In which I welcome some good energy
No sooner had I mentioned looking forward to hearing this album in full than it dropped; all at once I was supplied with a soundtrack for my walk home from a friend’s place last Friday. I almost didn’t notice that I had consumed the majority of it by the time I reached my destination, it constituted such a fluid, absorbing, complete vibe. It was something I could disappear into, and have done again in the days since.
Across nineteen tracks, several of which are interludes, spanning just over an hour, Little Simz’s fourth LP tells the story of a journey—one within the self, not necessarily visible, but absolutely a progress from a point A to a healthier, happier point B. In what I understand to be a hitherto-established trademark taken to the next level, the artist takes material from her most humbling and human experiences, addressing everything from female alliances (“Woman”) to a fractured relationship with her father (“I Love You, I Hate You”) to newfound, hard-won romance (“I See You”) to personal tribulation and triumph (“Two Worlds Apart,” “Protect My Energy,” “How Did You Get Here”). As on any good concept album, the through-lines are strong; and while concept albums have long been a staple of hip-hop, this is one of the most successful I’ve encountered in recent memory.
The lyrical prowess is obvious and commendable. For my part, I’m almost equally taken with the production—it’s beautiful, many tracks bleeding directly into one another without so much as a beat missed. The opener, embodying the whole with the title “Introvert,” subverts common expectation of introverts, heralded by an outfit of horns, drums, and choir that sounds to some ears like something out of a classic-Hollywood ensemble film. (The horn arrangement across the album is one of my favorite touches.) I like to think Simz is suggesting, sonically, the chaos, aggression, and grandiosity that can be happening beneath the seemingly still surface of an introverted personality. I feel represented by it, too. And given the record’s lockdown genesis, she is probably speaking to the introversion people around the world have been forced to learn since March 2020.
Simz herself is the central force of her text, as well as the central site of conflict within it. She refers to herself by her rapper moniker a few times, but not nearly as often as she uses her given name, Simbi—short for Simbiatu Ajikawo. She draws influence from her Yoruba heritage on “Fear No Man,” collaborates with Nigerian artist Obongjayar on “Point and Kill,” and embraces concepts of Pan-Africanism on “Woman”; she also stresses the stamp which her humble beginnings in Islington have left on her (“London-born estate girl to international sensation,” she says on “Two Worlds Apart”). She is clearly intent on creating an artistic vision that reflects her authentic self: she doesn’t seem especially interested in inhabiting personas. I myself grew quite partial to the borough of Islington during my time in London, and now I have one more reason to revere it.
But then I can’t say for certain what her attitude is toward personas, because this album has been my entrée to her work. One thing for sure, I will be diving into the back catalogue. I want to know, and follow, what she’s about.
(For those who are interested, the interludes feature voiceovers by Emma Corrin, who had a breakout year playing Diana in the latest season of The Crown! We love rising stars helping rising stars.)
And check out the new video for “Point and Kill.” Rarely has tableau been used to such striking effect. The final frame, where the audio segues briefly into “Fear No Man” before fading out, demonstrates just how well integrated the sequencing is.
Image: Age 101 Music/AWAL