Review Summary: We do not see the f**kery until we’re out of it.
'GREY Area' is – unquestionably – the best hip-hop of the year so far. While the genre may be in the midst of a commercial watershed moment, Little Simz is here to ask us what cost that comes at. I like Post Malone & Childish Gambino. I really do. But let’s be clear as can be—it’s all a little bit s**t, & it’s only going to get worse with age. Little Simz is here to give us all a little clarity.
At only 35-odd minutes & 10 tracks, 'GREY Area' is a practice in sparsity. Nearly every beat throughout this project aim for simple-yet-effective, juxtaposing with the trap-flavored trends dominating the genre the past few years. Simz shows little outside influence from adjacent genres, instead focusing on old school hip-hop & grime with swaggering bass & percussion on every track. All of this is to highlight the vocal performances, which are genuinely difficult to overstate. At one point in 'Venom,' she’s rapping over a lone ride cymbal & absolutely crushing it over the hardest track on the record. She is constantly hitting with powerful, flexible flows, nailing every single lyrical moment—bar for bar for bar. From rapid fire rapping to shouting, there isn’t a weak or predictable moment in her performance throughout the entire LP.
This is such a standout record because Little Simz manages to make each track a focused exercise in honesty. While some of the greats in the hip-hop community have been releasing some of their weakest & most cluttered material on their most recent outputs (looking at you, DAMN.), the topics on each track of this are tightly condensed. This allows for some potent statements on the likes of gun violence on 'Wounds', self-love on 'Selfish,' or mental fortitude on 'Therapy.' Every track does exactly what it sets out to do with extreme precision & consistency across the entire run time.
While this record may be darn near flawless, it isn’t perfect. Little Simz gives a world-class showing in skill, discipline, dedication, & purpose that virtually none of her peers can match, but this project does lack a certain amount of ambition. As outstanding as the songs are, 'GREY Area' is still just a collection of tracks without a major overarching theme with little in the way of left-fielders thrown in the mix. Each song is fairly predictable & there aren’t a lot of risks taken. All this is to say that the future for Little Simz is even brighter than her present. Even with how high a caliber she's performing at now, her way upwards seems fairly clear.
Without being overly braggadocios (although with lines like ‘I’m Jay-Z on my bad day, Shakespeare on my worst days,’ she proves she can pull that off whenever she wants), & without taking aim at the state of hip-hop today, she shows what we’ve been missing out on. We’ve gradually lowered our standards, to the point where mediocrity has been dominating even some of the most critically acclaimed hip-hop records of this generation. Little Simz is here to snap us out of this & show us that we should hold our artists to a higher standard. Get it together hip-hop - you've got a new king.