Little Simz - A Stillness in Wonderland
My first encounter with Little Simz was at SXSW ‘16 where she opened up for Empress Of. Her performance left an impression on me and I soon started listening to her album, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons. When I heard her declaring “women can be king...everybody should know that I’m King now” I thought - finally, someone that’s highlighting the absurd idea of patriarchy. Her newest release, Stillness in Wonderland, has a more reflective tone, seeming to examine her life since her previous album came out. Little Simz uses the music as a platform to voice ideas in a way that’s not just a regurgitation of modern thought.
The track, “LMPD,” starts off the album with introspective lyrics and an R&B vibe by inquiring, “have I let my people down?’ The tone of guest vocalist, Chronixx, falters as he sings; almost as if he’s on the verge of crying. The musicianship is minimal, yet complex with its intentional offbeat hits. Little Simz plays with genres, combining hip hop, classic blues, and spacey synthesizers while the vocals are mixed so that there are multiple, contrasting layers.
Lyrically, Little Simz is a poetic genius. She puts her insecurities on a plate in “Doorways + Trust Issues” when she admits, “I’ll never be perfect to me”; something that a lot of people think but don’t have the balls to admit. Her words are unapologetic and thought-provoking, and she gives us an open invitation to join her in her ‘Wonderland.’ Throughout the entire album, she attacks the vocals; her speed and enunciation not skipping a beat.
The production of the album is impressive, especially in “Her (Interlude)” where the guitar has a delicate sound that melts into the rapid and muted percussions seamlessly. “One in Rotation + Wide Awake” has my favorite vibe on the album, with smooth, sexy vocals by collaborator, SiR. The chorus is catchy but doesn’t interrupt the serious undertone of the album. It highlights the true intention of the artists on the track - wanting to be remembered for the music without selling out.
In “Shotgun,” the beat is grooving and works concurrently with the rhythm in her melodies, forcing you to move your body. “Picture Perfect” is harsher but uses horns and strings to bring it down a notch, bringing to mind a tango; her vocals are quick and impressive as she declares, “I understand how you feel, but fuck how you feel.” “King of Hearts” is a harder song, featuring guest rappers, Chip & Getts, whose styles are more aggressive than Simz. This song and the next, “Bad to the Bone,” showcase Little Simz ability to span many different vibes in one album by showing a heavier side.
At times, you can hear hints of Jazz, especially in “Zone 3,” where the bass is funky and the leads are zippy. Little Simz understands the classical elements of music and incorporates it effortlessly into current hip-hop. The album is filled with a variety of percussions, ranging from drum machines, claps, clicking noises, and an acoustic drumset. From beginning to end, each track stands out. The vibe is consistent and moves smoothly from one song to the next, but there’s enough variety to keep you absorbed. Just as you’re being brought in by the rich texture of the song, it pulls back to put her lyrics up front.
Throughout the album, you hear a man speaking to Little Simz, who is a representation of Cheshire the Cat from Alice in Wonderland and also presumably, her conscience. It adds to the concept that she’s created that we are in her mind, her ‘Wonderland.’ She sings “I don’t want to be in this wonderland no more” in the final track, “No More Wonderland.” I get the sense that Simz is speaking of the journey to where she’s at in her musical career and the trials that come with it. Speaking without holding back, Little Simz brings a much needed voice to music and deserves to be celebrated for it. Her approach is original, impactful, and pushes the limits of people’s expectations of female rappers.
She has a comic book that accompanies her album.
Watch her Tiny Desk performance.
by Amber Harris