Ask any aspiring musician what their wonderland is and nine out of ten will say the music industry—the allure of big labels and big money is drawing artists down the rabbit holes of appearances and facades that can make or break a career. In an industry that is becoming simultaneously more homogenous and diverse, Little Simz lies outside of the typical definitions of a performing artist. From her dedication to her indie label Space Age 101 to her genre-defying music, she is very much a revolutionary force in hip-hop.
Simz is relentless. Her style of music adds a more soulful flavor to the rapid-fire lyric-intensive grime influences ingrained in her identity by her life in London. Over the last three years, Simbi Ajikawo has released 10 projects, including her award-winning debut LP A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons. Simz didn’t rest on her laurels, however, instead launching into a full year of touring internationally as solo artist and special guest. During this time she undertook her “biggest challenge to date,” the creation of her second studio album Stillness in Wonderland (SIW).
SIW is a polished and incredibly tight album. As with all the projects Simz has released, the album capitalizes on her lyrical ability and natural ease over a variety of instrumentals to create a effortless collection of tracks. Simz described the difficulty she faced in finding an inspiration, settling by a stroke of broadcasting fortune on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland as an eloquent metaphor for her venture into the nuance of the music industry as both an external and internal journey. SIW is a cohesive narrative, a sequel to the story of her encounters with trials and persons as she travels further down the rabbit holes she has found herself exploring.
The “Cheshire’s Interludes” tie the narrative of SIW together. The voice of her benevolent yet intimidating tour guide welcomes her to Wonderland, and implores her to “trust in her intuition.” “I know you’re quite the dreamer, be careful,” warns the voice. “This could end up being your reality.”
Simbi describes the album as a project of self discovery, “forcing me to spread my wings musically and creatively and allowing me to grow as an artist.” This album is Simz’s platform to do just that, trust in her intuition to create a project that is more deeply personal than anything prior we’ve seen from the Londoner. Songs like “Poison Ivy,” “Doorways + Trust Issues,” or “Low Tides” show a deeper and more introspective side to the artist as she reflects on romance, anxiety, and insecurities as an artist and human. Simz brings a familiar cast of characters in the form of long time friends and collaborators Chuck20, Bibi Bourelly, SiR Tilla and Josh Arce. Newer faces add more vibrancy and color to songs like “Shotgun,” a dreamy song that contrasts Simz’s bouncy deliveries with smooth, ethereal bridges delivered by The Internet’s Syd. Simz trades bars with grime kings Chip and Ghetts on “King of Hearts.”
The guests she brings make story of the album more coherent. What is wonderland without friends to keep our protagonist on track and push her to be better? However, as Simz begins to familiarize herself with nuances and obstacles of the industry she demonstrates her ability to do it herself as well. The crazy, breathless flows of “Picture Perfect” and “No More Wonderland” let Simz showcase her independent ability over the instrumentals, which she fluctuates between bodying and fading into.
SIW is more than Little Simz’s sophomore album. It’s a declaration of intent. Simz is a driven, fiercely independent and talented musician with a massive repertoire and emphasized by her outstanding natural ability. Her genre-bending music is defying all assumptions. She put herself into her album, pushing not only to better herself but also to make a positive change in the world. The album is already receiving plaudits from her fans and peers, and is an emphatic end to 2016 for Little Simz.
Stream SIW on SoundCloud and check out Simz’s 15-minute feature film to accompany the album, Stillness in Wonderland: The Film.