Little Simz’s Beautiful Clarity
One of the hottest talents in London rap is unafraid to tangle with deep emotions
The London rapper is unafraid to tangle with deep emotions.
THESE DAYS, rock, punk, and hip-hop share the same fans and can be found on the same playlists — and for that, thank the New York City of the early Eighties. Back then, established pop acts like Blondie and up-and-comers like Madonna were close with rappers and graffiti artists, making for a melting pot of sounds and sensibilities that resonates to this day. That scene is celebrated in “New York, New Music: 1980– 1986,” a multimedia exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York that runs through next spring, with vintage flyers, instruments, posters, and photos like these. “You saw all these different genres of music meeting and sharing ideas,” says curator Sean Corcoran. “There were no boundaries.”
Little simz has just spent the afternoon stranded on the side of a road in London when she logs onto Zoom, but she doesn’t seem bothered. “It was just a whole thing,” she says, explaining how her driver got a flat tire.
The 27-year-old rapper, born Simbiatu “Simbi” Ajikawo, speaks with clarity and calmness, like someone approaching their own private kind of zen. She makes music the same way. Her fourth studio album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, is the result of a yearslong quest for knowledge, from an artist who’s laser-focused on uncovering her true self. It would take more than a little car trouble to shake her now.
On the standout track “I Love You I Hate You,” Simz paints a vivid emotional roadmap, confronting her feelings about an absent father with measured precision. “Never thought my parent would give me my first heartbreak,” she raps coolly toward the track’s close. The sentiment is at once deeply personal and broadly relatable. “As much as it’s written about him, it’s not about him,” she says. “It’s about me and my feelings about it all and how this is affecting my relationships or my life. And also knowing that I’m not the only one that has a conflicted or nonexistent relationship with a parent. I know so many people will be able to relate to it in some sort of way.”
She describes working on the album as “a lot of fun, as challenging as it was at points, just putting pressure on myself and wanting to better my writing. I think you hear it in the music. Although we’re touching on deep stuff and I’m tackling a lot, there’s a lightheartedness to it. . . . There’s a lot you have to digest, but I want it to still be digestible.”
As a rapper, Simz is sharp and perceptive. Her early releases garnered comparisons to
auteur-minded MCs like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar; on 2019’s Grey Area, the searing album that established Simz as a considerable talent, she tackled her own coming-of-age with the clarity in perspective of an elder.
Simz’s dynamic and far-reaching talents earned the LP the 2020 NME Award for Best British Album, beating fellow nominees that included FKA Twigs, Slowthai, and Michael Kiwanuka.
Initially, Simz says, she felt a bit of pressure to live up to Grey Area’s success. “The moment I got into the studio, all those kinds of pressures just left,” she explains. “I just said: ‘I’m not going to go in the studio to make a
record to please anyone or to try and make a Grey Area II. I’m not in that space anymore.’ ”
On the new album, Simz stretches herself musically, taking her sound in new directions, as heard on the Afrobeat-inspired “Point and Kill,” featuring the Nigerian musician Obongjayar. Simz’s parents are Nigerian, and she notes a sense of personal maturation as the reason why she’s begun exploring sounds from the diaspora. “I was Nigerian before it was cool to be Nigerian,” she says. “As I’m getting older and I’m learning more about myself and where I come from, I’m wanting to continue to explore that. There’s magic in it — we come from royalty.”
If finishing an album wasn’t enough for Simz, she’s also spent the past year filming for her role in the popular British crime drama Top Boy, which is executive-produced by none other than Drake and airs on Netflix in the U.S. (She plays a character named Shelley, who’s the love interest of one of the titular Top Boys, Dushane.)
When Simz says that she’s given all she has to give for the past year, in her music and her acting, you can tell she really means it. “I feel very relaxed, maybe because I’ve gotten them both out the way, and I know I’ve given my all to both,” she says. “So we just see how it goes.”
“I was Nigerian before it was cool. As I get older, I want to continue to explore that. There’s magic in it — we come from royalty.”