Little Simz is a rapper from London who, at age 25, is already an impressively acclaimed up-and-coming force in the rap world. She’s been invited to tour with Ms. Lauryn Hill, Gorillaz, Anderson .Paak, and Ab-soul. Kendrick Lamar called her, “one of the illest doing this right now.” Over four mixtapes and two albums, she has started to edge her way into the US rap scene. Her third album, GREY Area, is a refreshing and introspective project that focuses on Simz’s identity as a young woman finding her place in the world.
At 10 tracks and only 35 minutes, GREY Area is concise, but it doesn’t feel rushed or lacking. A huge part of this can be attributed to Simz’s incredible talent as a rapper. She often transfers from a laid back narrative to blindingly fast rapping before you even notice, and she can maintain her speed seemingly forever.
Simz is also highly expressive with her voice, allowing a clear sequence of emotions to flow through her verses as they progress. Her vocal talent is best showcased on the album’s seventh track, “Pressure,” which starts with a minute long unbroken verse that intensifies through the course of the song. In just a minute, Simz communicates feelings of fear, anger, sadness, and confusion, and they only intensify as the track grows. As Simz’s emotion reaches its apex, she then overcomes it to say, “I ain’t afraid.” The intense emotions that Simz conveys give a lot of her songs another dimension that contributes to the density of this album.
GREY Area is also musically refreshing. It’s unique and new, and a lot of the songs are all-encompassing experiences. At first, the production is deceivingly simple. The tracks primarily focus around simple instrumental loops, with guitar most frequently featured. Counter to hip hop trends, most of the drums sound like natural drum kits, as opposed to machines. As you continue to listen to the album, you start to notice the minor additions that make each song so unique.
Little vocal snippets and barely audible vocal layers make this album what it is. What’s most impressive is that the album carries a clear and consistent sound throughout its entirety, despite drawing clear influences from a diverse range of punk rock, jazz, soul, cinematic orchestrations, and ‘90s hip hop.
Simz addresses a wide range of topics through the album, often quite directly. In “Wounds,” she makes an interesting point about the influence of rap on youth, saying, “These kids never been bad / Sixteen, run around with a big strap / … You idolize the rappers that I brung on tour / but their lifestyle, never lived that, never did that.”
Simz uses the next track to address biases in the rap world, saying, “They would never wanna admit I’m the best here / from the mere fact that I’ve got ovaries / it’s a woman’s world, so to speak / p*ssy, you sour / never givin’ credit where it’s due ‘cause you don’t like p*ssy in power.” Simz’s straightforward lyrics can hold a lot of power, but at a certain point, they can become a bit tedious. The weakest point of this album is that Simz never beats around the bush. She means exactly what she says. There are virtually no poeticisms, double entendres, or metaphors. Without clever stylistic phrases, at times, Simz’s direct addresses start to feel preachy and boring.
In many ways, GREY Area is the most exciting kind of album. It’s incredibly high-quality, but it also showcases Simz’s potential to improve. With tight, simple production, the songs easily grow on you. GREY Area reveals why Simz is gaining popularity, and also shows how she will continue to grow musically in the future.