With a successful vaccine roll-out in recent months, the pandemic loosening its grip sufficiently that many parts of the world are now free enough to book tours for artists, and many of the bigger names who had kept their releases on ice are now releasing their work. In the rap arena, while Drake and Kanye go head to head, one of the best releases of the year is quietly making its waves in remoter corners of the internet. You might have to seek it out with so much noise, but in the right circles, you’ll find a significant impact crater behind Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, the newest release from UK rapper Little Simz, whose last project Grey Area generated similar buzz back in 2019.
“Speed” is the track most reminiscent of the sound and style of Grey Area, with the same fuzzy, low -fi underground drums and strings you’ll find on a track like “Boss”, over which Simz flexes her bravado in similarly captivating fashion, but for the most part, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a dramatic and rewarding eureka moment for Simz’s catalogue.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (a backronym of Simz’s real name Simbiatu) is a more substantive album than the critical darling Grey Area. Running at almost twice the length with nineteen tracks, including five interludes, SIMBI is a cinematic and theatrical experience ruminating on the contradictions of the self as experiences by the twenty seven year old Brit. Simz details the struggles of negotiating who she is and the expectations placed upon her as an artist. It’s a common theme for many a rap album, but like them all SIMBI distinguishes itself by nature of the personality and priorities of the person at its centre.
Kicking off in grandiose cinematic style, the lead single “Introvert”, a politically engaged and urgent power anthem, sets out Simz’s agenda for the album. In the midst of a struggle to overcome oppression and poverty stemming from political corruption, Simz emphasises the need to maintain a perspective on the self, staying keyed in while staying true to one’s own temperament and true feelings. Simz’s unapologetic and dynamic confidence is more than matched by the music.
Producer Inflo (who has a production credit on every song throughout SIMBI), layers marching military drums, operatic choirs, awed horns, sentimental strings and simmering harmonies. Between Inflo’s beat and Simz’s propulsive verses, “Introvert” makes a combined overture and thesis statement for the album to come.
The other singles released for the album were all well chosen highlights, not only for their attention grabbing virtuosity, but for their variety, both sonically and thematically, exploring the four corners of the album and mapping out Simz’s creative vision.
“Woman” is a cooing and glamorous cut featuring stunningly husky chorus vocals from Cleo Sol that celebrates the diversity and beauty of womanhood. “I Love You, I Hate You” is a vivid dissection of Simz’s torn and confused feelings about her relationship to her father, while “Rollin Stone” is an aggressive grime track with a mean switch to a cold trap beat with Simz on ruthless form. My favourite single from the album though is “Point and Kill” featuring a slick, virtuous hook from Obongjayar, where Simbiatu digs into her Yoruba roots to deliver a funky Nigerian afrobeat with a flawless bass line and perky horns.
As diverse as these tracks are, so accomplished is the production that they never step out of place, and come together seamlessly on the album. They’re each nestled in among similar tracks with the transitions between different stretches of the album smoothed over as Simz sounds looser and freer as the album progresses and the music keeps up.
Nor are the best tracks here restricted to the singles, with each single coming with an equally exciting sister track. “Fear No Man” matches the African swing of “Point and Kill” with its celebratory steel drumming. The personal introspections of “I Love You I Hate You” continue onto “Little Q, Pt. 2” where Simz delves into her childhood experiences, upbringing and environment and how they left their mark on her, even extending sympathy towards the boy who almost left her dead, emphasising that it’s the white collar criminal system she holds most accountable.
“Standing Ovation” returns to the grand, cinematic tone of “Introvert” and the balance between the personally and the politically urgent, with a captivating final verse detailing Simz’s long term thinking and vision of a utopian future. Meanwhile, “I See You” is as positive and affirming as “Woman”, a gentle and seductive address to Simz’s partner that has the intimacy of long held eye contact. And “Rollin Stone” comes paired with the slick, upbeat electro-funk of “Protect My Energy”, the track which most directly addresses the introversion for which the album is titled, and Simz’s comfort with and love of her personal time.
These different tones and themes are all held together by a curious album narrative, told through those five interlude tracks, featuring an RP acting performance from Emma Corrin. The character she plays seems to be a kind of self-help worker who represents the expectations placed upon Simz, placing the burden of keeping herself happy upon her while making it clear no one’s going to bend for her, with the album being her response to this challenge. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert seems to have a similar take on self help culture as Lorde’s Solar Power, wryly taking it to task while acknowledging that it can be effective and reassuring under the right circumstances. As with that album, these parts aren’t its strongest moments, but they do provide some continuity and the production underneath these interludes is still magnificent.
Grey Area may have finally gained Little Simz’s artistic vision the attention it deserves, placing expectations upon her and producer Inflo, and it deserved to, it’s a fantastic record. However, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is the pair taking their time to compose the follow-up they needed, with Simz capitalising on the eyes on her with the kind of ambitious and comprehensive personal statement all rappers aspire to release.
There have been many impressive rap records released this year—Slowthai’s Tyron and Brockhampton’s Roadrunner, Backxwash’s I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses, Tyler the Creator’s Call Me If You Get Lost, Kanye West’s Donda and Nas’s King’s Disease II to name but a few—but none have come quite so prepackaged with their “Rap Album of the Year” certifications as this.