“I don’t belong anywhere, not even my own town”. So says London-born artist Little Simz in her song “Doorways + Trust Issues”, taken from her sophomore album “Stillness in Wonderland“.
The truth is Simz‘s music certainly sounds like London, just not in the way much of London currently sounds like London – this isn’t the rough-and-ready beats of Skepta, with his punkish jagged edges. Simz‘s beats frequently sound sleek and polished not unlike those of your typical current American rapper. Her music has none of the actual grime of grime. These beats lack grime’s 8-bit lo-fi evocation of grey skies and greyer housing estates.
However, on top of these beats we have Simz‘s distinctively London cadence. This then, gives her work a simultaneously provincial feeling and a vague internationalism. Little Simz is both looking out away from the UK and reflecting back on her environment: grime and garage are influences on her music but so are Lauryn Hill and Kendrick Lamar. She might be more immediately accessible than someone like Stormzy but the foreignness of Stormzy‘s Londonsisms probably provide part of the thrill for many of his overseas fans. As a recent Noisey article suggested, she might even be more popular in the States than she is in the UK. Indeed, her Spotify recommended related artists generally consists of hipster-friendly US alt-rap rather than other UK heavyweights like Wiley or Jme.
With “Stillness In Wonderland”, Little Simz proves she has one of the most distinctive voices in rap right now and that she certainly should be regarded as one of the finest in the UK.
Little Simz‘ “Stillness In Wonderland” seems to follow a similar series of lyrical concepts to Kendrick‘s “To Pimp A Butterfly”. She discusses how her life has changed since international tours and recognition from Jay-Z and Kendrick himself, but she also deals with the fact that much of her personal issues are very much still there despite fame’s supposedly transformational powers. Both Kendrick and Simz deal with the fact that rappers generally aim to be superstars to escape a tough upbringing but end up under immense pressure from labels and the press, frequently finding themselves unsatisfied after achieving their life goal. Simz joins rappers like Danny Brown and Kanye in discussing the fact that fame isn’t the all-healing solution to personal problems that the rap world often believes it to be.
One of the things that is notable about “Stillness In Wonderland”, in comparison to her debut album “A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons”, is Simz‘s willingness to cede space to collaborators. She finds herself, not unlike Kanye, using her collaborators to create some of the album’s best moments. One of these great moments is “King Of Hearts” where Chip (formerly Chipmunk) steals the show with little more than a mean attitude. The one problem with this track is that Simz and Chip‘s voice complement each other so well that it’s a shame they don’t do some Run The Jewels-style bar-trading. Another fine moment comes from Californian guest vocalist SiR on “One In Rotation + Wide Awake”. While it might sound like he’s trying a little too hard to sound like Anderson. Paak, his hooks are nonetheless impressive.
Little Simz seems much more comfortable making cross-Atlantic pairings than many other UK or US rappers. The highest profile, but in my ears least notable, feature is The Internet‘s Syd on “Shotgun” who provides an unremarkable hook to the track. My commendation for her strength in finding collaborators shouldn’t in any way be seen as a slight against Simz‘s own talents as a rapper or lyricist. She is a commanding presence on every track she’s on and has one of the most distinctive voices in rap right now. She certainly should be regarded as one of the finest in the UK.
“Stillness In Wonderland” is overall a consistently strong to good as an album but it might be the sort of thing that’s difficult to hook in any casual listeners. The strongest songs are certainly the aforementioned “One in Rotation + Wide Awake” and “King Of Hearts” but neither seem big enough to break Little Simz. Although UK rap artists have historically struggled to have hits without significantly altering their material, now is certainly a good time to try.