On her third full-length album release Grey AREA, it’s clear that Little Simz – Simbi Ajikawo – has been having a good hard think about some things. Then again, you could say the same about her debut A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons, or indeed its follow up Stillness In Wonderland. In fact, Simz’ most distinctive characteristic is perhaps her ability to look inwards with a sharp eye and then abstract outwards into the world.
But where Trials + Persons was a narrow beam of focused energy and Stillness was an innovative if overwhelming approach to a wide-angled concept metaphor, Grey AREA is striking in its straightforwardness.
Here Simz strikes a balance between microcosmic examination and macrocosmic abstractions. The narratives she leans on are clearly very specific to her – the pain of being away from loved ones while on tour, the loaded dice woman in the music industry are forced to roll (‘Boss’, ‘Venom’). But in opening up about her frustrations and motivations and challenges via such clearly personal accounts, the record becomes all the more accessible by virtue of its vulnerability and honesty.
Simz doesn’t hide the lessons she’s learnt and wants to pass on behind vague analogies or convoluted retellings. She’s upfront about the reasons she sees the world the way she does, and she’s unapologetic about how she’s got there. For that, it’s all the easier to connect with her music.
This authenticity is magnified tenfold by the work of Inflo, the sole producer and Simz’ childhood friend. In the same way Simz’ lyricism and subject matter have been stripped of extra baggage and external influences, the music here captures the core of her message and nothing more. It steps away from grime conventions with guitar distortion and squark-box chorus vocals but only as much as the aesthetic requires. It never tries to be different for the sake of making a point.
Which is, arguably, the same characteristic that led Kendrick Lamar to admit Simz ‘might be the illest doing it’.
She isn’t different from her peers as a marketing strategy, nor simply as an experimentalist. She genuinely is different from most anyone playing the same game.
And on Grey AREA that is allowed to become the guiding principle for the stories she wants to tell, whether its about making her way in the music industry, doing what’s best for her (‘Selfish’), worrying about the knife epidemic (‘Wound’) or remembering what it was like growing up (‘101 FM’).
On Grey AREA, Little Simz finds a convergence of concept and execution, both lyrically and musically, and the result is a personal, insightful record of big, addictive tunes that makes the rapper’s demand for recognition almost impossible to ignore.