Somewhere around the middle of watching Little Simz‘s video for “Introvert” in April, I got a feeling of hype, desire, and, oddly enough, fear. The music was massive, the visuals were stirring, the lyrics cutting, and the combination of them brought tears to my eyes. ‘Oh no,’ I thought to myself. ‘This album’s going to ruin my shit, huh?‘
Simz has been rapping and singing for the whole of last decade to wonderfully deft effect over time. I came on admittedly late, checking out GREY Area in 2019 and immediately falling in love with her as a wordsmith. I loved how approachable she was with a clear cadence and matter-of-fact rapping – you never had to wade through lines of cryptic messaging to know what’s on her mind, nor were you depraved of quotable gems as a result of that. Her ear for beats and production was also unreal. Simz’s back catalog, particularly the albums Stillness in Wonderland and A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons, is also uncharacteristically brolic and salient for an artist putting out their first couple major works, or at least uncommon.
This album is something special though. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert – abbreviated to SIMBI, a nickname for Little Simz whose real name is Simbiatu Ajikawo – is her fourth album, released at the still very young age of 27, and could very well be the best and most important work she releases. Not to say she risks peaking early here – if nothing else, she’s shown how seriously she takes artistic growth, even in the short timespan of two years between albums – but she’s so obviously poured so much of herself into this and I fail to immediately come up with where things could be taken from her. I’m looking forward to seeing how it happens though.
It’s here that Little Simz really dives into Simbi as a person, making her flaws, pain, and dreams all known for us to latch onto and find a common thread with. Simz is like us, yet she is her own person – both sides laid bare in each song as she grows into a sterling woman and what that means to her. I thought maybe with “Introvert” we were getting a one-off – a single track that was rife with orchestral arrangements and larger-than-life scope, but nope! That was simply the telegraphing of the album’s majority sound. You can feel that regal enormity on a lot of tracks. Even the interludes are backed by angelic choral singing, delectable strings, boisterous horns, militaristic drums, and more, making Sometimes I Might Be Introvert a journey first with Simz being guided by herself and the sage-like, therapeutic voice of Emma Corrin (The Crown) in exposition-feeding interludes.
Honestly, SIMBI comes off less like an album and more like an opera or theatre production at times. There’s a bit of an arc where about the first half sees Simz reflect more on her history and life in various ways, and the latter shows how and what that molded her into., and what challenges are positioned in her path now. There’s no ‘ending’ per se which is fair enough – Simbi is perpetual with so much life left in her – and, in no certain terms, houses a loose end to hopefully be continued by whatever she does next, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
Let’s appreciate Sometimes I Might Be Introvert for what it is: likely the biggest, most impressive hip-hop album of 2021, and maybe even beyond. There’s a poshness to it, though not arrogantly so. Though Little Simz is exceedingly confident, there’s no illusion as to who, or what, she is. Take “Woman” for example. It’s an extension of love and appreciation to all women the world over, a celebration of beauty, resilience, and the diversity between them all. It’s a representation of sisterhood, an uplifting number with lush live instrumentation, all summed up with one particularly poignant line from Simz at the end: ‘woman to woman, I just wanna see you glow‘.
Of course, things get more granular than that. “I Love You, I Hate You” is a cutting reflection on Simz’s life without her father in her life. It’s wholesomely empathetic at times without letting him off the hook for the pain he caused her and her family by being absent. Simz lyrically plays with the prominent vocal hook sample from which the song’s title comes from to show the dichotomy of her relationship with her father, still choosing to love him for the life he gave her, but hating (though that ultimately feels like too strong of a word to accurately reflect the emotions conveyed in the song itself) him for doing what he did, or rather, what he didn’t do. It’s hard to not feel a pang in your heart when you hear her rap ‘never thought my parent would give me my first heartbreak‘ especially when you yourself have very complicated relationships with your parents. The third verse especially brings it all together in a powerful way:
‘Is you missing the point, are you just hearing me vent?
Or is you in understanding knowing my words will connect?
I keep you in my prayers cos life is short as we know
Every mistake you make should contribute to your growth
What you choose to avoid will probably come in your dreams
I’m not forgiving for you, man, I’m forgiving for me‘
One of the many magical parts of Little Simz and her work is just how collected she comes off. Although I appreciate when artists use cadence, inflection, and delivery to give you a rawer interpretation of the emotions at play in their music, Simz just focuses on clarity and message above all. The words themselves are plain as day, conveying the complex thought that goes into issues like the ones throughout Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.
Some of my favorite moments on this album are the ones I didn’t expect. “Rollin Stone” in particular is more of a hard-bodied track with some grime influence… at first. The production is warbling and bassy as Simz spits line after line peppered with braggadocio. Then – then – the beat makes a massive switch to a minimalist, classically percussive, ’80s hip-hop mode for Simz to lighten her voice into a melodic, half-sung/half-rapped voice that reminds me ever so slightly of M.I.A.‘s deep cuts. “Fear No Man” though? Wooooo, this song is a joint! Using traditional percussion, hand drums, and vocal melodies likely rooted in Nigeria (possibly Yoruba? I cannot commit as I am admittedly ignorant to the nuances of African folk music) just as Simz is. It feels communal, spirited, and rich, like I’m hearing a reflection of Simz’s artistic ancestry. The groove of it also feels endlessly danceable which also speaks to its feeling of community and togetherness as the song itself speaks of overcoming and outdoing evil.
There’s just… so much to cover here. I can’t cover it all, even if it seems like I have. Out of 19 songs, each one feels quite unique sitting next to the others. Far from disjointed, it’s impressive how much Little Simz and her producer Inflo have really let themselves feel their influences and go wild with them. One moment, there’s a literal score in the background of a track that could back a Hollywood production, the next is a rhythm-focused thumper with synth lines and snappy drums – both make sense, both capture the vast and brilliant mind Simz has allowed herself to share with us. Even as she contends with what her legacy will mean and if it even matters (“Standing Ovation”), or how she’s even allowed to exist in a public space that fame forces on you when she values her privacy (“Protect My Energy”), Simz – Simbi – feels more at home than ever with Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, understanding that she still has a lot more growth to do, as we all do. As she’s told by her enigmatic and ill-defined guardian of sorts on “Gems”: ‘But understand, you’re human. Be proud. Your light will shine in the darkest hour. Pressure makes diamonds. Do not fold. They won’t silence you, but they’ll try to. So follow your heart, it’ll guide you.‘
We’re far beyond the point of Little Simz being ‘only’ a rapper or ‘only’ an artist. Much like a child, you give your namesake to the things in your life that contain the most of you, so it’s only appropriate that she named this album SIMBI. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a magnum opus of a project, a multimedia catalyst that touches hearts and souls, and could spark new beginnings for Simz and contemporary music alike. There’s a beautiful irony in musing on aloneness in a way that brings people together, but that’s exactly what this is, among many other things. This album is immense, purposeful, and essential – the product of someone far beyond their years and, frankly, far beyond their peers. Simz would agree with that, Simbi might not – both are valid, both are her.