At just 20, London rapper Little Simz is ready to rule.
Taken from the Summer Fashion Issue of Wonderland.
“Here’s the way to do it: first you gotta be sexy, you got to stop wearing dem hats, you got to stop wearing dem track suits, dumb down your lyrics, you know what I’m saying?” Two finger salute to whoever gave Little Simz that warning. The north London rapper is about to release her first album, following a debut EP called “E.D.G.E” (2014) and four mixtapes, the last of which, Blank Canvas, premiered on Jay Z’s Life + Times site. Little Simz (aka Simbi Ajikawo) is assertive when we talk on the phone on a rainy Wednesday evening, the day before her tour kicks off in France. Her voice is an octave lower than usual, with an American lilt, as she rips on common industry advice bestowed on tenderfoots.
“It fucks with people’s self-esteem,” the 21-year-old Islington-based lyricist says of the music industry drones she has faced. “It’s the glass ceiling effect: you know what’s beyond that ceiling, but you’re hitting that glass. Everyone is capable of doing something, it’s just a matter of finding it and believing in it and expanding on it and taking it from there.” Simz has been rapping since she was nine, and playing percussion since she was 17. “That’s when I started getting into piano and guitar,” she says. “But up until that point, I was just rapping and learning more about the craft. Then I felt like I was nailing that to a T, so I decided to expand my horizons a bit. Ever since I picked up the guitar I haven’t put it down, so it just goes to show that you can literally do anything you want to do.”
Despite her rapid-fire flow, Simz maintains she’s not a grime artist, a label all too quickly slapped on her back. “I’m not in a scene,” she says unaffectedly. “I just do me. It has been a mix and match of different things, and that’s the way I like to keep it because I’m aware that different people listen to me for different reasons. Some people listen to me to zone out, or reflect, some to turn up, some just wanna smoke to my music, do you know what I’m saying? I think it’s boring to make the same type of music over and over again. I want to push boundaries and do things outside the box, and it’s like, I haven’t done this before and I don’t know how this is going to work, but I’m willing to have a go at it.”
For the moment Simz is in college, but she admits she may not graduate – there’s simply too much going on outside of her studies. Tight tour dates result in another major distraction, homesickness. “[London] may not be the sunniest of places, but I love the fact that it’s so multicultural,” she says. Space Age, the collective Simz is part of, is starting to get attention as well. “It’s nice to be a part of something where everyone’s really focused and dead-set on what they want to do,” she says of the movement, the brainchild of eight friends with a shared interest in music. “It pushes me to go harder. You are the company you keep, do you know what I’m saying?”
Simz quotes Tupac, one of her musical heroes (along with Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes and Lauryn Hill), to express how she’s feeling musically right now. “‘I might not be the person that changed the world, but I can guarantee that I will spark something in the person’s mind that can probably be that.’ I try to find a balance between being realistic and optimistic. I’d like to help change the world and I’m sure I’m here for a purpose.”
Though Simz’ refreshingly intelligent lyrics are the cornerstone of her music, it’s understandable her detractors claim she’s too young to be dishing out the wisdom. Lines like “I ain’t even crossed with the world yet/They ain’t even seen Little Simz through the good and the worst tests” on “Mandarin Oranges” and “I’m meant to be one of the world’s greatest leaders, but I’m on some other type-shit” on “Hamptons” are undeniably bolshie. To doubters, before disappearing off to pack for her next transatlantic flight, Simz signs off with this diplomatic spank: “I’ve faced a fair amount of things, bad things, that’s like, either the fact I’m a girl, or I’m young and people don’t want to hear it, but it’s just me expressing that regardless of them saying what they want to say. I want it to be honest and I want people to relate to it.” You know what she’s saying.
All clothing model’s own
Photographer: Bella Howard
Words: Emma Louise-Tovey