British rapper Little Simz has been a prominent figure on the scene for several years; even so, she is often sidelined by the rise of grime and U.K. drill in spite of her introspective, prescient wordplay and desire to explore interesting and diverse styles. On her third full-length album, Grey Area, Simz has reached a new peak, with an honest record that isn't afraid to take shots at the world at large. It's also incredibly concise -- an aspect that many of her peers often miss the mark on -- with no filler despite the broad variation the record boasts.
Simz comes out swinging on opening track "Offence," which acts as a declaration of intent for everything that follows, as she bellows "I said it with my chest and I don't care who I offend." It acts in part as a battle cry but also as a primer for truths, both personal and social, that she is capable of exploring. This double-edged approach is demonstrated over the next two tracks, with "Boss" aiming outward and "Selfish" decidedly inward; the latter is a master class in songwriting -- it manages to be soothing and powerful in equal measure. The lush instrumentation draws comparisons to Solange's "Cranes in the Sky," as the vocal range and classy atmosphere in both tracks brings them unavoidably parallel to each other.
Grey Area has no real weaknesses, as Simz takes her sound in multiple directions without sacrificing quality. Take the nostalgia trip of "101 FM," which has an unconventional melody and takes an unashamedly rose-tinted look at days gone by yet remains captivating. It slides straight into the low-slung groove of "Pressure" featuring Little Dragon -- who continue to stun with their guest spots. They act as one of four collaborators, also including Cleo Sol, Chronixx, and Michael Kiwanuka, all of whom are used to add flavor rather than dominate the songs they appear on.
At this stage in her career, Little Simz is at the top of her game, asserting herself as a global contender by displaying well-realized variety and concise lyrical flow. Her evolution up to this point was a clear signifier, with all the components in place even in her early work; on Grey Area, it feels as if everything has come together in perfect unison, resulting in one of the strongest rap albums of 2019.