nostalgia-inducing chorus. “101 FM” is probably the album’s most accessible song. Every individual component of the song is good, and the result sounds incredibly clean, but no specific part of the song really stands out.
From a structural perspective, “Pressure” is the album’s most complete song. Simz’ first verse, void of any percussive instrument, is a great introduction and makes it so that when the drums finally do kick in, it’s that much more satisfying. Little Dragon’s vocal contributions are perfectly placed, almost feeling like voices in Little Simz’ head. While a track like “Venom” may feel dark and empowering, “Pressure” feels personal and uplifting. The “keep applying pressure, ay” motif feels inspirational. Listen to this when you are forlorn and need to keep your head up.
While “Therapy” and “Sherbet Sunset” have their differences, I instinctively group them together. Simz’ verses feel more like poetry placed over a beat than they do like musical rap verses. These songs feel powerful and personal, almost as if they were ripped from her diary. Her lyrical placement is delicate and precise. I definitely prefer “Sherbet Sunset” over the two thanks to its simple but perfect chorus.
Finally, we get to the album’s closer, “Flowers.” “Flowers” is very much Little Simz’ curtain call. After her versatile performance all over the album, Simz’ well-managed flow over some sexy saxophone is such a satisfying conclusion to the album. While the album only lasts thirty-five minutes, the takeaways are from a lifetime of experiences.
At only ten tracks, I’m honestly amazed by how much I have to say about this album. With the possible exception of Saba’s CARE FOR ME, I haven’t felt an album in my heart, mind, and soul like this in a while. Little Simz somehow managed to convey her complex psyche and societal view into one cohesive yet diverse album. By next year, I fully believe that Little Simz will become one of hip-hop’s biggest names, so be sure to check her out now.
COVER PHOTO: Star Studded