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Ahead of her performance alongside Gorillaz in Malahide Castle on June 9, Cóilí Collins catches up with London artist Little Simz.
“I don’t make music to please the Americans. My ethos behind it is more so art for itself.”
The world of UK hip hop and grime has grown exponentially over the past five years or so, with a plethora of names becoming staples not only within the indigenous scene, but on a worldwide scale.
With this growth have come some of the biggest names from Novelist and Giggs to more experimental acts like SG Lewis and JD Reid. Every nook and cranny across grime, dub and the other genres splattered on the UK’s multi-faceted palette has seen the emergence of star names but despite this, some people are still being mislabelled and overlooked.
Little Simz has been one of the biggest names to emerge from the London scene in recent years, but regardless of her success she’s yet to have a place carved out among the elite and she’s been fighting for that since day one. That battle has seen her produce two albums (with another one on the way), tour Europe and the US, both solo and alongside Gorillaz, and in May curate the sophomore instalment of her day festival ‘Welcome to Wonderland’ with a line up that included Rapsody, Ari Lennox and Kojey Radical. Bear in mind, Little Simz is just 24 years old which begs the question, does she get to act her age at all anymore?
“I can and I am! I don’t feel like I’m not being myself. I’m doing everything I want to do. If I want to hop on a plane and go somewhere for a weekend and meet some friends I can do that. I can still manoeuvre and move in a way that’s normal, but I think right now I’m very work-driven anyway which means that all I want to do is focus on what I’ve got coming and what I’m working on.
“It gets crazier as time goes on, in my situation I’ve been blessed enough to have people around me that hold me down and assure me that I’m on the right path and that we’re heading in the right direction.”
Little Simz’s maturity has totally shone through in her approach to releasing new music. Despite posting on Facebook that it was frustrating to be sitting on a bank of fresh material, she hasn’t fallen into the forgivable trap of giving it all away too soon, choosing to focus more so on her live show and the future with a measured approach.
“It’s actually nice [waiting on releases], I feel like I’ve got an album in the bag so I haven’t necessarily got to stress about making or creating new music, I can just focus on my live aspect and do my festival circuit. As soon as I come off that I’m ready to release it, I feel like I’ve set it up nicely. I’m not as eager and impatient as I was three or four years ago to just release music. I can afford to be a bit more strategic with it and to understand it and not to be in a rush.”
In an interview with Hot 97, Little Simz credited her touring schedule as being crucial to growing her music and herself as a person. With a string of European dates under her belt, I was interested to see how this tour differed to the others.
“It’s so nice to see the people that have been at my shows since the first tour. I just finished touring Europe, the last time I toured Europe solo was in 2016 and then I toured it with Gorillaz, so it’s cool to see the people who have been there since the start. It’s interesting to see how the music brings those people together. I’m blessed enough to have a support base that are with me all the way. Some people have fans that tap out when they get to their twenties, when they get into other stuff.”
Much like her music transcends trends and age groups, Little Simz’s approach to marketing her sound and brand is more authentic than a lot of her UK contemporaries.
Rather than filling up albums with feature verses and hopping on the latest sounds, she has spread her style naturally, which has led to the ‘Welcome to Wonderland’ day festival. The Camden venue it’s held in, Roundhouse, is very close to Simz’s heart, given that she’d been going there since she was 16.
The opportunity to give back and curate the three-stage day festival not only benefited her, but the people that made her who she is today.
“Roundhouse is a venue that I’ve been going to since I was so young, so my relationship with it is very organic and very real. The story behind it was real. I used to go there and use their facilities and to be able to put on a festival there is insane to me. It’s something I want to continue to build on in terms of taking it to different territories. I want to broaden my horizons with it.”
“Man, touring with my band is exactly what I wanted, for the longest time it was just me and a DJ and I really felt like adding the live element was important in terms of allowing people to experience the music"
That same realness is apparent when it comes to her fanbase. Despite being deeply-rooted in the UK, her popularity in the US has been on a rapid ascension. She’s even received the nod from Kendrick Lamar. Little Simz has, of course, benefited from gigging in the States but it’s her ‘be yourself’ approach rather than crowd-pleasing tactics that’s working for her on the other side of the Atlantic.
“I don’t make music to please the Americans. My ethos behind it is more so art for itself. Because I’ve been there so much over the past four years I’ve been able to build a fanbase and they embraced me so much that it blows my mind every time I go back. Sometimes I feel like they get me more than they do here [in the UK], which is fine, but it’s weird to comprehend.
“I couldn’t even tell you [why]. When I first went over to the States I thought no one would understand what I was about or my accent. Knowing that it was going to be weird to them, it felt like I had all the odds against me, but actually it worked in my favour.”
Big-hitters like Skepta and Section Boyz have succeeded thanks to their unique brand of club-orientated grime, initially picked up on in America off the back of co-sign from Drake.
Despite their success, the Little Simz sound is a far cry from a Skepta banger. The live instrumentation at her shows allows her to communicate her sound clearly, meaning she doesn’t have to lean on big club tracks for commercial appeal. This splits her apart from many of her DJ-relying UK peers.
“The reason I do what I do is because I want to do it, I’m obliged not to change that. It’s like when you go to a restaurant because you really like this one particular thing on the menu and all of a sudden they change the whole thing. Just keep it to what people like. I guess you could argue that people need to grow and try different things, not to say that I’m never going to make a club song, but it’s not at the top of my list.”
The addition of a band has not only strengthened her confidence in her sound, it has boosted morale on the road, something that’s visible in her consistent posts with the backing trio on her Instagram account.
“Man, touring with my band is exactly what I wanted. For the longest time it was just me and a DJ and I really felt like adding the live element was important in terms of allowing people to experience the music and more so understanding that I can’t do all of this on my own. It also takes the hard work and dedication of my team. In terms of sharing the spotlight there’s nothing wrong with that, I get hype about people that I work with, I just want to let people know.”
Little Simz’s adherence to her specific creative vision hasn’t had an extended sub-genre to cling onto like grime or straight up UK rap, but she has still carved out a spot as one of the scene’s marquee names, garnering respect from fans and artists alike.
She exists in a strange no man’s land in terms of the bubbling sound, but with that being said, two albums, two festivals and multiple solo tours all accruing to one 24-year-old isn’t simply ‘no man’s land’, that’s star territory.
Little Simz supports Gorillaz at Malahide Castle on June 9.