Little Simz has just spent an afternoon stranded on the side of a road in London when she logs onto Zoom. You wouldn’t be able to tell from her demeanor, though — she seems palpably unbothered. “It was just a whole thing,” she says, explaining how her driver got a flat tire.
The 27-year-old rapper, born Simbiatu “Simbi” Ajikawo, speaks with clarity and calmness, like someone approaching their own private kind of zen. She makes music the same way. Her fourth studio album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, released earlier this month, is the result of a years-long quest for knowledge from an artist who’s laser-focused on uncovering her true self. It would take more than a little car trouble to shake her now.
Simz says that the pandemic gave her even more time to look inward, which offered her a deeper understanding of her own tendencies, hence the album title. “I’m naturally quite an introverted person, and I think it’s hard to read an introvert because you just don’t know what they’re thinking or feeling,” she says. “But this was an opportunity for me to let people in.”
Take the standout track “I Love You I Hate You,” in which Simz paints a vivid emotional roadmap, confronting her feelings about an absent father with measured precision. “Never thought my parent would give me my first heartbreak,” she raps coolly toward the track’s close. The sentiment is at once deeply personal and broadly relatable. “As much as it’s written about him, it’s not about him,” she says. “It’s about me and my feelings about it all and how this is affecting my relationships in my life.”
For all her emphasis on being an introvert, Simz is also impressively perceptive of others. She sees the song’s potential to speak to anyone who’s gone through something similar: “I know so many people will be able to relate to it in some sort of way”
She attributes her new perspective on the song to her own maturity. “A song like ‘I Love You, I Hate You’ couldn’t have been on my first album. I don’t think I was emotionally mature enough to tackle something like that,” she says. “Had I released it then, it probably would’ve just been lots of ‘Fuck you.'” Now, she says, she can see the complexities in the experiences that influence her emotions. “This time around, even though that energy is there, it’s also me acknowledging: ‘Well, actually, you were just a boy and you probably had your own childhood traumas or things that you had to deal with in your life that I am not aware of, which could’ve led to why you wasn’t able to be a good father.'”
Despite the emotional depths she traversed to make the album, Simz describes the process as “a lot of fun.” And Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is indeed fun to listen to. Where you might expect an album with such an intense focus to be overbearing, or more bluntly, a bummer, Simz moves more subtly. “As challenging as it was at points, just putting pressure on myself and wanting to better my writing… I think you hear it in the music,” she continues. “Although we’re touching on deep stuff and I’m tackling a lot, there’s a lightheartedness to it.”
That impressive balance of vulnerability and levity is present throughout the album. On “Rollin Stone,” Simz takes us back to her roots, rapping in the pulsing cadence of the grime MCs that she counted as her compatriots early in her career. The song’s chorus takes a cue from “I Love You I Hate You.” In a subdued register, she raps “Mummy handled business, Papa was a rollin’ stone,” before pointing the lens inward: “I’m a mix of both, there ain’t no bitch-boy in my bones.” She spends just as much of the song volleying the kind of wise-crack boasts that grime MCs are known for (“Fuckin’ up this dough like say it’s pizza”).
The track is a good example of what Simz does so well on the album — she handles the heavy stuff with grace. “That sort of tempo, me and that sort of bag is how I grew up,” she says of the track. “I feel like ‘Rollin Stone’ was a perfect track to go with, just to show people I’m still very much rooted in that, and I can dig into that space anytime, and it’s also fun for me to do that.”
She flips the script halfway through the song, too: There’s a tempo shift and Simz switches to a slow-rolling cadence fit for an after-hours session. Lyrically, she taps into a seductive ethos that some fans might not have expected. The result is confident and undeniable.
“Not many people have heard me in that way. Experimenting with different ways of delivering a verse and using my voice was super, super cool, and it just worked,” she says. “It’s one of those songs that, the moment I recorded it I thought, ‘Yeah, this is hot.’ There’s no two ways about it.”
