By Cammy Thomas
Some may have noticed or not, that I’ve entered into a self-imposed writing semi-retirement, in part due to feeling uninspired. and in part due to life changing events, I’m currently navigating, but who am I to stop my fingers from finding freedom when they feel the need to type about an artist who has released an album akin to witnessing a historical event, so profound the album has the possibility to change with its clarity and authentic, interchangeable aural mood board.
A Real Top Girl
North London wordsmith Simbi, as she’s affectionately known to the bright lights and main players of the black British music, TV (she flexed her acting muscle in ‘Top Boy’ last year), and film scene, but Simba as I like to refer to her due to her wide-eyed wonder and experimentation of sounds as she sculpted her craft, which I was lucky enough to witness fleetingly first-hand, front row, back in 2017 as she performed as support act to veteran Grime MC Kano, on his ‘Made in The Manor’ tour. Back then as I studied young Simba on stage it felt like she was eagerly sussing out sounds and losing herself in the music as the French horns blared behind her. I saw her as a protégé of music back then who was on her own unique journey of self-discovery, fast forward 5 years, she’s a powerhouse player in her own right within the British music industry, who is confidently shifting the soundscape with her unique ear for interesting fusions of genres.
Today’s landscape of female rappers, in particular those from across the pond, has felt somewhat overly saturated with BBL’s (Brazilian Butt lifts for those of you head scratching) and limited bars, and while these female rappers have their place within the entertainment industry (namely for generation tik tok) and are undeniably sexy, the identikit style over substance rappers continuously rolled off the production line, has felt lacklustre and uninspiring of late. Thankfully we can always look closer to home for art, innovation, and substance when we crave conscious rap, and this is where Little Simz excels. ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ (which is a backronym of her nickname Simbi) fills the hollow space carved out by the weight of the BBL’s, she is what the music industry has been crying out for from a female rapper with unassuming star quality, to bring wisdom, lyricism, and meaningful musings and ‘S.I.M.B.I’ delivers in abundance.
The first thing that struck me about ‘Sometimes I might be introvert’ before a note could escape my speakers, was the cover art, and it’s heavy on the art! It’s a cover I found myself staring at in appreciation of its quirkiness and got the sense it could be straight from the pages of a fable. Our Heroine Simz is crunched down, hugging her knees, almost folding in on herself in a checked yellow and purple loose fitting trouser suit. As I absorbed the cover, I grew curiouser and curiouser and decided Little Simz looked like a reluctant genie who had been summoned against her will from a place where a genie can immerse themselves in complete introversion – their lamp. With her locs styled atop her head like a plume of smoke that I imagine any genie emits after being rudely awakened and being forced to burst through the narrow funnel of their lamp, the cover perfectly illustrates Little Simz introverted disposition while tying into her penchant for fairy tales’ themes as seen on her 2016 release ‘Stillness in Wonderland’. The album opens with the MIGHTY ‘Introvert’, ironic in its title because it’s everything but introvert. Like a Battalion marching towards enemy territory, dramatic operatic announcements of the greatness that is about to ensue swirl dizzyingly. This opener is big, ballsy, and absolutely breath taking. The military drums give way to heady guitar strums and delectable strings, as pensive percussion supports Little Simz lyrics regarding spiritual wars, sinners in church and one of my favourite lyrics on the album “I study humans, that makes me an anthropologist, I’m not into politics, but I know it’s dark times, parts of the world are living in apartheid’. I would not be surprised to learn ‘Introvert’ was recorded, mixed, and mastered where all the greats record, the infamous Abbey Road Studios, and if that’s not the case, Little Simz has just put herself in the running for the next British woman to lay down vocals for the next Bond theme tune.
