The reception to the 2020 NME awards has been preoccupied with controversy and scandal, overlooking the integral aspect of the evening – the outstanding music of 2019. There were a few surprise winners along the way, but no award was won more deservingly than Little Simz for her extraordinary album GREY Area. Being snubbed for a Brit nomination (like, honestly, how?!) I’m overjoyed that it’s got the recognition it deserves. Nestled in amongst Foals, FKA twigs, Michael Kiwanuka and Slowthai, it was the ‘oldest’ album in the category. Testimony to its longevity and influence, GREY Area won Best British Album and here’s why I’m so glad it did…
Firstly, Little Simz is a master of all trades. Her vibrant creativity can be seen through her previous rich concept album, inciteful lyricism, clinical rap as well as her role in the Netflix reboot of ‘Top Boy’. In an interview with NME, when questioned about her self-affiliation with the likes of Jay-Z, Picasso and Shakespeare on the first track ‘Offence’, she said: “My pen is just as powerful, it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a woman, that Picasso’s a painter and I’m a rapper. It’s all art.” As an inspirational beacon for women, she proves that art transcends categorisation. GREY Area refuses to sit neatly in any genre. It’s funky, fresh and assertive; blending together hip hop, neo-soul, grime and jazzy textures.
I love the fierce confidence of the album, unapologetically female on tracks such as ‘Boss’ as well as unashamedly vulnerable in ‘Sherbet Sunset’. She is direct and sharp, even forcing you to look down the barrel on ‘Venom’. The reflective, inward eye of the album comes across sonically as well as lyrically. ‘101 FM’, for example, is nostalgic both in its sinogrime feel and layered storytelling. Heightened further by the music video, the cover art and the fact that the album is produced by childhood friend Inflo, this reminiscence is just one example of the artists sincerity. Alongside bolshie numbers like ‘Boss’ and ‘Venom’, there is no shortage of tranquillity in tracks such as ‘Selfish’ and ‘Flowers’. The latter particularly showcases some beautiful brass sections meandering in and out of lyrics that scrutinise the dark side of fame.
GREY Area is honest and raw, for this reason ‘Sherbet Sunset’ is probably my favourite song. Emphasised by the paired down beat, its emotional transparency is touching. And yet, often in times of hurt we don’t need sympathy: “please don’t listen to this and ask me if I’m hurtin’ or if I’m okay. Allow me to be human and be in my feels”. Time and time again her lyrics hit the spot perfectly.
There is integrity in this album, Little Simz doesn’t hide behind metaphors or misplaced braggadocio, she lays herself bare. With or without an award, GREY Area is a phenomenal piece of art. However, from the moment her name was announced you could see how much this recognition meant. Bringing Mama Simz up on stage as well was a lovely touch (what a cutie). Post-award, Simz said she would be “staying creative” but taking a breather and recharging. So, let’s see what the future holds. Watch this space!
Listen for yourself: