LITTLE SIMZ – GREY AREA (AGE 101)

The first thing that struck me about GREY Area is that, although it’s been sold as a solo album by London-born rapper Little Simz, the record is so clearly a collaborative effort. Rather than working with a range of producers, Simz has chosen to have every track on the record produced by Inflo, a decision which looks like a stroke of genius. Production-wise there isn’t a weak point on the album as Inflo provides a sonic masterclass. From the first notes of the opening song ‘Offence’, GREY Area allows Simz to showcase her full range of skills as she attacks each beat and bends it to her will.

It’s also an album that Simz has been threatening for some time. It’s been clear for a while that Simz had the potential to be special. She started writing lyrics when she was nine and threw herself into her own independent label to turn her passion into a reality. Yet although her first two albums, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons (2015) and Stillness in Wonderland (2016) were both promising efforts, both suffered from an overall lack of cohesion and clarity.

That is decidedly not the case here – on GREY Area, Simz goes deeper than any of her previous work, deliberately letting her guard fall to publically take stock of her life so far. At turns defiant and mournful, Simz mixes brutal honesty and rawness with a level of verbal dexterity and complex rhyme structures most MCs simply cannot reach.

Simz delves into personal and painful areas in ‘Selfish’, ‘Wounds’, and ‘Flowers’ – each incidentally featuring guest singers who counterpoint her introspection – covering her family relationships, gun crime, and the death of her musical heroes. It’s very much to the credit of GREY Area that, although it’s clear Simz is wrestling with her life as it stands, there is never a sense that she is unsure about what she wants to say. It’s a record made by someone who doesn’t have things figured out but has the strength of character to turn that confusion into art.

Yet it’s when Simz turns her gaze outwards that GREY Area really comes alive. At its best the album is full of dark energy with menacing soundscapes on ‘Offence’, ‘Boss’, and the clear show-stopper of the record, ‘Venom’. The mid-point of the album, ‘Venom’ sees Simz goes hell for leather over skittering strings at a breath-taking pace as she fronts up to both her critics and her own inner demons, switching between thoughts of her own suicide and daring anyone to come for her.

Oh, you mad? Then come at me, you prick
Make a move, better patent it quick
I assume you’ll be comin’ for blood
That makes two of us, that makes two of us

It’s an electric track that grabs you from the first note but demands repeated listens because of Simz relentless pace and intricate rhyming.

Overall GREY Area is a highly enjoyable album and a clear step up in terms of Simz maturity as a rapper, however it still feels like there is more to come. There are still some missteps on this record, particularly around the ordering of the tracks – the shift from ‘Venom’ to the bouncy, almost arcade-style ‘101 FM’ feels jarring for example – and there are a few lines that land awkwardly which sound out of place on such an otherwise accomplished record.

GREY Area marks a shift in Simz career. We’re no longer talking about a promising young MC but one of the most skilful and gifted British rappers around. Now the question becomes can she maintain the standards she sets here or even raise her game further and produce a true masterpiece. Regardless, we can only hope she continues to collaborate with Inflo because together they’ve created an album which demands and deserves our attention.

Album Rating: Favourable (3.5 stars)

Poor: 0-2 Stars / Favourable: 2-4 Stars / Highly Recommended: 4-5 Stars

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