You've Never Heard Little Simz Like This

Little Simz has been considering her identity in the various worlds she inhabits for longer than her massive new album lets on. Go back to “Therapy,” a track off the seasoned Nigerian–British rapper’s assured last album, 2019’s Grey Area, where Simz lays bare her insecurities about her rap career and personal relationships. “Still an introvert, still my feelings hurt,” she demurs at one point of her avoidance to opening up. By this point, the act of performance had come easy for her she’d attended dance classes throughout school as a child, and took roles on a few children’s and teen TV shows, while picking rap up along the way, inspired by favorites like Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z, and Nas. She’d go on to drop ten mixtapes from 2010 to 2015 and caught the attention of Kendrick Lamar in the process, which rocketed her independent debut album, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons, to critical acclaim in 2015. With each successive album, plus a distribution deal with Sony’s AWAL ahead of Grey Area, Simz had more eyes on her. The chorus to “Therapy” finds her on the defensive amid the whirlwind, declaring “I don’t need savin’,” between verses that detail those early professional and personal worries.

Two years after Grey Area — her first No. 1 hip-hop album in the U.K., which earned her a nomination for the Mercury Prize, the country’s top music award — the recently released Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (an acronym for her nickname, Simbi) plays out like that therapy session Simz had been sidestepping. Across 65 minutes and 19 tracks, Simz covers a lot of ground: her anxiety around her rise to fame and the future of her career, her struggles with her absent father, her apprehension to trusting people and letting them in. The album is grounded by five interludes, performed by The Crown star Emma Corrin, tapped personally for the role by Simz, as a sort of voice inside the rapper’s own head. “Do you want 15 years or 15 minutes?” she asks early on, presenting an inquiry that becomes central to the album. It’s a question of Simz finding career longevity, but taken alongside the rest of the album, it becomes something closer to the chest: How can Simz stay true to herself while sticking around in an industry that asks so much of her? And at an even deeper level, is she willing to confront her inner demons to preserve the intense energy required to stick it out?

If it wasn’t already apparent at this point in her career, Introvert makes the case that Simz is here for the long haul. Past the viscerally intimate bars, the album finds her dexterously navigating an ambitious array of beats, courtesy of her right-hand producer Inflo, from cinematic orchestrations on “Introvert” to classic soul on “I Love You, I Hate You” to an Afrobeat–indebted groove on “Point and Kill.” The album is an achievement, and Simz knows it: “I think I need a standing ovation / Over ten years in the game, I’ve been patient,” she declares on the centerpiece track “Standing Ovation,” before addressing the next generation of rappers who might see themselves in her, as possibly the most famous Black woman rapping in the U.K. at this moment. Vulture spoke to Simz about making Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, breaking down her opus track by track.

“Introvert”

“Introvert” seems like this sort of guiding light, a mission statement for the whole project picking apart how your introversion plays into both your career and personal relationships. When in the process did that song come along?

“Introvert” was one of the earliest songs we had done. There was nowhere else in the album I think that song could have sat, apart from the beginning. I wanted it to be as bold and as cinematic as possible. And I think Flo done an amazing job at really bringing that to life. Honestly, the rest of the album just started to build itself as we were going through, making the songs. We set very, very high standards.

We had a really dope team of people, from [writers like] Kadeem Clarke to Miles [James] to Nathan [Allen], Rosie Danvers, who done strings, obviously myself, Flo. I think we all came to the table with visions and wanted to create the best possible piece we could. When you listen to the album, it’s very, very ambitious. But I think everyone was in the right headspace and was willing to push the envelope and push the boundaries into making something of this scale.

“Woman”

The feminist message on this song is pretty clear, but also specific. Who were you aiming to speak to?

“Woman” is literally a love note to the women of the world. I think it very much so happens in this industry where it gets competitive, which is okay, but I think not [if it gets] to a place where you’re literally trying to drag and tear other women down because the narrative is, “There can only be one at a time,” or whatever it is. “Woman” is for us to to celebrate and commend each other and tell each other we look beautiful and we’re proud of each other.

“Two Worlds Apart”

You’ve talked before about being into older soul and R&B music. This is the only song on the album with a sample, and it’s of Motown legend Smokey Robinsons “The Agony and the Ecstasy.” What’s the story behind that choice?

I just love his voice, for a start. The song just felt really classic, and that’s what I was going for: [making] a classic album. But also making it feel like it can still exist today and feel modern. It felt like a nice transition. Okay, we’re in the album now. You just had “Introvert,” you just had “Woman,” and now you’re hearing this classic, Motown sort of vibe, and you don’t really know where the album’s going to take you.

“I Love You, I Hate You”

That second verse, about your father [“You made a promise to God to be there for your kids …”], is pretty heavy. How did you arrive at writing and recording that?

