Every week, we tell you about an album you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Little Simz's GREY Area.
With an expansive oeuvre spanning her adolescent years, Simbi Ajikawo (known as Little Simz) has carved a peculiar niche deep into hip-hop by doubling down on an endlessly inventive creativity, backed by a fierce commitment to independence. She’s run the festival gauntlet — and curated two of her own — and done several years of extensive touring, her largest look coming from an opening slot for the Gorillaz after appearing on “Garage Palace” from the deluxe edition of Humanz. Like many woman-identified MCs of her caliber, she’s risen to prominence in her London home and the U.K. at-large while somehow floating underneath the mainstream conversation, despite a quality output at a frenzied pace. For all her travels and pursuits, she’s remained firmly in control of her narrative, but the game — and the work — remain the same: fighting. (For more on how Simz navigates the gender divide in her lane, peep our 2017 interview.
It’s a tired narrative, and Little Simz is palpably tired of it. Two years after her Stillness in Wonderland album — a concept record dealing in dreams and vision quests and white rabbits — Simz’s GREY Area arrives not as a swift 180 from her previous works, but a full-bodied realization of all the weapons she possesses with the focused direction to elevate it. There’s a new snarl on her tongue, a different weight on her heart now that Wonderland’s closed; clearly, her travels through life have found a new home in these words, exposed to the world. With her longtime-friend Inflo behind the boards, the music crashes into orbit with a rugged instrumentality that swerves the industry standards while bringing a dazzling new light to Simz’s ever-electric presence. Inflo intuitively swells the tension and eases into wavier territory on a turn, falling precisely in line with how Simz builds her sonic universes. The opening two-piece of “Offence” into “Boss” posits Simz as the veteran she is, swaggering across the drums as she litters her accomplishments and perseverance like the obvious. It’s like she’s borderline ready to spit on her enemies, setting the tone for a piece that reflexively guides through the cocky and the confessional.
Simz has always walked that vulnerable line with the best of her contemporaries, but the revelations on GREY Area hit different by scaling the imagination back in favor of facing the gut-wrenching realities head on. Sheer execution aside, Simz’s flexibility through her moods continues to separate her from the pack. Right when her lyrical displays begin to tread onto the familiar, she rewards us as we witness her walking off the cliff of her own insecurities to sort her mess across a song, no concern for whether the answer comes. She remains one of the most reliable narrators in the game: we age with her, grow with her, stumble through pain and heartbreak. She’s inspired and exhausted: by the trials of a Black woman, by losing her friends to violence, by an ex who impregnated another woman, by the industry allure always lingering to gnaw at her creative freedom while refusing to validate her efforts. She commands the OG status well from her 25 years, thinking fondly of running through the ends as a teen, trying to wrangle her dreams into reality. If GREY Area offers a taste of the Simz reality as she walks right now, surely she reaffirms the endearing quality of spinning her story and leaving right as we pine for another chapter.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a Vinyl Me, Please staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.