Little Simz remains an independent artist, defies expectations in 'Stillness in Wonderland'
Stillness in Wonderland by Little Simz
This year has been a great landmark one for the wonderful women of hip-hop. We continue to be treated by the fabulous offerings from 3D Na’Tee, Lady Paradox, Sammus and Kate Tempest and now, emcee Little Simz from London adds her piece to the mosaic with Stillness in Wonderland, her second LP following A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons (2015). Like her last, this quality, out-of-the-blue album comes via Simz’ Age 101 label, and the growth shown by her and her team herein is commendable, from the more varied, more enchanting score than Simbi’s previous tracks to her improved all-around emceeing.
One significant way in which Stillness in Wonderland resembles the Alice fairytale is by way of the “Cheshire Interludes” moving Simz and her guests along. After the first, she sets the table with wisdom straight out the gate in “Doorways + Trust Issues” admitting, “everybody’s gotta talk ‘stead of showing love, they take something real small then they blow it up, [I] can’t take the fake sh*t these days, everybody wanna fake sh*t these days, while you’re being wasteful in a time of need I be out here trying to save sh*t these days.”
Slow easygoing rock moves us to “Shotgun” (with Syd from The Internet) where Simbi shows us how firm of a rock she is. She is aspiring in life so she has no time for nor is she looking for so-so flings. This is where Simz gets tough. She’s woeful of the ongoing battles of everyday living over enlivened strings and jazzy, kazoo-y oboe bursts in “Picture Perfect,” lamenting that “you can only eat if you’re hunting or you’re willing to kill, mercy is never shown and damnit it’s all I’ve known, remember to pay your debts, this sh*t is some game of thrones.” The hard-shelled tendencies persist into “King of Hearts” featuring grounded spitters Chip and Ghetts, and of course “Bad to the Bone” (ft. Bibi Bourelly) is somewhat hardcore too.
The rest is tenderized but still plenty to chew on nevertheless. Simz, Tilla, Josh Arcé and Chuck20 wander through and explore their vast perspectives like the lands they’ve seen and/or imagined in “Zone 3” to quiet tambourines, crying guitar and sweet flutes. “Poison Ivy”’s relationship-reflections have Simz saying “don’t push me now, don’t let me down” next to Tilla softly crying out “show me love, show me now” all to squelching electric guitar and rhythmic clomping steps. She’s not vague but some of Simz’ lines can be interpreted multiple ways, like this one from “Low Tides”: “women are trying to get the diamond ring from a man, there’s a bigger plan, so figure it out while you can.” Is this a knock on materialism, or on the institution of marriage, both, or something else? Other ones are more straightforward, like “though the truth hurts I’ll be okay, being ruthless that ain’t no way.”
Many times, like in the outro “No More Wonderland,” Simbi is simply down but not out, pulled in different directions but committed to finding the right one for her. She can always be counted on to offer appealing, thought-provoking messages however. We’re truly witnessing a nice step up for the young but rapidly developing emcee since last year with this sophomore.
Progressive and evolved in her rapping methods for sure, Little Simz doesn’t always stick to the rigid sixteen bar structure of classic rap, but her verses always have the most fundamental qualities of good authentic hip-hop lyricism, and the music beats this time around are more textured than those on Curious Tale. Stillness is missing some in-depth storytelling and issues and current event subjects but still, Simz has successfully delivered a lessons-hearty project that no doubt matches the best rap albums of the month so far. Are we experiencing the beginnings of hip-hop’s own British invasion at the moment? Maybe, but Simz is not about to play up to any such speculations or expectations. She’s perfectly content going at her own rate on her own terms. (Stream Stillness in Wonderland on Bandcamp, Spotify and Youtube.)