I definitely struggled with the idea of oversharing: Do I really want to give this man a stage like that and put my thoughts and feelings out like that? But I’m super proud that I did, because from seeing the reaction when it released, and how many people were resonating with that, it just goes to show that it’s bigger than me. And in the moment, I found that really difficult to see. At the end of the day, [though], something positive has come of it. I’m super happy I managed to get that one in there because it wasn’t looking good for “I Love You, I Hate You.” I was really on the fence with that one. Should I put this on the record, should I not? But I’m super, super happy I did.

“Little Q, Pt. 1 — Interlude”

“Little Q, Pt. 2”

I think about these together, because they’re dealing with some similar religious themes. It starts with this, it seems like a prayer, in the interlude, and then God and religion factor into the next song as well. What’s your relationship to religion like, and why was that important to involve in the album?

Well, I grew up in a religious [Muslim] household, so I’ve always had a personal relationship and connection with God. “Little Q, Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2” is about my cousin [who was stabbed and spent time in a coma], and I told his story. [I] just wanted to give that light on that, because I know so many young boys, especially growing up in London, who have had similar stories [with violence], and their stories are not always heard or shared. So I just wanted to have that space in the album where it was solely about him.

I wouldn’t say, I’m not even that religious, it’s more like I just believe in God. I don’t necessarily follow a religion at this moment in life. But I have very strong faith — my cousin almost lost his life, but he didn’t. So we’re hopeful and we’re grateful and we can almost rejoice that. I didn’t want it to feel super depressing. There’s still light. He now has his whole life ahead of him, which is a beautiful thing.

“Gems — Interlude”

The “Gems — Interlude” introduces this — is this a character? Where did this voice come from?

Flo had pieced together these beautiful pieces, and I had written these words, but I didn’t necessarily want to say them. So I called in Emma Corrin, [to] have her tell the story with me and narrate these little short interlude pieces. I wanted it to just be a space where she can represent whatever it is the listener wants her to represent, and everything’s not so given to you on a plate. Whether she is your subconscious or whatever it is I think it’s solely up to the listener, but it’s just helping to tell the story.

“Speed”

That interlude has that striking moment where she’s like, “Do you want 15 years or 15 minutes?” Then that goes into the next song, “Speed,” where you’re rapping, “Still running with ease, marathon not a sprint.” This seems like a question that you’re wrestling with a lot at this point in the album. How do you think about that at this point in your career?

I’ve been doing music for a very long time, and it’s always been at my pace. I’ve understood that I want to be here for as long as possible. So if that’s the case, I need to pace myself, and I need to be kind to myself, and I need to take time and know when to really hit the gas and then to ease off the gas and then to hit the gas again and just run like that. That’s essentially what “Speed” is about, understanding that this is a marathon, not a sprint. This is where we are right now, with this album, but I’m sure there’ll be another and then another. So [I’m] just taking my time and trying to get it right.

“Standing Ovation”

It seems like in the end of “Standing Ovation” you’re taking on this confidence about where you are in your career — seeing yourself having this bigger role in hip-hop and talking about the next generation coming up now. Tell me more about coming to that point.

“Standing Ovation” is definitely one of my favorites. It’s just me acknowledging where I’m at and what it’s taken to get here and giving myself a little pat on the back for that, because it wasn’t an easy ride. But also opening up the floor to the new ones coming through and embracing them and celebrating them. Then [also celebrating] the people that are on the ground, on the front line, that are really doing the work: the healers, our NHS workers, our teachers. People that are in the community. They also deserve standing ovations and their flowers because they contribute so much. So [it’s] a big round of applause.

“I See You”

This stands out as a really affecting love song, and a change in tone from the rest of the album. I know you’ve said before you’d rather not talk about who this song is about. But how did you decide to put this personal moment on the album in the first place?

It’s super nice for me to be able to write from a place of pure joy and happiness. As artists, sometimes we get caught up in writing from the traumas or the pains of our life in order to produce great art. But this time around, it was really nice to break away from that and write from a happy place and get into a habit of doing that more often. Because this is healthy, and it’s cool, and you still can produce great art like that.

I think even just centering it directly in the middle of the album, it’s the heart, and it doesn’t get any realer than that. I’m really looking forward to performing that song live. It’s just a different change than everything you would have had up until that point.

“The Rapper That Came to Tea — Interlude”

“The Rapper That Came to Tea” had me thinking back to Stillness in Wonderland, your sophomore album. It seems like you’re playing a bit with this broader interest in fantasy. Where does that come from?

I think I’m someone that is a bit of a dreamer and can live in a bit of a fantasy world. I can’t tell you how many songs I’ve written that’s probably titled “Fantasy” in the years I’ve been doing music. I like the idea of exploring a different realm, but also having it still somewhat centered in reality. Even sometimes when you watch these old Disney films, they’re for children, but there’s actually some pretty deep messages if you look deep enough. And I’ve always thought that concept was really interesting.

The soundscapes are really lush, and really as if you’re in a Wonderland, somewhat, but then what [Emma’s] saying is that you’re surrounded in an industry full of extroverts and we know you’re this introverted person, so what is it you want here? And posing these questions to myself, but then onto the listener, and if you relate, you relate.

