Little Simz - GREY Area

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It is bewildering just how much Little Simz has gone under the radar in the UK rap scene. But with her excellent third LP GREY Area, Londonite Simbi Ajikawo is truly coming into her own as an MC, making it difficult to be ignored much longer. The GREY Area here is her mid 20s that she now enters. And with an already deep discography, an endless touring life, and a constant feeling of disrespect for being a woman in rap, she cuts and prods with a fiery eye and an aged introspection.

Ajikawo brings an uncompromising level of confidence. Opener “Offence” is classic hip-hop braggadocio. “I’m Jay-Z on a bad day, Shakespeare on my worst days,” she boasts. And with her narrative muscle and razor sharp flow, her bombast is absolutely justified.

While her lyrical acumen and rapping acrobatics is a major chunk of GREY Area’s charm, the singular production truly crowns it over its competitors. With her beatl selection, Simz rejects contemporary hip-hop tropes and trends. In fact, while standard sapling and programming is present, she shows an affinity for live instrumentation. Stylistically, these songs seamlessly weave stylistically from funk, jazz, and even moments of jagged post-punk. Tasteful instrumental bits give each track their distinction so that no moment feels redundant or stale. “Boss” features a distorted bass groove; humming strings and jazzy guitar licks drives the quieter “Wounds”.

“Venom” is sure to be the most talked about number. The first verse opens with blustering strings, foreshadowing undoubtedly the most sinister beat drop that will be heard on any hip-hop song of 2019. Litte Simz rapid-fire attack is nothing short of a feat to be admired. Her seething delivery penetrates each and every bar. Ajikawo punches back at her doubters: “They would never wanna admit I'm the best here from the mere fact that I've got ovaries … Never givin' credit where it's due 'cause you don't like pussy in power.” It is a monster of a tune.

The equally invigorating “101 FM” is much more contemplative in nature. She reflects on her childhood and her time rising up in the UK rap game. A reference to her Age 101 label, Simz gives endearing nods to influential figures in her life and come up. Instrumentally, the track is propelled forward by a bouncy Asian influenced beat. The song features the catchiest chorus on the album as she reminisces on her young life playing Crash Bandicoot before taking bus rides to a recording studio.

 “Flowers” is a gorgeous closer with intoxicating trumpet and a soulful chorus from Michael Kiwanuka, one of the few features. Simz expresses a fear of fame and the toll that has taken on too many young lives.  She namedrops Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jean-Michael Basquiat, and Robert Johnson, all artists infamously dying at age 27, all two years older than she is. It is nothing short of sobering.

GREY Area is a densely soul searching, viciously confident hip-hop record from an artist truly finding her distinct and unavoidable voice in the scene. Simz radiates with charisma, never losing her bite for a moment.

 Grade: A

Matt Marciniec