Back in 2015, around the release of her debut album, Simbiatu “Little Simz” Ajikawo made an unlikely appearance at the Proms at the Albert Hall. She was there as part of a takeover by the station BBC Radio 1Xtra, rapping alongside Wretch 32, Stormzy and Krept & Konan over the grandiose sounds of the Metropole Orkest. Any ideas she may have gained from the experience are coming to fruition now. Introvert, the opening song on this fourth album, is so powerfully orchestrated it makes Rule Britannia sound like Simon & Garfunkel.
That title suggests a quiet soul, perhaps a bit shellshocked from the praise and awards that were showered on her last release, GREY Area. Her breakthrough had a big sound, notably on the frenetic TikTok favourite Venom, but here she goes for broke, with a choir of voices on Little Q Pt2 and Gems, pummelling electronic bass on Speed and a lavish intro on I Love You, I Hate You that recalls the hot buttered soul of Isaac Hayes.
The music has been recorded mostly with the producer Inflo, who is also a key component of Michael Kiwanuka’s similarly ambitious output and the remarkable work of the mysterious soul collective Sault. Simz raps on the most recent release by the latter and the favour is repaid here when their singer Cleo Sol adds her silky tones to the feminist anthem Woman. It’s a highly appealing retro soul recipe that also reaches as far as a Nigerian groove on Fear No Man and squelchy electrofunk on Protect My Energy.
Contrary to the implications of the title she seems brimming with confidence, and self-help speeches dotted around the songs from The Crown actor Emma Corrin keep morale high. Nevertheless, her range of worries surface on Introvert, where she laments her career keeping her away from a grieving friend, on I See You, where she sounds loved up and vulnerable, and especially on I Love You, I Hate You, where she steers hairpin bends around the complexities of her feelings about her absent father.
There’s bigger picture stuff too, with black leaders through history praised on Standing Ovation, politics discussed and great women celebrated. After 19 tracks and well over an hour there’s a feeling that she hasn’t left out a thing. If GREY Area prompted the wider world to discover what she can do, this is the sound of Simz entering her imperial phase. It’s a multicoloured marvel.