“Rollin Stone”

“Rollin Stone” is such an in-the-zone song, and it’s a jolt at that point in the album. Walk me through that recording process.

“Rollin Stone” was probably one of the earlier cuts, and it was me tapping into a space that I feel very at home at. This is Simz in ’09, ’10. It was super fun to dive back into that space and just be quick, sharp, witty bars, fiery, and just have fun, ultimately. And again, to show people a different side — maybe those that weren’t listening to me in ’09 or ’10 don’t know I have that side of me. So [I’m] reintroducing her again, my little evil twin.

“Protect My Energy”

This song has you singing on a dance beat. What inspired that?

I wanted to have a song that felt like a Sunday morning spring clean, just me in my element and dancing around the house. Or me with a group of friends, singing and getting ready to go to a function or whatever. I just wanted to jam like that. And me reverting it back to what the album is about, protecting my energy and protecting my peace and just being protective over myself. Because I give so much with music, sometimes I need to take time for self and protect that.

“Point and Kill”

This is your only other feature on the album, Afropop singer Obongjayar. Tell me about making that decision.

“Point and Kill” is me tapping into my roots a bit more. I’m of Nigerian heritage, and it’s another form of expressing myself and peeling back layers, showing people where I’m from and what I’m about. This is music that I grew up listening to in my household. It’s always been a part of me. I got the opportunity to do it in a way that feels authentic to me and call in one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, Obongjayar, to help. We caught a vibe, and it was like, Yo, this is perfect. We were just having fun. And especially as we get to this half of the album, it’s a lot of being free and expressing and dancing. I come from a dance background, so this is where I really get my two-step in.

“Fear No Man”

“The Garden — Interlude”

I was thinking about these two songs together. “Fear No Man” has these lines about you maybe not letting other people in, and looking out at people like that. Then we get to “The Garden,” and that’s talking about needing to let people in and to be more open about your emotions with people. How do you reconcile those two sides?

Well, this is the thing: We’re not one thing. And this is the whole point. I think people don’t expect you to sometimes have conflicting thoughts or contradicting thoughts. We’re all human. So “Fear No Man” is me being really ballsy and holding my own. “I’m here and I don’t fear no one. I’ve got myself to this point, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come.” It’s too late to start being scared now. I’m walking my own path and that’s just what it is.

Then, I think “The Garden — Interlude” is that thing in the back of my mind that draws me back, like, Yeah, that’s all well and good, but understand where you’ve come from also. And you don’t always have to be strong. Because that’s another thing, especially being a Black woman, we’re sometimes required to be really strong and [told] you mustn’t cry.“The Garden — Interlude” offers that space where you don’t always have to be that, and you’ve got people you can lean on, people that will want to hear you talk about your troubles, fears, anxieties or whatever it is. You got people you can confide in, so don’t always feel like you’ve got to walk around with this armor and your chest held high, like, Yeah, I don’t need no one, out of fear. And I do have those people in my life, and I’m so grateful for them. I think you give value to people the more you let them in. Also, it’s called “The Garden” for a reason. You nurture these relationships and you tend to them and you water them, and you see how they grow and flourish.

“How Did You Get Here”

What you were talking about looking back on where you’ve come from and being proud of that, that comes through on the next song, “How Did You Get Here.” It toes this line between being a flex and like, “Wow, look at everything I’ve gone through,” but then also recognizing that it’s important to acknowledge how difficult these circumstances were.

And I guess, even for me, actually taking a step to look back. Because sometimes when you’re in it and you’re just going and you’re so focused on the next thing or whatever it is, you’re moving on quickly. You don’t have a moment. And “How Did You Get Here” is that moment for me, to be like, Wow, you’ve done all these steps and you took that route and that landed you there. Also, for the next kid to see. Not to say my route’s going to work for everyone because it might not. But at least for the next young kid coming up, they can see that, “Okay, Simz done it like that and she got to where she is — it must be possible.”

“Miss Understood”

“How Did You Get Here” feels very conclusive, but then you get into “Miss Understood” at the end, and it reintroduces a bit of this uncertainty that had been coming and going with the album — saying, “Even though I’ve laid out all that I’ve been through, you still don’t fully know me.” Why close the album this way, with this song?

It gave me the opportunity to speak from a place of like, “This is the last bit I have in me.” God forbid, if anything was to happen, I would probably regret not getting this one in there. As much as I’ve laid everything bare, you always feel like there’s something you’re still not giving. And I didn’t want to feel like that; I really wanted to feel like, “No, I have gave you everything at this point.” That was “Miss Understood,” and that’s the truth, right?

Sometimes I genuinely do feel like that. And I know I must not be the only person that feels it. Kind of like “I Love You, I Hate You,” as much as this is me speaking my truth, I know there’s so many people that will connect and relate to this. That’s probably my favorite song, truth be told. Even though there’s not heaps going on in the music, it’s just a real — it’s just super honest. I’m proud of myself for writing it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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