Little Simz is on lockdown. 2019 was – by her own admission – one of the best year’s of her life, with the outstanding studio album ‘GREY Area’ resonating with a phenomenal amount of fans. Driven forward by a singular purpose, she’s a resolutely individual figure within UK rap, pinching and pulling from all kinds of genres of create something true to her own spirit.
But right now she’s behind closed doors, just like the rest of us. Her new project – simply titled ‘EP’ – was kicked off as lockdown began, and it’s fractured yet intense, revealing yet distorted artistry comes close to encapsulating the bizarre mixture of feelings that comes with life overshadowed by this viral pandemic.
Musically it feels like a cousin piece to ‘GREY Area’, sharing that album’s focus on live musicianship. There’s a bounce to the recordings that digital equipment lacks, with Simz withdrawing into her flat with a series of already laid down sketches and beats to focus on her lyrics.
The result is something genuinely startling. Raw, and often quite deliberately unfinished, the lyrics have a bullet point bluntness to them, with Simz aspiring to a level of direct communication other MCs can only marvel at. ‘might bang, might not’ runs on a ruffneck jungle beat, with the EP then shuffling between afrobeat sweetness and hip-hop swagger, all with that London grit.
In the accompanying notes she describes arguments with neighbours and the continual demands that writer’s block can place on her psyche. ‘one life, might live’ feels fitful, her attention wavering yet always returning to the source. ‘you should call mum’ reaches out towards family cut off by the drift of coronavirus, while ‘where’s my lighter’ finds Simz uniting with alewya for something a little softer.
It’s a record that acts as a shockingly precise marker for a time, space, and mindset. In that same press note, Simz describes the inspiration she finds in photography, labelling it “an instantaneous art form”, and it’s tempting to parallel this with the EP’s own immediacy. Each track is kept thrillingly concise, while the project as a whole scarcely drifts over the 10 minute mark – an idea is put down on tape and then left there, the visceral abandonment reflecting the sheer confusion in the air right now.
It’s not as complete or a nuanced as ‘GREY Area’, but then that’s perhaps the point. Produced, as she points out, during the glowing afternoons of the sunniest April on record, ‘EP’ is marked by the promise of something better, and the knowledge that we’ll just have to wait. “This is a turbulent time but we don’t fold,” she says. “We don’t come from that. We will always be fine.”
Words: Robin Murray
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