After the cinematic, ceremonial pomp of opener ‘Introvert’, Little Simz takes it down a few notches in celebration of all the divine feminine across cultures. ‘Woman’ is soulful, feminine, and classy affair, complete with breathy and fluttery vocals courtesy of featured artist Cleo Sol. The song unfolds like an antithesis or flipside to Jay Z’s 2001 Track ‘Girls Girls Girls’. On that track Jay Z reeled off a litany of women from different cultures boasting about what they could do for him, here Little Simz lets the listener know what these women from diverse backgrounds can do for the world. ‘Two Worlds Apart’ brings the soul from yesteryear to the album, with a Smokey Robinson sample, ‘Simz delivers her bars in a hazy, thinking out loud style as though these are thoughts, she let trickle off her tongue before floating into the rabbit hole which serves as her portal to Wonderland. Her languished delivery during the first half of the track contrasts well with her double time flow towards the track’s outro. Shouts to Simz for paying homage to musical greats through the ages on one track – Smokey Robinson, Jodeci and Kendrick Lamar.
‘I love you/I hate you’ is a deeply personal song that opens with plush pianos and serious horns before the piano becomes a punctuation mark and a stuttering, yet grooving bass takes its place as a main stay on the track. Horns swell intermittently underlining Little Simz lyrics detailing her tumultuous relationship with her dad as she ponders “Is you a sperm donor or a dad to me?”. The sweeping production cleverly obscures the pain within the subject being explored leaving the listener having to actively dig beyond surface level to truly hear and feel Simz frustration and vulnerability. ‘Simz remains in an autobiographical state of mind on the follow up track ‘Little Q Pt. 2’, where she raps about the tough love she experienced growing up on the south side of the river Thames, she expresses how hard it is to think outside the box, when your surroundings are overrun with people who are the rule and rarely the exception. Elsewhere on the track Little Simz shares she became the man of the house when her brother went to prison, and her dad wasn’t around. She courageously details a near death experience in which her “Mind told me I’m invincible, but my body reminded me I’m human”. The children singing on the chorus embody the hope we all feel as kids for better days, as Simz warns repeatedly “We eat from a tree full of forbidden fruits”.
‘Speed’ cuts through your brain like the arrow Emma Corrin aka Princess Diana from ‘The Crown’, advised Little Simz to follow on the interlude preceding the track (we’ll delve into those interludes a lil later!) ‘Speed’ is piercing, antagonistic, moody and I love it. It’s the second time on the album Simz mentions the expectation to fit neatly inside a box, which is why she smashes through each and every one of them on this track. After the wail of scratchy guitars and punk ridden anecdotes, the flurry of violins at the end of the track is an unexpected yet pleasant surprise. Since ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ dropped on 03/09/2021, Little Simz has received well deserved ‘Standing Ovations’ from a proud UK audience who were privy to her capabilities, and Americans who are now just discovering her art and losing their minds, many of whom proclaiming her their favourite female rapper of all time. ‘Standing Ovation’ makes the hairs on your arms stand up, loud and proud horns blare unapologetically and a soul chorus who sound like they’ve been beamed in from the halcyon Diana Ross days, adding class and nostalgia to the track. ‘Simz effortlessly uplifts and empowers by reminding us “I’ve got royalty in my blood I was born great, don’t allow anyone to undermine your fate”.
The arrow which Little Simz was urged to follow in the earlier interlude seems to have led her to cupid’s stash, as she borrows his bow and arrows and bares her romantic heart on ‘I See You’, which offers a glimpse into Simz softer side and her take on love as she shares – “Communication isn’t always verbal, but energy transferred is universal”, the track is a beautiful expression of Simz vulnerability when in love. After the most flamboyantly tiled interlude, I’ve ever heard – ‘The rapper that came to tea’, we transition to a hedonistic EDM meets trap banger; ‘Rollin Stone’. This track does for Simz what ‘Numbers’ did for Skepta, it bridges the gap between her home in the UK and her international audience, by embracing a euro trash vibe. This is the track you can play at any club in Europe and beyond, and it will go off in the rave. I’ve got a soft spot for cow bells on production, and I’ve been championing their comeback in modern music (if you’ve read my ‘Konnichiwa’ Skepta review this will all make sense), so I was gassed to hear this track littered with cow bells everywhere – Bring back those bells! ‘Protect My Energy’ is a masterclass in 70’s and 80’s disco and psychedelic funk. The track plays more like a soundscape tapestry, as its spacey synths hark back to Cameo’s signature sound of the 80’s, the track showcases the versatility of the album and is an entire mood.
