The UK's Little Simz discusses her debut album and her rapidly increasing popularity stateside.
When 21 year old Little Simz unexpectedly took the stage earlier this year at a Mass Appeal SXSW showcase during Salva's DJ set, few members of the crowd reacted. She interrupted a set that was otherwise comprised of hit after hit (skillfully blended, I might add), brought out by the DJ to perform a quick verse that almost no one in attendance was familiar with. A few seconds later, though, the onlookers were visibly more amped than they had been for Kanye West's "All Day," or any number of other recognizable bangers, for that matter. Simz's onstage charisma and talent were evident from the moment she opened her mouth and began spewing out bars. By the time she was done, she had won over the entire crowd.
A few months later, at a smaller show in Brooklyn, it was a different story entirely. Simz was headlining this time, and it soon became apparent that most in attendance were there to see her-- lyrics were shouted, the "I love her"s were audible, and every song was met with thunderous applause. An electrifying performer, UK native Simz is no slouch in the studio either, and is set to release her debut album, A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons, on September 18th. To get the scoop on the project, we chatted with the Londoner via Skype.
HNHH: We caught your surprise appearance at a Salva set at SXSW this year— was that your first time there?
Little Simz: No, that was my second time ‘round. I played it two years in a row.
HNHH: Did you notice a change in how your sets were received this year?
Simz: Yeah, definitely. I feel like the first time I went, I’d done hella shows, but the first time I went was me kind of figuring it out and just taking in the vibe. But then the second time ‘round was nice because people actually came out to see me, as opposed to me just performing at a show and people just happened to find out about me. So this time around, I was actually on peoples’ schedules— like ‘going to see Little Simz’ type of thing, so that was tight.
HNHH: In the states generally, do you now feel like that’s the case more often than people just happening upon you when going to see other artists?
Simz: I think it’s a healthy balance. A lot of people are familiar with me, familiar with my music, they specifically come out to see me live, and a lot of people don’t know who I am and they end up like tweeting me saying, ‘I just found out about you, saw you play tonight. I’m intrigued, when are you playing next?’ and it just builds from that.
HNHH: When did you first start coming to the US to perform?
Simz: I think it was two years ago when I started making back-and-forth trips to the US. Ever since then, it’s been between LA and New York, and then I’ve played some shows in Canada.
HNHH: And do you think the main increase in Americans' familiarity with you has occurred in the last year?
Simz: Yeah, definitely. I feel like— well, I know for a fact because my Soundcloud stats tell me I have more listeners stateside than I do in Europe— so my music is picking up in other places besides where I’m from.
HNHH: When I talked to Krept & Konan recently, they attributed UK hip hop and grime's recent surge in popularity over here to social media. Would you agree?
Simz: One hundred percent. Social media is probably the reason why it’s picking up, aside from the fact that everyone’s making good music. But that’s definitely played a part in just breaking down a lot of boundaries and stopped it from just being a regional thing to more of a global or universal thing, which is nice to see, especially being from the UK and knowing how difficult it is to spread your sound and migrate it to other places in the world.
HNHH: Do you tour much in other European countries?
Simz: I’ve got one last show on this leg of the Age: 101 world tour in Belgium on Friday, and then it’s just album, album, album. I think I have a very strong following in France and Germany, Paris especially. I played a headlining show out there and it was crazy, the amount of people that came out, and even just being that they don’t speak English, yet they’re reciting my lyrics word-for-word.
HNHH: That’s crazy. Now, a little more about your background. When did you first start rapping?
Simz: When I was nine. That’s when I realized ‘Wow, this is fun. I actually enjoy doing this.’ And then from like nineteen until now, 21, is when I saw it as more of a career, like ’This is what I want my life to be, this is what I want to do in the future,’ and just stuck at it, really.
HNHH: And how did you go about achieving that, other than just making music?
Simz: Well for the longest time, my family was managing me, and then I went on to meet with Eddie [my manager], who works with me now . It just kind of all fell into place, but before all that, I was just doing all the usual stuff. Networking, meeting up with a lot of producers, doing hella shows, putting music out and now it’s led me to this point. So it’s all been a slow but steady process. It’s been gradual.
HNHH: Yeah, I went back and listened to some of your older music, and being an ignorant American, expected to hear some grime-style stuff with fast BPMs, but I didn’t. Did you ever consider yourself linked with that scene at all?
Simz: No, I don’t think I’m part of any scene, to be honest. I don’t want to limit myself to just that, I just want to make different types of music, music that’s true and honest to me, and music that I like, most of all. I don’t think I really belong to a particular scene, and I’m not making music to try to fit into a particular scene.
HNHH: Yeah, and that’s so much easier to do these days, when you access to so many different styles and eras of music online. What artists really inspired you when you were younger?
HNHH: You also seem to be a big Kendrick Lamar fan, as you’ve done “Sing About Me” and “Cartoon & Cereal” freestyles. Have you ever reached out to him?
Simz: Yeah, I’ve had a few encounters with Kendrick, and he’s expressed that he’s a fan of the music. It’s mutual. He’s cool, man, I like Kendrick.
HNHH: That’s awesome. And now, how about the album. How was the recording process different than those for your AGE: 101 series?
Simz: I recorded my whole record at Red Bull Studios in London and the process was definitely different, being that, prior to my album, I recorded all of the EPs at home in my bedroom. So that whole stepping out of the bedroom environment into a proper studio with a proper engineer and proper speakers, and a desk and a chair that says my name on it is kind of tight. Stepping into that kind of environment, it all just made it so real. It got realer as the weeks went on. In that space I created some of my best work to date, so that was a sick experience.
HNHH: Are you going to be releasing the album independently?
Simz: Yeah, I am, through my label Age: 101, which is sick because I get to release my debut album on my own label. That’s something that many people aren’t able to say.
HNHH: Do you have plans to sign anyone else to the label?
Simz: Eventually, but I’m not really thinking that far ahead right now. I have to worry about the first artist (laughs. I don’t want to be that person that takes on too much that they can’t handle, so I just want to pace myself a bit and make sure I’m good. And then the next person, OTG, he’s a producer, he’s good. I want to treat everything with time and with care— no rush.
HNHH: And as far as people you worked with on the album, did you opt to go with artists who you’ve worked with before, or unfamiliar ones?
Simz: I kinda kept it the same, more or less. There are a lot of people on there who I’ve worked with before on other projects, but some people were new. So I guess it was a balance, actually. It helps because a lot of the people that I worked with knew what I was going for, and I wanted to work with them because I felt like they could contribute something different and something that I can’t do myself.
HNHH: I recently saw a photo of you performing or recording with a full orchestra.
Simz: Yeah, I played the Royal Albert Hall with a 70-piece orchestra a few nights ago. We did a song off my album called “Wings,” another one called “Bars Simzon,” and it went off. It was nice to perform differently than in a club, or in a space where I’m usually comfortable doing it.
HNHH: How would you describe the sound of the album? Is it more eclectic or consistent throughout?
Simz: It’s a mix, but I think it’s cohesive and it makes sense. It’s obviously hip hop, but not in the traditional sense. I feel like there’s a mix on there for everyone, and hopefully it can appeal to the masses, and that all different types of people from all walks of life can appreciate it.
HNHH: Is there a concept at all to it? The title makes me think there would be.
Simz: Yeah, the concept is fame, and how that can change someone, or how that can change the people around that person. And me just being aware that my life’s heading in that direction, like how do I feel about it? Am I scared, am I nervous, am I excited? Just how I feel generally, so it’s me basically discussing that.