Little Simz’ (real name: Simbiatu Ajikawo) fourth studio album begins with a grand orchestral swell that wouldn’t sound out of place on a epic action movie’s soundtrack. After nearly a minute, the grandiosity is scaled down to little more than a piano and the occasional snare beat; creating a brooding and quietly sinister atmosphere, as Simz, and collaborator Cleo Sol tell of “wars”, “Kingdoms on fire” and “sinners in a church” – and that’s all in the first 3 lines. The otherworldly hellscape painted by Simz on ‘Introvert’ in these first few lines is then revealed not to be otherworldly at all, but instead a stark reflection of our current world; as she tells of “mothers burying sons”, “young boys playing with guns” and “parts of the world still living in apartheid”. Then, just as Simz’s political reflections reach their bleakest, she flips the switch; opting this time for the staggeringly personal (“I see the illness eat my aunt laying in her bed / I see her soul rising as her body gets closer to death”). ‘Introvert’ continues to blend the personal and the political with breath-taking ease before closing with a received pronunciation spoken word segment from Emma Corin (who plays Diana on Netflix’s ‘The Crown’).
Starting an album with as grand a statement as ‘Introvert’ is a staggering declaration of bravado; few artists would have the talent to meet the expectations set by it – and most, I suspect, would be fully aware of such. Little Simz however, is capable of such, and she knows it; ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ (whose initials spell out her nickname ‘Simbi’) is inexplicably cohesive yet completely unpredictable and varied; fleeting between tasteful R&B-infused hip-hop reminiscent of Lauryn Hill’s ‘Miseducation’ (‘Miss Understood’, ‘Woman’), braggadocious grime-trap infusions (‘Rollin Stone’), lively afrobeat bangers (‘Point and Kill’, ‘Fear No Man’) and, even the odd, off-kilter 80s-synth-pop inspired addition (‘Protect My Energy’). Not since Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d City’ has a rap album successfully pulled from such an eclectic assortment of influences and styles.
Lamar, in fact, has been one of Simz greatest supporters since she burst onto the scene a little over a decade ago, with the legendary American rapper referring to her as “the illest doing it right now“. Meanwhile, another of Simz’s biggest idols – Lauryn Hill – had the Mercury Prize nominated Brit open for her on tour. Even if Simz has never been able to capture the same commercial success as many of her peers – her 2019 album ‘Grey Area’ peaked at no.87 in her home country – the critics and her greatest idols have already recognised her singular genius.
Little Simz deserves even more, though, and she knows it (“I think I need a standing ovation”). Whatever you do, though, don’t call Simz under-rated; she may be on the hunt for even bigger and better, but existing successes are no small feats and her impact is already undeniable (“Influential as fuck” she declares herself on ‘Speed’).
‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ moves between these moments of braggadocio and alternating moments of self-doubt to create a brutally honest and revealing self-portrait. Opener and lead single ‘Introvert’ offers a harsh look inwards – expressing fears on a being a “burden” and admitting that despite success, “from happiness, I’m the furthest”. ‘I Love You, I Hate You’, meanwhile, is the album’s vulnerable cornerstone; a confrontation of Simz’s relationship with her estranged father (“Is you a sperm donor or a dad to me?”). It’s at once a brutal condemnation of a parent who gave Simz her “first heartbreak” and a sympathetic look at a man whose life unfolded wholly differently from how he’d hoped (“He was just once a boy, often I seem to forget”). This radical compassion is extended on ‘Little Q, Pt.2’ – spoken from the perspective of her cousin whose life lay in the balance after a brutal stabbing (“Thought the pearly gates opened when that knife was in my chest”). Here, Simz extends her empathy equally to her cousin himself who fell into a cycle of violence (“Then we take that same anger and turn it into someone else’s pain”) and the man who nearly killed him (“But the boy that stabbed me is just as damaged as me / I could have been the reflection that he hated / The part of him he wishes God did not waste time creating”).
Then, just as ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ threatens to be consumed by the heaviness of it’s themes, Simz makes a full 180; allowing her extroverted “evil twin” to take the wheel momentarily: “might be a brat for a bit” she declares on ‘Rollin Stone’, “I was born great” she confidently states on ‘Standing Ovation’. This showcase of Simz’ cockier side is well-deserved and utterly thrilling after the back-to-back excellence of the album’s first half. However, while other rappers spend their braggadocious moments trotting out predictable lines about their own greatness, Simz uses her self-elevated platform to spread important messages: “You can have opinions, just don’t mislead the youth in your raps” she says just a few breaths after confirming Kendrick Lamar’s endorsement of her (“I was always the illest, there’s never been no cure”).
Straight after the lovably cocky ‘Rollin Stone’, Simz delivers the ultimate introvert anthem ‘Protect My Energy’, declaring “Total silence is my therapy”. The back-to-back placement of these tracks is a testament to ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’s’ greatest strengths; it’s ability to contain multitudes. Few albums, if any, have so seemingly-effortlessly conveyed confidence and self-doubt, gratitude and yearning and, hate and love so convincingly as this one. Everything about Simz’ fourth full length project – it’s vivid storytelling, it’s broad sonic pallet, Simz’s flow – consistently hits the right note, and Simz does so without ever seeming to so much as break a sweat. ‘SIMBI’ isn’t just a great album, but one that’s great in consistently unique and unpredictable ways; it’s a 65 minute epic that instantly joins the leagues of ‘Miseducation’, ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ and co. to become an instant classic.
Best Tracks: All
Worst Tracks: None