Just when I thought the album could not get any better, I discovered a masterpiece within a masterpiece with the culturally rich; ‘Point and Kill’. So EPIC is this song it left me with chills and a dropped jaw, as I marvelled at this proud display of ethnicity, heritage, and tradition. The track is a celebration of Little Simz Nigerian roots, with a driving groove underpinning rhythmic tapping of maracas or similar wood instruments. Featured British-Nigerian artist Obongjayar kills it with his pointed hook delivered in a thick Nigerian accent – “I do what I want, I do what I like, I don’t watch face, I don’t fear nobody; nobody”. I couldn’t help but feel joyous for Little Simz when I heard the first words from her lyrically deft lips in a Nigerian cadence as she raps – “Family no go suffer oohhh inna my lifetime”, when listening to the song alongside the vivid and unapologetically black video filmed in Nigeria, directed by Ebeneza Blanche, the result is mesmerising and truly breath-taking. If you are reading this and you haven’t watched the video, what are you doing! Stop reading and watch it right NOW! – The video is a cinematic treat, with flawless cinematography showcasing Nigeria in all its resplendent glory, with a stunningly powerful closing scene which pays homage to the infamous scene from 2013 film ‘Cristo Rey’, but back to the music. I have not heard a seamless transition between tracks like the one ‘Point and kill’ demonstrates as it Segues into ‘Fear No Man’, since the transitions Timbaland created for Missy nearly 20 years ago. ‘Fear No Man’ is a direct sequel to preceding track ‘Point and Kill’, and Little Simz confirms this when she utters the hook from the previous song in ‘Fear No Man’ “I get what I want, when I want it”. ‘Fear No Man’ drops the driving steady bass of its predecessor but keeps the afro beat drums which are now whipped up in a frenzy of celebration, further elevating this album to dizzying heights you never thought possible, this is spiritual music that speaks to the soul and encourages it to soar to higher planes. I’m sure afrobeat’s pioneer Fela Kuti is proud of his influence. It was also great to hear Simz having fun on the track as she adds upper inflections to the end of her bars as she celebrates the infectious joy of the songs feel good energy.
‘How Did you get here’ is a quiet track with soothing hums from a gospel choir who project on the chorus. The understated instrumental allows Little Simz the room to explore the path she’s walked to become the self-assured artist she envisioned blossoming into when she was younger. Simz recognises the upheaval of her journey and respects the struggle, as she knows she’ll reap rewards due to her unwavering perseverance – “Sisters are getting on to me but trust me this music thing is my prophecy”. It’s important Simz chose to touch upon an age-old adage we’ve all had to learn in our own way at some point in our lives – “Nothing comes easy, and you work twice as hard cos you black, used to think mum was exaggerating, till the world showed me it’s a fact”. Closing track ‘Miss Understood’ is a stark reminder that we can blossom and flourish into the best version of ourselves, but we cannot change or control people’s reactions to us or treatment of us. The track dissects two flawed relationships, one being a former friend or lover to Simz, who appears to be simultaneously fixated on and resentful of her success. The second flawed relationship is a familial one, as Little Simz deep dives into her broken bond with her big sister – “Can’t believe the space I’m in with my elder sister, I left the global empire and now she thinks I dissed her” The closing track reminds us we live in an imperfect world where people are at differing stages in their journey of growth, and therein lies the grey area*
The Princess Who Came to Vibe
I said we were going to dive into the orchestral musical theatre interludes later, and I think they deserve their own section, owing to the fact these interludes throughout ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ are spectacular in their own right. It’s also unheard of for a rapper to incorporate a fantastical, exquisitely produced musical within the body of their work as a way to support and propel the album’s theme and concept, but that is exactly what Little Simz does; successfully. Emma Corrin who played Princess Diana in ITV’s ‘The Crown’, lends her voice to the narration on several of the interludes. The interludes seem to be straight from the realm of the world Little Simz created on her 2016 release ‘Stillness in Wonderland’, as Emma plays ‘Simz fairy godmother or possibly a manifestation of her subconscious, which reminds her on ‘Gems (Interlude)’ to “Inhale, exhale, breathe, take your time, you are human. Do you want 15 minutes or 15 years?”, the question posed makes us all think, we realise if we rush and try to be all things to everyone, we won’t attain longevity and will only be left with our so called ’15 minutes of fame’ (or success) in areas of our life which need time to come into fruition.
