2016 was a lucky year for many young alternative hip hop female artists that started at a very young age, many of which can praise collaborations with some of the most influential names in hip hop music, but somehow had left widely unknown for some time before last year’s feat. We could mention Kilo Kish and Noname, both from US. Most people were unfamiliar with these artists even though, for example, Noname has been collaborating with Chance The Rapper for quite a long time. And londoner rapper Simbi Ajikawo a.k.a. Little Simz is even younger; she’s 22 now and she released her sophomore album Stillness in Wonderland on 16th december through her own independent label AGE 101 Music, after countless freely available mixtapes and EPs-including Blank canvas supported by Jay-Z’s Life+Times website. Jay-Z was not the only one to notice her: she was praised by artists like Kendrick Lamar and Mos Def.
By 2015 Simz was ready to step out of bedroom environment into a proper studio and her approach is tough and confident: she raps like she hasn’t been doing anything else in her life. And when you come to know that she started spitting rhymes at 9, then you understand. Her sultry voice makes her sound like she was older and now and then it reminds of the rnb duo from Seattle THEESatisfaction; her music would be worthy to be compared to indie rapper Serengeti. The comparisons are countless though: from Missy Elliott to Lauryn Hill, which were both mentioned by Simz as important influences for her, to Lil’ Kim’s classic Hard core which was released exactly 20 years before, in 1996, when Lil’ Kim was exactly her same age. But if Hard core was notable for its raunchy sexual tone, Stillness in Wonderland immediately presents as an introspective work, way more elegant and clever than Kim’s lyrical delivery, and aspiring to be universal, no matter the sex or the identity. It is subtle and intimate; an introvert’s tortuous path to adulthood in coherence with the concept itself, inspired on Alice in Wonderland‘s tale (and also to be considered as a continuum to her debut album A Curious Tale of Trials+Persons released in 2015).
In the interludes Cheshire’s cat voice reminds of a crazed Tyler the creator’s alter ego WOLF. And you can really imagine little Alice-Simz wondering through her trip: from the introductive, disconcerting bitter “LMPD (featuring Chronixx) which mixes blues and grime, “anxiety and adrenaline”, and the sense of paranoia of the outstanding “Doorways/Trust issues”, to a totally renewed selfconfidence in the statements “I don’t wanna be no overnight sensation-I’m tryna make a record you can’t stop playing”. And right there the skillfully blended transition from “One in rotation” to “Wide awake” is dreamy, jazzy and simply stunning; here actually rings the bell that awakes Sims and takes her back to reality. And the reality is Little Simz is a leader; she was born to be a solo artist and although the featuring with Tilla, Josh Arcé + Chuck 20 is easily one of the sickest tunes of the entire album (“Zone 3″), the interaction with too many male collaborations can be weak as she seems to be left in undue neglect sometimes. Featurings with female artists sounds really successfull instead: “Shotgun“ with the irresistible Syd (The Internet) gives a cheerful soulful break out of the still captivating dead of the nighthints of the album; minimalist and sensual “Bad to the bone” featuring Bibi Bourelly reminds of Drake and it’s a banger.
Stillness in Wonderland is not a traditional rap or hip hop record: it coolly branches out into rock with its ever-present electro guitars even into trap; it ranges from sticky synth keys and trumpets that are smoky in “One in rotation/Wide Awake” but turn into powerful in “Picture perfect”, tribal percussion in “Cheshire’s interlude: Welcome to Wonderland” and in the harsh, biting “Poison Ivy”. Some songs go straight to the point while other ones indulge in a sluggish-tempo and longer instrumental parts without coming apart at all. Her music as well as her rhymes can be whether tough and captivating or relatable and conversational.
It is an incredibly rich, mixed and varied but yet really cohesive work. That’s a good reason why Little Simz definitely looks to be one of the leading name of the prolific U.K. hip hop and grime, but we bet she’ll be capable to spread it all over the world too. Her undeniable talent is clear from the moment she opens her mouth and starts spitting words.