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Album Review: The Late Bloomer

Lil Simba
The Late Bloomer

With so much of mainstream modern music focused on creative sonic inventiveness, it’s become something of a rarity to come across musicians who are skilled in the development of other musical components like lyric construction, visual storytelling and poignant songwriting. Wale Kayijaho, known as Simba, is one of the rare ones who does have these skills. The Late Bloomer, a 15-track project and loose chronological narration of his teenage years (puberty), bears witness to this. A resident of Edmonton, Canada and native of Rwanda, his story is unique — and his immortalization of his life on this project is fitting. Spanning just over 43 minutes, he crafts a poetic presentation on his experiences growing up whilst imbuing honesty, vulnerability, introspection, and thorough reflection.

The project is arranged chronologically with regard to events in his life, beginning with his immigration to Canada from his home country of Rwanda (“When I was four, Canada let us in the door”) to his time at boarding school (“That’s why you going to boarding school, gotta get your act together”) to his present musical hustle (“I don’t rap cuz I’m black”). A sort of play between innocence of childhood and the loss of it is used in the arrangement of the tracks. Tracks detailing his childlike innocence with regards to a specific issue or ideology are immediately followed by tracks communicating the loss of this innocence.  

Tackled on the track “Take Em Back” are the challenges and complexities involved with migration especially synonymous with the African youth, and Simba delves into issues of climate and weather adjustment, adapting to new school programs (French immersion), and the difficulties of building new friendships (“New kids I had to merge with, I wasn’t really feeling it, let alone fitting in”). The track is layered with a soulful sample which helps illuminate the storytelling. Late follows with a narrative on indulging in a typical teenage delinquency: getting high. Featuring Showtime, the track is a picturesque expression and narration of their habit of smoking marijuana and the motive behind it. Both artists engage in a bar trade-off on the last verse, injecting an elevated energy into the track.

The curation of the project the soundscape and style of sound is one of the major highlights. The cinematic quality of the sounds and the excellent sample selection (vintage New York hip-hop) elevates the content of the project. Tracks like “Room 305” with its heady, claustrophobic sound really embody and communicate the story being told.

The lyrical content and performance style on the entirety of the project hold a potent rawness and honesty so much so that the delivery feels like it’s straight off the dome. It’s one of the project’s strengths and feels right at home in the “personal diary” presentation. Themes of hardships, challenges, failure, race, struggle, redemption, and the road to it are dominant. Simba understands the intensity of his story and he expresses it with the importance it deserves.

Guests are also present on the album, which serves as another strength. The curation of the project and specifically of the guest contributions absolutely elevates the project. Mazen, the guest with the most appearances (he’s featured on four songs) complements Simba on all the tracks he appears on, providing soulful, inventive R&B hooks. His soulful voice holds a unique tone that completely permeates the tracks he appears on. Another guest standout is King Kontoh, who performs an energetic verse with an effortless flow rhyming about his unique experience as an immigrant with the verse,  “Back in Africa, the teachers used to whoop our ass.” Young Steelo, too, doesn’t disappoint on the “The Process.”

The Late Bloomer is a visual offering interspersed with unique storytelling and expression. It’s not without its faults mostly due to the technical aspects but it is important to note that this is his first full-length project, so I can only imagine with excitement what his next project has in store. The sky’s the limit.

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