My favourite interlude on the album, ‘The Rapper That came To Tea’ is sprawling, grandiose and luxurious, with its classical instrumentation, as the fairy godmother character poses a series of questions to Little Simz including “Do you have the willingness to make sacrifices?” and “What’s the price that’s worth your freedom?” As Little Simz and we as the audience ponder these existential questions, words of wisdom rise above the swelling crescendo of the opera, “The bravest of hearts can sometimes be the loneliest of souls, and pride comes with pain, so to be proud is a losing game”. ‘Never Make Promises (Interlude)’ is the only interlude on the album without spoken word dialogue, and features a choir of opera singers who sing in a multi layered, staggered style at differing octaves, with a distinct soprano voice leading them as she warns, “Never make promises, nothing ain’t promised at all, oh when we fight, we fold”.
The final otherworldly interlude before ‘Simz fairy godmother returns to the realm from which she came, is titled ‘The Garden’. It’s a perfect prelude to the final song on the album ‘Miss Understood’ (or ‘Misunderstood’ depending on the people you choose to surround yourself with.) Again, the production on the instrumental is majestic and expansive, as the harp sweeps you away as though you were flying through the air on your very own Falkor from the Never-ending story! Simz fairy godmother gives her advice on first love and not fitting in, which are subjects Little Simz delves into fully on the album’s final track. The fairy god mother entity poignantly shares, “Masking your emotions is a weakness, it’s a kindness to let people in” as she gently coaxes Simz to get out of her head. She sympathises with Little Simz concerns of feeling out of place and gives her the confidence to accept she is where she is meant to be, “Feelings of being misunderstood are hard to fathom, but you were never brought here to fit in”. By the time the final words are spoken on the last of these extravagant interludes, it feels like Little Simz fairy god mother has taken us all under her wand as she spellbindingly proclaims, “…Water your seeds, give your garden the love it needs”, although this is stated in a metaphorical sense, we can all apply this sentiment to our own lives whether it be nurturing our crafts, ambitions, goals, families, or it could be as simple as nurturing ourselves and remembering you are worth practicing self-care and selflove. Once we do this, we’ll see the fruits of our labour grow from the seeds we planted and reap the harvest of our inner nourishment.
Little Simz has sculpted an album for the ages. She’s traversed the landscape of a plethora of music genres (Soul, Jazz, Afrobeat, Disco, Hip Hop, Classical, Dance and a pinch of Punk), and she’s done it cohesively with artistic flair, whilst exploring her growing acceptance of her introverted nature. The urgency of 2019’s ‘GREY Area’ saw Little Simz wrestle with this facet of her character, and even though she stumbles in places on ‘S.I.M.B.I’ to embrace this defining feature of her persona, for the most part she has embraced her introversion, and by her own admission now sees it as her superpower. In terms of authenticity, originality, and creativity, I would say this album for me is on a par with the ‘Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’, but this won’t be realised by many until the album ages, like fine wine and matures into itself. From the arrangements, the compositions, placements, features, lyricism, interludes, and visuals, ‘Sometimes I might Be Introvert’ is Grammy worthy for its abstract art alone, and I hope to see it nominated along with a Mercury music prize and a BRIT award. It has been an honour to watch Little Simz grow into her artistry and go from student to game changer, to say she created a masterpiece is to suggest she gave us pieces of mastery, no, this album is MasterFUL because it’s packed FULL of Avant Garde show stoppers, expert lyricism, an abundance of talent, and SO much soul. Step up Simbi, can you smell the flowers? That’s people picking them from their own gardens and handing them all to you. Standing ovation; indeed!
I’m elated to term, ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ my – Album of year! (Right then! Who’s ready to go and see the musical of Little Simz’ life at the West End and Broadway!)
*GREY Area – Little Simz third studio album released 2019
Photo Credits: Cover art – Age 101&AWAL Recordings, Far Out Magazine, Nwaka Okparaeke (NME), Tilla Arcé (Stereogum), Little Simz Instagram
*LISTEN* to ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ Below:
*WATCH* the *VIDEO* for the culturally rich and powerful ‘Point and Kill’: