“I said it with my chest and I don’t care who I offend,” Little Simz raps on “Offence,” the opening track off of her new album Grey Area, which was released on March 1.
Little Simz has been earned considerable buzz in the UK Hip Hop scene after previously releasing two studio albums, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons (2015) and Stillness in Wonderland (2016), as well as being featured on tracks from major artists like Gorillaz. However, her new studio album Grey Area not only sets a new bar for UK Hip Hop, but also solidifies Little Simz as a juggernaut in all of hip hop. On Grey Area, Simz raps from a British, black and female perspective with transparency and clarity with charismatic lyricism steals the show.
“Offence” starts off the album with Little Simz making a clear statement: she’s not just good, she’s up there with the greats. Not only is she “Picasso with the pen,” she’s “Jay-z on a bad day, Shakespeare on (her) worst days.” Little Simz proves her worth to the audience over fierce and slick instrumentation, featuring punchy live drums, flutes, and glossy string sections.
Producer Inflo collaborated with Little Simz on most of the album’s production, and his producing talent is event across the entirety of Grey Area, which is instrumentally rich with pristine live orchestration, booming bass, and cutting edge synths.
“Boss” consists of a bluesy, scratchy and distorted vocal chorus, while hard-hitting verses from Little Simz establishes her prominence and significance in the UK Hip Hop scene as a female emcee, successfully and wittily informing listeners that she’s “a boss in a fucking dress.”
Simz raps about her self-perceived selfishness on “Selfish” over a smooth Neo-Soul beat with orchestration and featuring choruses by Cleo Sol. “Wounds,” which features reggae artist Chronixx, features a dub and reggae-inspired beat with smooth strings, guitar, and bass licks, with lyrical themes circling around youth gun usage and the negative consequences of the subject.
“Venom” is a musical turn for the album, as it features a brooding, dark Trip Hop instrumental reminiscent of tracks by artists like Portishead and Massive Attack. Lyrically, the song is closer to gangsta rap than any other tracks on the album, where she once again asserts her dominance as a female emcee and raps about the violent tensions between her and her enemies. Changing the musical palette again, “101 FM” is the definitive light-hearted banger of the album, featuring twinkling synths, a punching kick drum, and Little Simz rapping about her early days rapping. “We used to have dreams of getting out the flats, playing PS2, Crash Bandicoot and Mortal Kombat.”
The last few tracks on the album may not reach highs that were reached on the first half of Grey Area, but still hold up as solid tracks. “Pressure” shows Little Simz challenging the global and corporate elites as well as the filthy rich, with a feature from Little Dragon. “Therapy” displays Simz rapping about her distrust in therapy, while “Sherbet Sunset” shows Simz vulnerable and distraught over a bumpy relationship. “Flowers” closes the album with a smooth hip hop beat and introspective lyrics from Simz about existentialism and purpose in life, successfully complemented by soulful singing from Michael Kiwanuka.
Grey Area is one of the year’s highlights in Hip-Hop. Establishing Little Simz’ unique artistry in the UK Hip Hop scene through personal, authentic lyricism and shiny, layered instrumentation, the album doesn’t rely on trends and finds a sleek style that is not only cutting edge for 2019 but is timeless, instrumentally and lyrically.
Album Rating: 9/10
Review By: A.J. Frigoletto