Little Simz is an underground hip-hop artist from Islington, London. She dropped a multitude of mixtapes and EP’s between 2010 and 2015, but released her studio debut with 2015’s A Curious Tale of Trials +Persons. She quickly became an underground sensation and received massive acclaim from many in the industry. Kendrick Lamar called her “one of the illest doing this right now,” and she was invited as a supporting act on tours by Gorillaz and the legend herself, Ms. Lauren Hill. Her follow up the very next year, Stillness in Wonderland, was based on the classic novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and featured a plethora of creative instrumentals and commanding flows. Now, three years later, Little Simz has dropped her third LP and one of the most anticipated releases of 2019, GREY Area.
While much of this record’s positives are very much expected, there are a few areas where Simz has stepped up her game quite a bit. One such area is instrumentation. “Sherbert Sunset,” or “Venom,” feature not only fantastic drums, but a creatively large pallet. From woodwinds and brass to very well utilized violins and synths, this album never fails to find unique ways to bring in new melodies and ideas.
This is all made even more effective by truly excellent and dynamic production. On a cut like “Selfish,” we’re given an organic, west-coast sound with well placed vocals and synths and a quite a bit of subtlety. A track like the opener, “Offense,” on the other hand, experiments with distortion and more electronic elements, crafting an aggressive and commanding opener. Virtually every track is helmed solely by producer Inflo, and having the one singular vision driving the full album pays off in spades.
There are even a few excellent features here. Chronixx drops a few smooth, reggae-inspired choruses on “Wounds,” which is already one of the most interesting tracks on the album, and Cleo Sol sounds great on “Selfish.” Easily the best feature comes from Michael Kiwanuka, who’s vocal on the closer, “Flowers,” is a highlight, even in comparison to Simz powerful lead.
This brings us to the obvious and expected driving force that makes this project as impressive as it is, that being Little Simz herself. Lyrically, this is Simz’ best work thus far in her career. On a track like “101 FM,” she tells stories with a directness and creativity that is usually reserved for much older and more experienced MC’s. Even more impressive, however, are songs like “Wounds,” or “Pressure,” where Simz speaks boldly on social and economic issues with a fearless style. Lyrically she truly does live of to Kendrick’s praise.
Best of all, however, is the bombastic, commanding flow that is littered across every single track. The attitude on a cut like “Therapy,” or the album’s best song, “Boss,” bleeds through every word. There are strong influences from golden age rappers like Ms. Lauren Hill and Tupac, but cut with strong doses of grime and other British underground styles. Her accent is always used as a strength, often even allowing her to reach for rhymes which would be off limits to an American rapper. Over the fairly short, 35-minute runtime, Simz gives one of the most impressive showings I’ve heard in several years, and she is undoubtedly among the best lyricists in hip-hop today.
GREY Area certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s impressively close. There are a few issues in terms of pacing, with a few of the final tracks beginning to feel played out if the album is heard in it’s entirety, but the dynamic work from both Simz herself and the production team helps to mitigate the few shortcomings in terms of song structure.
Ultimately, GREY Area is a triumph for British hip-hop, a new high for Little Simz herself, and above all, a fantastically fun and impressive album from an exciting young talent.
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