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Little Simz GREY Area Age 101

There’s plenty to admire about Little Simz but there hasn’t always been a lot to enjoy. On third album GREY Area, the deep-thinking rapper matches these indomitable strengths with a richer set of instrumentals and more adroit songcraft than before.

Simz, in her familiar north London tone, raps over the kind of heavy, percussion-driven beats that Nas was leaning on a decade ago. The battering drums of Boss sees Simz at her most dissonant, while the fuzzy bassline and dramatic strings of Offence sound like they were captured from the grubbiest corner of the 70s soul canon. On the other end of the stylistic spectrum, the simple piano chords and sweet hook of Selfish forms a fresh slice of laidback lounge rap.

As ever, Simz’s writing is sharp. Over producer Inflo’s thin electronic beat that sounds like it was teased out of a hacked Gameboy, 101 FM evokes the star’s youth as she remembers growing up to the pirate radio stations that grooved London in the 00s. Less successful is Little Dragon-featuring Pressure, where barbed rapping, heavy drums and gentle piano chords feel at odds with one another. Still, this is Simz at her most enjoyable, delivering everything that makes her distinct but with a welcome layer of polish.