“Ah man!” Little Simz exasperates while considering the track she’s most looking forward to fans hearing on her much-anticipated fourth LP ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’. She lists ‘Point and Kill’, ‘I Love You, I Hate You’ and ‘Standing Ovation’ before she pauses. “Oooh, ‘Standing Ovation’…” she nods with a grin. “It’s cold, that’s my favourite right now.”
Expectation weighs heavy on Simz in the run-up to the album. With her 2019 Ivor Novello-winning breakout ‘GREY Area’ receding into the rear-view mirror in a shimmer of awards, prizes and flashing lights, Simz faced a blank slate that often has the tendency to pull artists into a state of creative flux. “I didn’t know what I was going to do next if I’m very honest,” she reflects on the time. “But I did know it would have to be amazing.”
The three songs released so far from the 19-track album due in September indicate she’s on to something. ‘Introvert’ landed in April, an epic opener marking her new era with cascading choirs and dramatic strings: a fierce statement of intent that took stock of the wild winds whipping around her. Follow-up ‘Woman’ is a rich, luxuriant, head-bopping jam that snaps with pride and joy for womankind - “Self-made, ain’t nobody doing gold-digger”. Latest cut ‘Rollin Stone’, meanwhile, throws another left-hook that drops with a mammoth beat-switch at the midway point when its ‘evil twin’ steps into frame.
Instead of feeling the weight of the watching eyes, Simz explains that she pushed on unphased by the high bar she set herself on ‘GREY Area’. “I just kind of got back in and did what I usually do,” she reflects. “Working with [producer] Inflo, we have such great chemistry and have done for a very long time - we go in and just make music. It’s not anything super deep or super complex, it’s literally just following our intuition and what feels right. I trust his taste and he trusts mine.”
Recording began in Los Angeles before Covid forced Simz back onto home turf the break pinched the pendulum mid-swing, allowing her to reclaw some mental space which led to some intense pen-wielding. “When I was stationary, it forced me to hone in on my writing,” she recalls. “I pushed myself, I wasn’t settling for good, I wanted my pen to be amazing on this record. I wanted to surprise myself which meant I had to be really honest and hard on myself, but not in a way that’s disencouraging.” “Last year, pen was crazy / This year, tougher with the ink,” she spits on ‘Rollin Stone’.
“I wasn’t settling for good, I wanted my pen to be amazing on this record.”
The fruits of this labour also materialised in surprise EP ‘Drop 6’ last year before she packed up for Berlin to cool off for a while. “Going back into the album process was amazing just because we had this time away from it. I get bored and move on to new stuff really quickly so the fact I was still inspired and enthused by this music, for me that was the indication we were on to something. I still wanted to complete the songs and finish the album. That happened from September to December 2020. Four months of just solid going for it.”
Simz cites the people around her as fundamental figures in satisfying the rigorous quality control she set herself heading into the album. “I need people around me who tell the honest truth about something,” she nods. “Whether they think it can be better or there’s somebody to tell me I’m doing too much. That’s really important to have as well as the trust I have within myself.”
Inflo, who also produced ‘GREY Area’, returned as that key confidante. The growing super-producer possesses something of a golden touch that has graced the likes of Michael Kiwanuka’s 2019 self-titled breakthrough and the mysterious project Sault, who released four albums throughout 2019 and 2020. His is a timeless sound that could sit just as at home on a smartphone in 2021 or spiralling on a ‘70s turntable. “He’s just a blessed individual,” Simz says. “I feel really safe in an environment with him where I can try things that might not work, ultimately to be fearless with it.”
This sort of atmosphere was essential, especially with expectation and Simz’s own ambition climbing to equally great heights. She became a scholar of legendary albums in preparation, attempting to get to the bottom of their magic and longevity.
“Why is ‘Off the Wall’ a classic? Why did MJ choose to put this song here and this song there? I was just listening with a different ear,” she continues. “My album is not a Michael Jackson album, it’s a Simz album. I just wanted to tell a story within it and make a classic record that people can keep going back to. That’s what I got with ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’; that’s what I got with Biggie Smalls’ ‘Ready To Die’; that’s what I got with ‘College Dropout’ - I wanted to have that same thing.”
“I’m growing more and more into myself and peeling back layers.”
The story she alludes to that develops across ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ is an exploration and exorcism of the self, the title reflecting that in its straight-shooting assessment and the fact it stands for her name: ‘SIMBI’. It feels as if these songs materialised in a state of clarity while ‘GREY Area’ journaled the unanchored searching of her early twenties. “There’s a lot of rage, a lot of confusion, a lot of vulnerability there. When I did find myself listening back to it I was like, ‘Bro, I feel that’,” she laughs. “This album goes to the next level. I’m growing more and more into myself and peeling back layers - I’m turning inwards and looking within.”
Looking at the tracklist alone, there are very few features. It’s a conscious decision that allows the tracks to be surgically extracted straight from the self, but that doesn’t mean to say there aren’t other voices on the record. The singles hint at the presence of scattered versions of Simz slipping into frame through some clever narrative tricks: the robotic narrator on ‘Introvert’ acts as a conscience of sorts, while on ‘Rollin Stone’ a spectre of herself arises in the aftermath of the beat-switch. “Can't believe it's Simbi here that's had you listenin',” it says in a pitched up, spiral-eyed cadence. “Well, fuck that bitch for now, you didn't know she had a twin”.
When asked, Simz doesn’t divulge much on these decisions, nor does she let up on what the rest of the album has in store sonically. “What are you expecting from the album?” she inquires in response to the same question. The guard is clearly up to protect the experience of the full album that is the product of her prolific penmanship. “It’s an album you’re gonna have to live with,” she smiles. “It takes a couple of listens I think because it is so musically and lyrically dense. There’s a lot to process but I think once you live with it, you’re gonna love it - I hope you do anyway.”
While the album is shaping up to be another jewel in Simz’s crown, it also feels like just another chapter to her. “When I look back at all my projects, I see growth within myself,” she nods. “I feel like each project is better than the last which means I’m getting better and stepping up which I want to continue. I know that people are going to be able to relate to this in a way that will hopefully bring people together,” she says of the album before pausing. “And if not, there’s just a load of bangers on there anyways.”
‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ is out 3rd September via Age 101.
As featured in the July 2021 issue of DIY, out now. Scroll down to get your copy.
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Our July 2021 issue - which lands next Friday - also features Little Simz, Biffy Clyro, Laura Mvula and more.
And she’s also announced a European tour!