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In Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, there’s a central question that Little Simz keeps coming back to: “Simz the artist or Simbi the person?”
The line comes in the album’s epic scream of an opener, Introvert. With an urgent delivery against a thundering orchestra, Simz confronts both the deeply personal (“Close to success but from happiness I’m the furthest”) and the highly political; “All we see is broken homes here and poverty / Corrupt government officials lies and atrocities.” Introvert is both a rallying war cry for an activist generation forged in fire and a study of the personal internal conflict that drives the rest of the album; Simz the artist or Simbi the person?
“As I started making the album and properly piecing together the songs, it seemed like a recurring theme that kept coming back” Simz explains. “Sometimes it feels like these two parts of me are at war within the same body; I need to find a way to make them coexist in harmony. I had a lot of honest conversations with the people closest to me about how my life and my success has changed our relationships. There have been times someone might have needed me on a personal front and I’ve had to do something work related. Sometimes I think back on those occasions and I don’t even remember what the work was, but I remember that person needed me, so which one was more important?”
With Mercury and Mobo nominations, Ivor Novello and NME Awards, a critically garlanded music career and a starring role in Top Boy, one of the most talked about Netflix reboots under her belt, Simz has undoubtedly had a meteoric few years, coming a long way from her start handing out mixtapes in the school playground. There’s no question she was always poised for success though; she has always been an artist – wildly ambitious, fiercely talented and devoted to her work – for as long as she can remember. But it wasn’t until she started marking her new album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, on the verge of her twenty-sixth birthday, that she realised the toll that success was taking on her personal life. “I decided to go out to LA and do some sessions. I wanted to open a fresh notebook and analyse this part of my life; I didn’t find the writing experience easy, I went to depths that are really uncomfortable” she admits. “I pushed my pen, I really challenged myself”.
The result is her most cathartic and ambitious record yet, a coruscating journey into the heart of what it means to be alive in these tumultuous times, and one which looks set to neatly cement her position as one of the most potent and vital young talents around today. Working with her childhood friend and regular collaborator, producer Inflo, Simz left no stone unturned in both its sound and its stories. In a nineteen-track album that moves from gorgeous neo-soul moments to late noughties production, with rousing, orchestral-backed bangers and unexpectedly ethereal interludes featuring The Crown’s Emma Corrin, Simz shifts seamlessly from micro to macro, confronting everything from strained relationships with family to the societal tears caused by class stratification.
It also laid bare bruises in her personal life that she had never revealed before – often in painful, deeply uncomfortable ways. The track, “I Love You, I Hate You” covered such raw material that Simz almost refused to write it. “Flo asked me, what do you love and what do you hate? I knew the answer immediately, but I was adamant I didn’t want to talk about it. Eventually I wrote it to placate him, I had no idea that it would become one of the most important songs on the record.” The spectre she didn’t want to talk about was her absent father. “Are you a sperm donor or a Dad to me?” she asks, as a funky guitar riff gives way to vibrant strings and a moving choral climax. “My ego won’t fully allow me to say that I miss you” she confesses. “A woman who hasn’t confronted all her Daddy issues.” As palpable as her anger – and sorrow – are, it’s in working through her feelings Simz finds some sense of resolution. In the last verse she concludes, “I’m not forgiving for you, man, I’m forgiving for me.”
“I’ve always had these high expectations” says Simz, “but the line, ‘he was just once a boy I often seem to forget’ was about remembering [my Dad] is only human. I was approaching it from a different angle, I didn’t want to say, ‘fuck you fuck you, because – and the song played a vital part of me feeling like this – now I don’t feel angry. That’s due to me writing about it and letting it go in a way.”
Through the experience of writing; Simz came to understand the true power of her introversion. “If there’s an event people always expect me to comment or put a statement on my social media but I’m just not that person. I understand I have a platform and a voice, but how I choose to use it is up to me, and I use it through my art. It’s really noisy out there; everyone wants to have an opinion and express themselves, and of course people should, but I am a writer and I understand words are very powerful. I see things with a different lenses; I put a lot of thought into what I write.” While working on the album, Simz found herself drawn to the likes of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, John Coltrane and Smokey Robinson (who she samples on Two Worlds Apart). “A lot of their classic songs were written in their early twenties” she says. “They were tapped in from early”. That’s why in this album I’ve learned to really go beneath the surface.”
But it’s in baring her soul on the album that makes Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’s celebratory moments even more powerful. I See You is a gorgeous account of being in love, while Woman is a soulful love letter to women around the world. “I love it when I see women doing their thing and looking flawless; I’m here for that! It’s empowering, it’s inspiring; I wanted to say thank you and I wanted to celebrate them.”
There’s a striking duality of Sometimes I Might be Introvert’s bold, epic tracks and its softer, intimate songs. The final track of the album, Miss Understood, is the opener’s polar opposite, and yet still packs an equally powerful punch. With just keys, a drum kick and Simz mellow delivery, she unpacks her strained relationship with her sister in heart-breaking detail. Throughout the record, these examples of pain are interspersed with beautiful declarations of love and joy, as Simz shares the full scope of her emotions through moving and dexterous wordplay. “It wasn’t easy. It was challenging going that far, going that deep, so I’m proud of myself.”