Little Simz is a dynamic shape-shifter of an artist, a prolific rapper and songwriter—and now actor—whose career has been one of consistent creative growth and expansion. Little Simz is also Simbi Ajikawo, a real person with a private life that she’s done a great job of keeping so. The balance and struggle between meeting the increasingly difficult demands of being a public figure and maintaining a life outside the spotlight is, ultimately, the curse of celebrity. No one would necessarily question Simz for wanting to keep a safe amount of distance between Little Simz the stage persona and Simbi, the person she is at home, even if both of them are ultimately, genuinely her.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert isn’t an album about celebrity, and consider it a blessing—that rarely goes well. Rather, the clue is in the acronym hidden in the title (S.I.M.B.I.). It can be said that all of Simz’s albums are about her own unique experience, but Introvert is her definitive statement. It’s a personal expression wrapped in grand conceptual execution, a masterful examination of the self that explores her motivations, community, family, doubts and confidences through a remarkable and ambitious set of songs. The world of Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is ostensibly an internal one, which for all its intimacy and vulnerability is an act of breathtaking maximalism.
Simz had reached another recent career high with 2019’s Grey Area, one of that year’s best albums, as well as a remarkably concise one, leaving its groove-heavy, hard-hitting mark in a stunning and economic 35 minutes. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is nearly twice the length of that album and a much more elaborate undertaking, its 19 tracks heavily orchestrated and layered with strings, horns and a maximalist funk-soul aesthetic that nods to Curtis Mayfield and Al Green, Prince and Fela Kuti—all recorded with live instrumentation rather than sampled. It’s as much a classic soul album as it is a hip-hop album, which only speaks further to the duality that defines the album. Trying to boil Little Simz down to just one thing more than ever proves both elusive and reductive, and the results are both ambitious and unpredictable.
“Introvert” is an intense and majestic introduction into Simz’s internal monologue, with a booming fanfare and Radiohead-like art-pop backing paving a gilded walkway into her own conflicted feelings about being a public persona. “I hate the thought of just being a burden/I hate that these conversations are surfaced/Simz the artist or Simbi the person?” she raps over a dizzying array of strings and guitar arpeggios. This kind of vulnerable honesty isn’t necessarily new for Little Simz, but it less couched in the casually cool shit-talk of a standout like “Offence.” The harder-hitting “Rollin Stone,” however, brings that attitude back in spades (“Can’t believe it’s Simbi here that’s had you listenin’/Well, fuck that bitch for now, you didn’t know she had a twin, yeah“). And the tense “I Love You I Hate You” puts the spotlight on the empty space left by her absent father. It’s not just two versions of Simz we hear on Introvert, but a whole spectrum: badass, earnest workhorse, reluctant celebrity, and yes, sometimes even an introvert.
Had Simz kept with the minimal fuzz-bass funk arrangements of her previous album, this deep dive into self-analysis would still slap. That she and collaborator/producer Inflo (also of UK soul collective SAULT) aim for something much brighter and more climactic in approach makes the listening experience more dazzling and often surprising in its execution. “Woman” and “Standing Ovation” are layered with gloriously lush and brassy arrangements, bright but warmly analog, almost tactile in their rich sound. There are still dirty grooves to be found, like that of “Speed” or the bass-driven, Afrobeat-inspired “Point and Kill,” featuring guest vocals from Obongjayar, as well as a more synth-laden ’80s funk on “Protect My Energy.” Simz changes up her approach as often as she explores a different facet of herself. The album, however, also includes a handful of interludes featuring narration from Emma Corin of Netflix’s The Crown—which are the only real weak spots to be found.
In an interview with The Guardian earlier this year, Simz summarized the duality that lies at the center of Sometimes I Might Be Introvert: “I’m just very to myself and I didn’t know how to really navigate that, especially coming in this industry where you’re expected to have this extroverted persona all the time.” The intimacy of Sometimes I Might Be Introvert lets listeners in on the part of Simz’s world that we don’t often see, but even at its most personal or diaristic, the album often presents them in outsized productions. Amid the doubts and insecurities, conflicts and uncertainties, it’s Little Simz’s constant drive to push herself that much farther and raise the bar that much higher that resonates loudest.
Label: Age 101
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.