Why is Little Simz’ GREY Area on my best 1,000 albums ever list?
Fresh and compelling and original and, above all, good hip hop out of England.
What does Little Simz’ GREY Area mean to me? What does it make me feel? Why is it exciting or compelling?
A little real talk before we get into GREY Area. I don’t connect strongly with a ton of popular music that’s being produced these days. Which, really, is as it should be. Without aging myself overly much, you’ll clearly see by way of the music cataloged in the rankings on this here best 1,000 albums ever project that while there are albums produced almost 100 years ago in the early 1920s all the way through 2022 and beyond (it’s very early 2022 at the time of this writing), there’s a little more of a bias for roughly the range of 1980s through the early 2000s.
And, I should take a moment to note that this is the 100th entry in the best 1,000 albums ever! How cool to have gone from #1,000’s Living in Darkness, a 1981 album by Agent Orange, to Little Simz’ 2019 album, GREY Area at #901.
When it comes to rap music that is currently popular, I honestly find a lot of it to be fairly uninteresting, at times mumbly and underproduced, at others monotone or just boring.
Which is all to say that when I hear current hip hop music that breaks out of that dynamic and is fresh and compelling and original and, above all, good I get pretty excited.
Enter GREY Area, a wildly original album by Little Simz, a female* rapper out of England.
*I mention that Simz is female only from the standpoint that hip hop and rap are still genres mostly dominated by men, still, so it’s even more refreshing to see a female MC doing her thing at this level.
“Offence” is incredible in a way where you’re like “why isn’t anyone else doing anything even close to this?” Combining jazz flute, an Afrika Bambaataa-like vibe, dissonant sound effects, some cartoon samples(!), and most importantly, a brilliantly original flow expressed with Wu-Tang-like bravado and lyrics to back it all up.
I’m Jay-Z on a bad day, Shakespeare on my worst days
Never been a punk, trust you can get it in the worst way
“Boss,” which brings in a blues guitar riff as backdrop to Little Simz doing her thing, is noteworthy and impressive from the perspective that she’s not afraid to deploy a full range of musical influences throughout the album.
And “Wounds” takes us for another turn yet again, a more languid collaboration with Chronix that features a strumming guitar, lush production, and a pretty chorus that counters Little Simz’ rap style nicely.
Pop culture stuff that’s somehow related to Little Simz’ GREY Area
A little bit more with relation to my thoughts on “current” hip hop and rap. The Netflix reality competition show, Rhythm + Flow, turned me around to an extent. The show took a serious shot at finding, essentially, America’s Next Hip Hop Superstar, and showcased an impressive array of talent on route during its first season.
Here’s the thing, though: a lot of the show had its participants rapping in a stripped down, freestyle mode that I found stunning both in terms of the skills it exposed but also because that level of raw, emotive flow connects with me, much as the best underground rap always has for me.
As the contestants – which isn’t the best term for these hip hop artists, but that’s technically what they were on Rhythm + Flow – got further into the competition and closer to the finals, they were tasked with ever more elaborate challenges that included producing their songs with well known hip producers and creating original music videos.
In most cases, this was where the music itself became a lot interesting to me. Maybe “the sound” of these hip hop songs fit whatever is popular with mainstream hip hop audiences currently, but I far preferred the raw, stripped down versions.
And for the record, while I think that Season 1 winner D Smoke is highly talented and impressive, I was pulling for eventual 6th place finisher Sam Be Yourself. And I was also highly intrigued by Old Man Saxon, among a bunch of others.
In any event, I very much hope we’ll get a Season 2 one of these days. Current outlook is “TBD in 2022.”
Some stats & info about Little Simz – GREY Area
- What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Rap, Hip Hop, British Rap
- Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – not ranked!
- All Music’s rating – 4.5 out of 5 stars
- When was GREY Area released? 2019
- My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #901 out of 1,000
Little Simz’ GREY Area on Spotify
What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?
Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.
But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective take on what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.