Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert review – rich, vital rap

(Age 101)
Intensely creative as she discusses race, womanhood and family – and with a cameo from Emma Corrin – Simz’s fourth album feels totally alive

Little Simz’s lack of mainstream stardom can appear baffling. The 27-year-old’s inventive rap music has been critically lauded, garlanded with prizes (she has an Ivor Novello, an NME award and a Mercury nomination) and in receipt of much press attention, but her sales figures have never matched up. While peers Stormzy, Dave, J Hus and Headie One have all topped the charts, Simz’s brilliant third record Grey Area only reached No 87. The depressing and stubborn reality is that commercially successful British female rappers remain rare.

The cover of Little Simz’s Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.
The cover of Little Simz’s Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. Photograph: PR

Yet Little Simz’s outsider status can’t solely be ascribed to her gender. As the sentiment and wonky syntax of her fourth album’s title suggests, Simz – born Simbiatu Ajikawo – prioritises self-expression over crowd-pleasing, bandwagon-jumping and sometimes even basic legibility (although the title makes more sense once you realise it spells out her nickname, Simbi). Aside from a lack of hooks, her sound isn’t particularly weird or obscure. It is, however, hyper-personal. Lyrics are introspective, phrasing is idiosyncratic, her flow is often contrarian, with its emphasis not necessarily landing where you’d expect. There is a determination to do things in her own way. Yet you still get the sense she also craves more popularity: “I think I need a standing ovation / 10 years in the game, I been patient,” she insists on this latest release.

If history repeats itself, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert will, like Grey Area, inch Simz closer to large-scale validation, but probably won’t bestow it instantly. Made as usual with producer Inflo (a childhood friend and part of the mysterious neo-soul collective Sault), it is, if anything, too voraciously creative, clever and cool to have general appeal. It is notably non-synthetic and twitchily alive, with Simz’s vocal presence so intense and distinctive it is able to withstand all manner of genre-fickleness. Opener Introvert introduces a bombastic orchestra; Two Worlds Apart adds a Smokey Robinson sample to the album’s jazzy R&B base notes; and Protect My Energy, an ode to introversion, is a euphoric slice of bleeping synth-rock. Point and Kill brings lugubrious Afrobeats, while Rollin Stone is an addictively simmering fusion of minimalist grime, scuzzy production and pitched-up vocals.

And then there is Princess Diana. Or rather Emma Corrin, who reads from Simz’s scripts in the voice she uses to play Diana in The Crown, backed by a twinkly orchestra that evokes vintage Disney at its sickliest. Alongside Simz’s trademark soul-searching, Corrin offers up some terribly posh platitudes and strangely worded affirmations to rather awkward effect: this benign fairy godmother character is not a comment on class or privilege, and she feels jarring alongside Simz’s observations about deprivation, gentrification and institutional oppression.

Thankfully, these spoken-word interludes are the album’s only bum note. Elsewhere, Simz deals with knotty issues including race, womanhood and gang violence with nuance and psychological sophistication. She talks to and about her relatives: closer Miss Understood finds her trying to unpick a soured relationship with her sister; Little Q Pts I and II concern a cousin she lost touch with who was stabbed. On I Love You, I Hate You, she speaks to her estranged father, reckoning with fury, disappointment, love, forgiveness, empathy and vulnerability in the process. He was her “first heartbreak” but he’s also a human being: “Once a boy, I often seem to forget.”

Childhood looms large throughout, appearing in the form of lyrical reminiscence, playground chants and anonymous kids offering advice (unlike Corrin, they really do sound like the angels on Simz’s shoulder when they implore her to “follow the arrow!” on Gems). These voices bring a hopefulness that feels both heart-rendingly naive and aspirationally wise, but that’s not their only job. Alongside a beautiful adult choir and the dreamy backing vocals of Cleo Sol (also a member of Sault), they attempt to temper the intensity of Simz’s roiling inner monologue, which agitatedly combs over her personal and professional triumphs and frustrations.

They don’t always succeed. Even so, the occasionally overwhelming effect of all that mental offloading seems a fair price to pay in exchange for an artist determined to cram their character into every corner of their work. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert may or may not provide a commercial boost for its maker, but this rich, fascinating album cements Little Simz’s significance regardless.

  • Alexis Petridis is away.


Rachel Aroesti

The GuardianTramp

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