News 16 December 2016
Author: Cam Donald

1st Listen Review: Little Simz’s ‘Stillness In Wonderland’ album

Author Cam Donald
16 December 2016

We’re just over a year removed from the release of Little Simz’s critically acclaimed debut album A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons, which set her up for an incredible 2016.

Since the turn of the year, the independent Space Age artist has dropped a project (AGE 101: DROP X), supported Lauryn Hill on tour, performed at Glastonbury, played shows in Japan and South Africa, made her way onto the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 List as well as the XXL Freshman Cover long list AND released a highly-anticipated sophomore album: Stillness In Wonderland. Let’s not forget, she’s done all this and she’s still only 22. 

Upon the release of the album today, Simz released the following statement which gives a lot of context to the concept and themes of Stillness in Wonderland:

GRM Daily

So, here we go – Little Simz’s Stillness In Wonderland – an album I’ve been waiting a while for!

“LMPD” (feat. Chronixx)

The opening track starts off with a haunting few lyrics; “Mentally Deranged” rings out on top of some airy production. Simz questions whether she’s “Let her people down”, a thought echoed by the tender vocals of Chronixx who appears to be leading this track by taking on the lengthy second verse. This is very cool. Chronixx’s vocals are really unique and sits nicely with the production. As Chronixx’s verse finishes, Simz comes back in to deliver the same eerie vocals that opened the track. Okay, here we are, her first verse on the project. She’s singing, and it’s dope. I get the impression this track is Simbi battling her own “Anxiety” to put on for her team, family and friends.

“Cheshire’s Interlude: Welcome to Wonderland”

Okay so this is quite sound scapey, like a jungle, with some daunting guitar riffs going on in the background a vocal drops in over the top to welcome Simz to Wonderland and give her a word of warning. Our introduction to the project’s “Cheshire” character.

“Doorways + Trust Issues”

The album is really smooth so far. From the feint brass in the back of the beat, to the nature of Simz’s sung vocals. Ahh, I love this bar – “I just laughed and hit the dab” – so atypically Simz, which makes it so perfect. “My last name means ‘Count Money’ can you pronounce Ajikawo” is my favourite line on the project so far. “Doorways” transitions into “Trust Issues” with a vocal line where Simz asks “What happens if I follow the white rabbit?”. This is hard. The beat is hard, the lyrics are hard. “Trust Issues” is dope. I can just imagine a whole crowd chanting “I don’t trust these bitches!” with Simz as she delivers it so nonchalantly.

“Her (Interlude)”

A sick guitar riff opens up this shorter track. Simz is just doing her here, with some nice storytelling lyrics. I get the impression that this album is like an inner monologue Simz is letting us get an insight to – there are many themes running through these verses that the listener can tell are quite personal. All the production is so warm, though, it’s such a cool juxtaposition to hear Simz spilling her darker thoughts on top of such full beats.

“One In Rotation + Wide Awake” (feat. SiR)

This SiR vocal is awesome, like the type of vocal you’d hear on an old-school Game record. It’s a proper west-coast sounding melody too, very confident and very suave. The beat is quite west-coast too, you know. A different direction for Simz on this track. Oh, but there is the brass again…did someone say Donnie Trumpet? This track reminds me of Dre’s latest album Compton. Ooh, that transition into “Wide Awake” was smoooooth. There’s a lot of singing on this album so far, it’s already so different to A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons.

“Shotgun” (feat. Syd)

This is a definite feel-good track. Simz reveals how she’s got her own place, her own whip and she’s in control of her own sh*t. Is this a love song? Have we heard a Simz love song before? The concept for this is really unique, actually. She has managed to spin the old-age “Shotgun!” rule into a love-story – she’s looking for someone to ride shotgun with her in her new whip. The wordplay on this track is clever, too. The track outros with “Put your hands in the air, it’s a stick up!” perhaps implying that love is a crime of some sort? Dope.

“Picture Perfect”

Ahhh, nah, this track is gassed. “Rabbit holes where it goes down” is a wicked bar given the theme of the project, and the hook is strong too, a real crowd pleaser: “Wonderland is amazing ain’t it, never ever wanna leave, wanna stay lit”. I love the production here, a great job from producer Rascal. Probably the hardest beat on the album so far. Nice shoutout to Game of Thrones‘ Littlefinger character in here too, which deserves its props. Almost half-way through the album and it’s really starting to kick off.

“Cheshire’s Interlude: Misled”

“You must always follow the white rabbit, this is Wonderland Simbi – anything can happen” advises Cheshire. I love the idea of this character tying the project together, so, so clever. 

