When an artist maxes out their potential in a certain field, the creative impulse usually leads them to level up accordingly. This has been the case recently for UK grime and hip-hop, where artists have grown tired of the expectations placed upon them by a pigeonhole-happy music press and gone for a more soulful, emotional layer, an open wound without a 4×4 bassline behind it. London rapper Little Simz continues this tradition in a truly liberated manner on her new album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. Simz is a critical pariah, beloved of critics, fans, free zines and broadsheets, uniting the disparate masses in truly inspiring fashion. Her last album, 2019’s Grey Area, received critical acclaim and several prestigious awards, cementing her spot on the panel. With Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, Little Simz has decided to let the full cinematic scope of her vision loose, like an indie director the first time they get a huge budget to play with.
To give you some idea of the high-concept experience Little Simz is plating up, there are no less than five interludes and an intro at key junctures throughout the album, several of which are spoken word pieces. This technique masterfully weaves narrative points like some kind of plot spider, making the album a cohesive whole rather than a collection of chewy soundbites, and to be enjoyed as such. The spoken word is done by Emma Corrin, who plays Princess Diana in The Crown and appears to still be in character, pulling Diana’s spirit from that Parisian tunnel and channeling it directly into a series of cryptic skits. The overall message of the album is empowerment, personal and social, casting off that which holds us back. Surely themes that no-one could take issue with, although some definitely will.
Sault singer Cleo Sol is a frequent guest on Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, and she provides backing vocals on the first track, “Introvert.” The production is big and bombastic, a word I don’t get to use enough in reviews. The horns swell, the strings soar and Little Simz, clearly keen to get straight to the point, rails on government corruption, religious influence, human nature, mental conditioning and wealth disparity. This immediately creates a sense of urgency out the gate, so if the listener was expecting a feet-up, cup-of-tea listening experience they will be left with shattered expectations and tea on their shorts. “Realise there is a prison in us, we are conditioned as fuck/Man, it's like they can't sleep till our spirit is crushed/How much fighting must we do? We've been fearless enough/All we seen is broken homes here and poverty/Corrupt government officials, lies, and atrocities/How they talking on what's threatening the economy?/Knocking down communities to re-up on properties.”
“Woman” is an ode to all those of the female persuasion, using the dreamy soul groove to send sisterly love worldwide. It is crazy and depressing that this could be considered a controversial stance to take in 2021, but it is, which also makes it a necessary one. The album kicks up a notch on “I Love You, I Hate You”, on which Inflo, who handles all production on the project, adds a militant hip-hop beat to the mix while Little Simz explores unresolved issues with her father.
“Speed” is a throwback to the sound which slapped so effectively on Grey Area, and it is a choice cut. The sounds are vital and organic, as they are on all tracks, and the drums and bass combine to knock harder than an angry neighbour. Little Simz uses this direct approach to send a clear message to any pretenders to her throne who may have thought she’d gone soft because she put pianos on a track. The message is that Simz is queen and this message is delivered through the great oral tradition of shit-talking. “Influential as fuck, I should ink in my skin/All this ink in my pen is what led me to win/Do my ting then I dust, I don't linger for fun/You wish you could come, wanna be my plus-one.”
On “Rollin Stone,” Inflo and Jakwob forge a coolly detached yet casually banging electro grime beat for Simz, replete with a gang of vocal effects, to nonchalantly list off the things she hopes to achieve and attain, including flights to Shibuya for sushi. Presumably the return flight to London for jellied eels was implied. On this track, Simz asserts herself further as a crucial voice and a formidable adversary to anyone masochistic enough to try their dwindling luck. “I can't vouch for a man that ain't got the talent and business combo/It's all a sport, flow on archery, don't get hit with the crossbow.”
“Point and Kill” is Introvert’s only excursion into Afrobeats territory, blessed with an infectiously defiant guest vocal turn from Nigerian singer Obongjayar. Simz does her usual effortless brilliance thing, coolly assured of victory in the culture wars and metaphorical death to any imposters. “Miss Understood” closes the album with Simz at her most vulnerable and open, admitting her issues and showing the determination to leave them in a cloud of dust on the road to immortality. Over a sparse, piano-led slow-burner, she finds a way to express herself in a way both poetic and instantly accessible. “I write words for a living and still can't communicate/Honesty is in my bones, I can't do the fake.”
Whether the intent behind this album was to reach a larger audience or to hit some personal catharsis or both, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is good enough to achieve these goals and many others. This is the sound of an artist in full swing, and the arc of that swing is several years long now with no signs of losing momentum. Her flow skips over the tracks like the ball on a Disney singalong on fast forward and her lyrics are evocative, witty and insightful. The production throughout the album acts skips around different genres but remains dedicated to the feel of the project as a whole, which is that of an artist unafraid to take chances, ready to dig deep within for the vital win. I get the feeling Little Simz won’t stop until she has a number one movie and number one song at the same time, while solving a Sudoku. At this point, only a swill-brained simpleton would doubt her ability to do it.