2019 has been a little slow in delivering very high quality hip-hop releases, but there have been a few projects that have gotten our ears perked up.
One of them came courtesy of London rapper Little Simz, one of the UK’s most intriguing hip-hop artists. Nearly-immaculate lyricism and impressive storytelling skills help to set her apart in a playing field that sometimes feels like it’s being bogged down by banality. (That’s a discussion for another day.)
Two years after her last album and a world tour later, Simz returned the beginning of this month with the album GREY Area, quite possibly the most impressive body of work in her discography — and that’s really saying something.
After giving this great album a few spins, I decided to pick out some of my favorite quotes and songs.
“I’m Jay-Z on a bad day, Shakespeare on my worst days.”– from “Offence”
Little Simz easily has one of, if not the most remarkable pen game in hip-hop right now. Her skill gives credence to a regional sub-genre that is often ignored during hip-hop conversations. But more importantly, Simz’s unwavering belief in herself and her abilities only adds to her intrigue. Even at her worst, her skills are still comparable to that of some of history’s greatest poets — such as Shakespeare and Jay-Z.
I remember, one of the first songs I ever heard from Little Simz was “Backseat” (I know, I was a little late to the Little Simz party), and I couldn’t help but marvel at just how extraordinary she was as an emcee. While most rappers talk the talk, Simz is one of only a few that can legitimately walk the walk.
“Take a walk in my shoes / Or any other young Black person in this age / All we ever know is pain / All we ever know is rage.”– from “Pressure”
GREY Area takes a short political detour on the first verse of “Pressure.” The last several years have featured global political tension and big moments with profound implications, especially on race — the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the U.K. “Brexit” referendum, just to name a couple. Recent years have also featured a flurry of news coverages of militarism and police brutality, which younger generations have followed firsthand thanks to the ubiquity of social media.
Here, Simz implores the listeners to “leave that privilege shit at the door” and try to empathize with the plight of young Black people, poverty-stricken communities, and other ostracized groups of people.
“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 / Pussy, you sour / Never giving credit where it’s due ’cause you don’t like pussy in power.”– from “Venom”
Simz has spent much of her career so far championing the mantra that “women can be kings,” advocating for women’s spot not only in the rap game but in society as a whole. And much like society at large, hip-hop still has a problem coming to terms with women’s place within it, often compartmentalizing women who rap into a separate “female rapper” category, as if they don’t constitute a regular “rapper.”
Little Simz is here to set the record straight: she isn’t just one of the best “female rappers,” she one of the best rappers period, and she intends on making that fact known, regardless of whether or not the rest of the world will admit it.
“Afraid of the dark, afraid of the past / Afraid of the answers to questions I never asked.”– from “Therapy”
The song “Therapy” has Simz in a dilemma: while her busy career and a failing relationship have left her in a state of deep anxiety, her efforts to find clarity through therapy are not working. Throughout the song, she reiterates her doubts about the effectiveness of therapy (“I don’t even know why I invest in the time coming to therapy / There’s nothin’ you can tell me that will help me.“)
But there’s more to her therapy’s ineffectiveness than just Simz’s doubts about the concept of therapy (that is, the ability of a person, who has their own problems to deal with, to help another person through their problems). As she indicates, it doesn’t seem like Simz actually even wants to find clarity; Simz’s fear of her “past” and “the answers to questions [she’s] never asked” has made her unwilling to accept the help she sought in the first place.
“It’s hard to talk about something that I don’t believe in / L-O-V-E, can you tell me what’s the meaning?”– from “Sherbet Sunshine”
“Sherbet Sunshine” is probably the most vulnerable moment on the entire record. Little Simz opens up about a painful break-up due to an unfaithful partner in an attempt to find emotional healing. As the above line indicates, the devastation she feels has left her disillusioned with the entire concept of love, since she “gave [her] all” to someone who took advantage of her.
But what’s more angering to Simz is her own willingness to let her guard down (“I ain’t even mad at you, Chuck, I’m just mad at me.“), knowing that she was taught better. As someone who, only a few songs earlier, appeared so bombastic and intimidating, Simz’s willingness to open her heart up to another person shows that she still has “a sensitive soul.”