Simz cites the rapper Gun40, whom she found herself listening to while recording, as an inspiration for the more laid-back vibe of the second half of “Rollin Stone.” “I just really liked the way he would sit on instrumentals. And I liked how relaxed he was, but still very confident. It just didn’t feel forced or overthought,” she says. “I wanted to embody that same kind of energy.”
Simz’s early releases garnered comparisons to auteur-minded MCs like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, but she’s always worked in a deeper emotional palette of her own. All three of her previous albums were concept records grappling with the artist’s own understanding of herself. 2019’s Grey Area, a searing album that solidified Simz as a considerable talent, was a moment for the rapper to take stock of the question of truth that runs so diligently through her music. It was full of existential and poetic self-reflection, like on “Therapy,” where she raps: “Afraid of the dark, afraid of the past/Afraid of the answers to questions I never asked.” At the same time, she presents a mastery of musicality, delivering a quasi-funk ballad in “Offence.” It makes sense that the LP won the 2020 NME Award for Best British Album, beating fellow nominees who included FKA Twigs, Slowthai, and Michael Kiwanuka.
Initially, Simz says, she felt a bit of pressure to live up to Grey Area’s success. “The moment I got into the studio, all those kinds of pressures just left,” she says. “I just said: ‘I’m not going to go in the studio to make a record to please anyone or to try and make a Grey Area II. I’m not in that space anymore.’”
At a hefty 19 tracks, it’s clear that Little Simz has a lot more to say on this album. “There’s a lot you have to digest, but I want it to still be digestible,” she says.
She approached Sometimes I Might Be Introvert like a film, imbuing it with a sort of cinematic quality. “It feels very visual, at least when I listen to it, with the interludes and all of that,” she says. Like with most of her releases, Sometime I Might Be Introvert makes use of interludes that construct a cohesive vision. This latest album features the actress Emma Corrin, who played Princess Diana on The Crown. The actress’ voice takes us through the album’s field of emotional textures, proferring a fitting contrast to Simz’s sharp and nimble tongue.
Simz says she was watching a lot of The Crown during quarantine and was interested in what it might feel like to juxtapose its high-brow “British-ness” with her deeply specific narrative. “I wanted those interludes to feel like whatever the listener feels it is. So if they feel this is their subconscious talking to them, then that’s what it is. If they feel what she’s saying, they heard their mom say to them and that’s some sort of reminder, then that’s what it is,” Simz says. “I wanted there to be something on the record that is purely left for your imagination to do the work.”
She also continued to stretch herself musically, taking her sound in new directions, as heard on the Afrobeat-inspired “Point and Kill,” featuring the Nigerian musician Obongjayar. Simz’s parents are Nigerian, and she notes a sense of personal maturation as the reason why she’s begun exploring sounds from the diaspora. “I was Nigerian before it was cool to be Nigerian,” she says, pointing to a growing Western fascination with West African culture. “As I’m getting older and I’m learning more about myself and where I come from, I’m wanting to continue to explore that. There’s magic in it — we come from royalty.”
And if finishing an album wasn’t enough for Simz, she’s also spent the past year filming for her role in the popular British crime drama Top Boy, which is executive-produced by none other than Drake and airs on Netflix in the U.S. (She plays a character named Shelley, who’s the love interest of one of the titular Top Boys, Dushane.) “I think this season I definitely had more to sink my teeth into, and it was fun to be able to dip between the two. I would go do shooting for a week, and then the next week I’m in the studio or whatever it is,” she explains. “ And each was fueling the other. I knew what I was making in the studio was great, and so I wanted to match that energy when I’m giving my performances on Top Boy.”
When Simz says that she’s given all she has to give for the past year, in her music and her acting, you can tell she really means it. “I feel very relaxed, maybe because I’ve gotten them both out the way, and I know I’ve given my all to both,” she says. “So we just see how it goes.”