Little Simz Is One Of The UK’s Greatest Emcees.

Words: Yemi Abide
Photography: Jahnay Tennai

Consistency is a quality lost on many of our current-day UK artists. The weight and expectancy of the latest single/album is sky-high in the social media era and a lot of artists get boxed into a musical corner they can’t break out of. But among some of the gems who are able to fully reinvent themselves at every musical turn, Little Simz is the living embodiment of letting the work speak for itself. The North London rapper has reigned supreme, albeit quietly, in the UK scene since her arrival nine years ago, but she reached a new level of greatness with the release of her third album, GREY Area, earlier this month. Quite frankly, it is already one of the albums of the year; a confident, self-assured and visceral body of work, it sees a 25-year-old Simbi navigating through the grey areas of life, but wearing her womanhood firmly on her chest as she bulldozes through the male-dominated rap field.

The album proves what we already know about Simz: that, first and foremost, she is a lyrical beast, arguably the shining light among the UK’s multitude of emcees—male AND female (just ask Kendrick Lamar). GREY Area, if anything, proved her pen has become sharper and more incisive since her arrival, yet tightly compact and stark in making the complicated sounds so simple. Secondly, the album demonstrates that she continually raises the bar for what contemporary UK hip-hop can be and sound like, and the emotion it can bring out of you.

What continues to set her apart is twofold. Creatively, Simz is in her own lane. She isn’t afraid to take risks; take second album Stillness In Wonderland, sonically a radical departure from her previous records in its maximalist and overwrought sounds and subject matter, but condensed enough to have her in command of every track without being suffocated by the music. She absolutely refuses to be defined by one period of her musical life or a particular sound, which makes every project of hers fresh and exciting—far from predictable. You hear her evolution throughout every project as she allows herself to open up and be vulnerable, to express, equally, her pain and happiness and a drive to better herself. These moments are splattered across her catalogue, on the quasi coming-of-age track “Backseat”, breakup joint “Sherbet Sunset”, and the mellow jam “Therapy” from her latest album.

We see all sides of Simz and are given a space to grow with her, because her issues are universal to the human experience of maturing and evolving. No one person stays the same all of their lives, but she is welcoming of all experiences as they aid the process of growing. For as long as she has been putting out music, it seems that we are really familiar with her, which is a testament to how seriously she takes the craft. Concurrently, it appears now that, with GREY Area, she has reached a new phase of comfort in her life and in her own skin, one which stands to benefit her, her music and UK music more generally.

My personal introduction to Little Simz was her 2014 mixtape, E.D.G.E., and I was immediately blown away by how much confidence she exhibited. A cloudy, melodic but ultimately lyrical exercise, she showed talent beyond her years and had me hooked. This was clearly an emcee who loved to rap and made you feel what she felt as a young rapper on the come-up, as a young black woman, and as a Londoner. Since then she has gone from strength to strength and, while she hasn’t secured a big crossover single or an incredibly high-charting project, she has one of the best catalogues of any artist in the UK, as eclectic as they are emphatic. As the saying goes: if you know, you know.

Simbi also commands respect from all corners of the scene, able to hold her own on lyrical onslaughts like “King Of Hearts” featuring Ghetts and Chip, or the remix to “Dead Body” with Stormzy and Kano, and can slow it down on uplifting R&B cuts like Mahalia’s “Proud Of Me”. Even working with the legendary Gorillaz. And that time she demolished on behalf of the UK at the BET Hip-Hop Awards with the cypher heard across the globe. Simz is very much an artist’s artist in that respect, admired and sought after for her prowess to inject feeling into any track she’s on.

Despite achieving so much already, from collaborations to curating her own Welcome To Wonderland festival, there is no glass ceiling for Simz. Still on that long and winding road of self-discovery, she is determined to continue growing—through the high points and the lows—as she realises herself as the artist she wants to be, the type the UK needs. Simz has shown that she’s an artist who doesn’t need blockbuster success to be effective, because she offers plentiful music that speaks to the experience of living, loving and moving on. With a clean heart and bags of consistency, the world is her oyster, and the UK is indebted to her enduring and endearing greatness.

Posted on March 25, 2019