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Best albums of 2021: Little Simz’s ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’

The emerging rapper re-imagines the revenge narrative

The Undefeated asked our writers to pick the most important albums from an insane year. Find the rest of their selections here.

A desire for revenge is one of the most universal emotions. In our darkest moments, in our most honest times, we’ve felt the pull to exact revenge on people who’ve wronged us. And sometimes those feelings of wanting retribution, reckoning or even the satisfaction of seeing the wrongdoers suffer, can consume us, becoming one of the only things we think about.

Little Simz’s album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, was released in the middle of a real-life quest for revenge between Kanye West and Drake, whose albums dropped a week apart from each other this summer. While the two men were engaged in a petty war of words, leaked songs and publicized group chats based on unresolved slights from years past, Simz offered a different path for reckoning.

Age 101/AWAL Recordings

The track “Little Q, Pt. 2” is about Simz’s cousin, a young man raised in the rough part of South London who had been stabbed in the chest. The song, rapped in first person from Little Q’s perspective, details the pain, fear and tragedy of a near-death experience. But instead of casting blame or promising revenge on the culprit, the song finds an understanding of the society that contributes to stabbings like these in the first place:

But the boy that stabbed me is just as damaged as me

I could’ve been the reflection that he hated

The part of him he wishes God did not waste time creating

The broken homes in which we’re comin’ from, but who’s the blame when

You’re dealt the same cards from the system you’re enslaved in?

The song ends like these events often end in real life: with everyone grappling with the trauma of hospital beds, wounds, post-traumatic stress disorder and nothing resolved.

Listening to the track made me think about Mystikal’s “Murderer” or Eve’s “Love Is Blind,” which end in execution-style murders of the people who caused violence to the musicians’ loved ones. Instead, Simz lets us know that it’s OK to sit in the pain and uncertainty of what comes next. No need for posturing. She allows us to free ourselves from the need for revenge.

But this isn’t about the often-romanticized desire for Black people — Black women, especially — to endure trauma while displaying an endless capacity to absorb pain. Simz doesn’t come close to fulfilling that fetish.

On “I Love You, I Hate You,” Simz is honest, piercing and unrelenting about the impact of her father’s absence. The unfiltered venting of her feelings about the way her father hurt her is a dagger that he’ll surely feel. But that’s not the goal of the song. Instead, Simz turns her reckoning inward, choosing catharsis as her means of recovery.

It’s a refreshing change in an industry that’s sometimes reluctant to express emotional hurt and then look at how to heal that hurt. Instead, songs that talk about the hurt that comes from complex emotions such as neglect or parental apathy often synthesize that emotion into a desire to succeed to make that parent regret their misdeeds. It’s a revenge narrative that offers little in the way of healing the person who’s been scarred. Think Jay-Z’s “Where Have You Been?” where he brags, “Mommy driving 6s now [Yeah], I got riches now [Yeah]/ … We doing real good, we don’t miss you now.” Tyler, The Creator’s “Answer” is full of anti-gay slurs and rage about his absent father as well as reminders of his success as his bandage: “Got a show on Monday, guess who ain’t getting no passes.”

But “I Love You, I Hate You” doesn’t traffic in those platitudes. Simz doesn’t use her success to punish her father for his neglect. Instead, she balances sadness with understanding. She holds him to the fire without baptizing him in it. “He was just once a boy, often I seem to forget/Lookin’ at Polaroids of pictures secretly kept/You know what was destroyed, but you don’t know what was left.”

By the song’s end, Simz chooses freedom. “I’m not forgivin’ for you, man, I’m forgivin’ for me.” That one line defines the defiance and strength of Simz’s album and what it gives us: the ability to resist shallow ideals of reckoning. Simz isn’t consumed with the popular idea of revenge and its outward impact on the enemy. Her album focuses on herself and gives us permission to have enough grace with ourselves to do the same.

David Dennis, Jr. is a senior writer at The Undefeated and an American Mosaic Journalism Prize recipient. His book, The Movement Made Us, will be released in 2022. David is a graduate of Davidson College.