Fiercely confident and unapologetically forthright, the stunning new album from Little Simz is a reminder of her bold – and, sadly, sometimes underrated – talent. With punching bass lines and whip-smart melodies, 25-year-old Simbi Ajikawo takes us on a wild ride through her world, laying her vulnerability bare with admirable openness.
The London rapper has been co-signed by Kendrick Lamar and was the first independent artist on Forbes’ ‘30 under 30’ list. But her previous record, 2016’s ‘Stillness In Wonderland’, flew under the mainstream’s radar, perhaps because it’s a knotty concept album that demands the listener’s close attention. She’s since confessed that she’s questioned her craft, and wondered whether her hard work is worth not having her loved ones around. Well, ‘Grey Area’ is filled with immediate, punchy hooks, and we’re all the better for it.
The record swells with pride, and Simbi’s celebration of her sense of worth is catching. See opening track, ‘Offence’, where she reminds us that she’s back again and has to pick up where she left off before (“I said it with my chest / I don’t care who I offend – uh huh!”). Her unapologetic words, coupled with that vicious beat, make you feel unbreakable, and set the tone for the journey you’re about to embark on.
On ‘Flowers’, the final track, Simz wonders if the ambition she has for herself – wanting to be legendary and iconic – comes with darkness. Here, she reflects on her idols, such as Amy Winehouse and Jimi Hendrix, and ruminates on their dizzying highs, but tragic endings. It’s a indication of the mindset she was in while writing ‘Grey Area’; the north London powerhouse was going through a dark time, which became pivotal in her creative process. You can hear this free-flowing energy – up and down– that runs through the album.
Across these 10 tracks, Simz utilises her most valuable commodity: honesty. Having stripped away the narrative cloak that shrouded the highlights of ‘Stillness In Wonderland’, she’s crafted a knockout record – and finally come true on her early promise. This is the best rap record of the year so far.