“King Of Hearts” (feat. Chip & Ghetts)

Right, just look at the features. This is gonna be hard. Chip is going in like he doesn’t even care, fresh of his MOBO win he’s just dropping knowledge on top of a subby beat. “Know yourself, know your place, know your history, stay in your lane” and “I took off more heads than Henry VIII” are standout bars from the Power-Up MC’s verse. Simz is killing it though on verse two. A reference to Tha Carter III gives us insight into who Simz used to listen to growing up in North London. This flow is unfair, Simbi, you’re going in, jeez. Okay, here’s Ghetts – can he 1-up the song? YES. YES HE CAN. This flow is nuts, the vocal mixing is crazy too – Kendrick-esque. The production is mad, these strings and brass just change the whole tone of the beat. “King Of Hearts” is just a madness, start to finish – a fantastic track. I might’ve had to reload this one, it was a bit too hard…

“Bad To The Bone: (feat. Bibi Bourelly)

Oh, I do love a bit of Bibi Bourelly. The “Bitch Better Have My Money” songwriter goes hard on everything she pens, this track is gonna be a problem. Oh, for sure, this verse is awesome. Bibi’s riffing some crazy-sounding vocals and talking the hardest at the same time. She’s basically spitting, actually. So much swagger in her delivery, this is really cool. Simz comes in with a wordy verse; very melodic. I can’t really explain how different this is to the last Simz project we got earlier this year. So much progression, it’s really good to see. 

“Zone 3” (feat. Tilla, Josh Arce, Chuck 20)

Sweet double-time flow from Simz opens this track. “Living in a dark place in these dark ages” is a bar that really gives a bit of insight into what Simz must’ve been going through when writing this impressive album. Another smooth hook here before Simz’s Space Age family take on the remaining verses. A very thin vocal from Tilla cuts through the beat like a knife, a very cool flow here with ballistic wordplay. Another great verse here from Josh Arce, too – his unique flow standing up to the other verses on the track.

“Poison Ivy” (feat. Tilla)

I love this song. It came out a few days ago and really set the precedent for the rest of the album. Simz’s sung vocals are super-smooth here. A concept we can all relate to, I’m sure – “This is toxic I know” is the hookline. I love the guitar riffs on this track. “Bad for me: Poison Ivy” rings out in the chorus – a catchy hook that sits great above the warm production. There are so many little bits of instrumentation sprinkled throughout this album, it’s hard to catch them sometimes but they compliment the tracks so perfectly. 

“Cheshire’s Interlude: Stay”

More dope production sits beneath Cheshire’s words to Simz. Very different to the other tracks on this project.

“Low Tides”

Oh, Simz, this is hard. The rap verses are sick, but the hook takes the cake on “Low Tides”. A lamenting track with a dark tone, this one goes in. This is probably my favourite hook on this project “When you’re feeling low, you drink too much, and the cycle goes on” hits hard with the listener. I love how reflective this whole album is, we’re listening to Simz’s diary of growing up and coping with all the struggles she deals with all the while trying to put herself out there with all the amazing things she’s been doing. It’s a very vulnerable record; very detailed.

“No More Wonderland”

“I don’t wanna be in this Wonderland no more” rings out on the hook of ‘No More Wonderland’ – there are so many conceptual metaphors going on in this album that it’s hard not to be impressed. It’s all so personal, but in a way, you just relate – maybe it’s the pain behind Simz’s delivery of the hooks and verses that does it. Simz sings “I don’t wanna be alone” – a theme that runs throughout the whole record, a theme we’ve not really seen Simz touch on before in her previous projects. It’s nice to get a different insight into what Simz has been doing, especially after her intimate event in Hackney the other day where she showcased the “Welcome to Wonderland” short film and played fans the album, mentioning how tough making the album has been on her and how sincerely thankful she was for all the support she had been getting. I think what we can forget is how hard artists work to create ambitious bodies of work; we forget the sacrifices they have to make to achieve something they can be proud of. It’s great to hear that side of the tale on Stillness In Wonderland.

In summary, then, Little Simz has really come through with this record. It’s hard not to love what she’s doing, because it’s so ambitious and well-thought-out. There are very few rap artists in the UK that are attempting full on concept projects – the only other artist I can think of at the moment is Shakka – so for Simz to have pulled off an interesting, metaphorical piece like this is seriously impressive.

The production is lush and complimentary of Simz’s smooth hook vocals and hard-hitting rap verses, whilst the features all play their parts and deliver some outstanding vocal cuts. Stillness In Wonderland is a huge step forward for Simz after A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons, as it shows how she can still grow as an artist to develop into an even better creative.

After wrongly being snubbed by the BBC and several award shows this year, Simbi has delivered a first-class rap album with all the potential to go down as a pioneering body of British rap music. Great work, Simbi, I’m already stoked for Simz #3.