Published Dec 22, 2016Little Simz is an anomaly, exuding humble vulnerability and steely confidence in the same breath. On her latest full-length, Stillness in Wonderland (the followup to her 2015 debut album A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons) she oscillates between those spheres deftly, forthrightly spitting one moment — "Is heaven my place? / I'm forever in space / On some shit I need changing / I'll confess to your face" on "Her (interlude)," over congas — and opening up about anxiety the next. On opening track "LMPD," for example, she asks, "Have I let my people down?" as downcast guitars and synths encroach on her voice from all sides. On the same song, she also confesses to feeling lesser than her idol, Maya Angelou.
However, the 22-year-old British MC has few reasons to be so unsure of herself, based on the way astounding musical feats abound here. Take the elephant trunk trumpets and joyfully funky groove of "Picture Perfect" evokes Missy Elliott in her prime, while "King of Hearts" also has a hypnotic, techno-ish groove reminiscent of Elliott's early Timbaland-assisted classics. A distinctive style all Simz' own shines through on "No More Wonderland," what with its jazzy horns straight out of a vintage noir flick, and even more on the irresistible "Shotgun," which has radio-smash-ready upbeat synths and a chorus that urges, "Put ya hands in the air like it's a stickup!"
However, the most moving track might be "Doorways + Trust Issues," which sports a flamboyantly funky sax sample over which Simz expresses her hesitance to have faith in others and herself (hence the song's title). However, she overcomes those hurdles: "Am I insecure now… My imperfections made me who I'm trying to be." "One in Rotation" is equally affirming, especially when Simz ends it in a funky, reggae-tinged breakdown that implores listeners to not be so hard on themselves.
With this fearlessly vulnerable, triumphantly anthemic album, Little Simz asserts herself among the queens of her genre — Janelle Monáe, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott and Erykah Badu. Stillness in Wonderland is a wonder to behold. (Age 101)