Little Simz Goes Grand on “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert”
Reading Time: 3 minutes
UK rapper Little Simz has had a curious come-up. The confident, sibilant delivery and spacious productions of her 2015 and 2016 efforts were bold but jumbled and underdeveloped. Her writing was amateur and lacked subtlety. Simz’s big break wouldn’t come until 2019 with “GREY Area,” a smashing success among critics and fans alike. In “GREY Area,” she opted to change her approach, featuring sparser production, tighter flows, more overt feminist bars, and newfound self-assuredness. However, something was still off. The percussion felt stiff and underweight. The synths were weedy whispers. The vocal processing was unnecessarily fuzzy, obscuring Simz’s explosive delivery. And, the writing was still too direct to amount to much, with little diving below surface level. Even if Simz was showing off her talents, discovering herself, and navigating through a personal grey area, she wasn’t communicating her journey in a way that resonated to its fullest.
That brings us to Simz’s most recent endeavor: “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” (“SIMBI”). The title itself is an interesting microcosm of the album’s duality; Simbi is Simz’s real name, and the conflict between Simbi and Simz as both introvert and superstar, both person and artist, is prevalent in this project. As she says in the excellent opener “Introvert,” “The fight between the Yin and Yang's a fight you'll never win.” The walls of strings, horn hits, chiming countermelodies, and marching drums set the perfect backdrop to bring Simz’s personal drama to life. Next on the tracklist is “Woman,” a timeless, classy, Lauryn Hill-esque tribute to Black women. Yet another highlight is “Two Worlds Apart,” which sports an addictive Smokey Robinson flip and relaxed flow, and “I Love You, I Hate You,” which displays a distinct percussive pattern, Broadway-inspired string sections and gripping lyrics that delve into Simz’s clashing feelings on her father; “Is you a sperm donor or a dad to me?” is one of the most striking moments in all of “SIMBI.”
The highlights continue past the spotless opening stretch with “Standing Ovation,” a Kanye West “College Dropout” (2004)-inspired celebration of Simz’s success. She stays poignant by critiquing the self-centered nature of stardom, honoring her friends and family that supported her to the top and looking towards the future by continuing her winning streak and inspiring others to rise to her level. Simz introduces a West African afrobeat flair on the composed “Point and Kill,” and the following “Fear No Man.” Her accent gives both songs a unique place on the album, and the opening lines, “Family no go suffer, oh, inna my lifetime / Dey be fine, do am proper, no lie, lie,” give them a subtext of rising above one’s station commonly found in hip-hop. The closing two tracks, “How Did You Get Here” and “Miss Understood,” are reasonable summaries of the album’s themes of duality and progression, and the tunes aren’t bad, but the phrase “I’m so misunderstood” is an instant repellant to nuance.
One of the project's downsides is its overdependence on interludes to drive its narrative. “Gems,” “Little Q Pt. 1,” “The Garden,” and “The Rapper That Came to Tea” are all lengthy, mystic, string-kissed spoken word pieces that reveal inner truths about Simbi in relation to Simz, the roles in which she has been placed, and the rest of the world. While the interludes may sound expensive and rich, they aren't nearly as impactful as an actual song with a fleshed-out verse structure and vocal performance. It's not as if Simz is saying something so complex that it needs space to draw focus—she's simply reading out her inner monologue.
Besides the interludes, there are a few tracks that fall short of the others. “Rolling Stone” is a return to the stripped-back trap banger that Simz explored on “GREY Area,” and it desperately lacks sufficient emotional expression to connect to the listener. It may be cold-blooded but not in a fun way––it instead comes off as sour and drab. “Protect My Energy” is a groovy detour that isn't particularly unlikeable, but the refrain gets a bit repetitive, and the song would be an easy cut from the long tracklist. “Speed” covers similar thematic territory as “Standing Ovation” with a fraction of the impact. The cheap, bland production is an instant headache, and it is handily the weakest song Simz has ever released. Its presence on an otherwise solid tracklist is befuddling.
Despite the issues with “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert,” it has received Simz’s most critical success yet—and it's not a coincidence. The prototypical introspective and introverted album is meek and restrained; “SIMBI” is grand, celebratory, and unique to Simz. Her explorations of race, gender, and the artistic process, as well as her ambitious framing of her own journey within those larger cultural institutions, keep the scope of the project long enough to feel varied but tied together with a personal string. The vast improvements in songwriting and production make “SIMBI” squarely her best project. As she matures, realizes her place in the world, reaches for more ambitious concepts, and hones her skills, Simz will continue on her upward trajectory.