This article originally appeared on CLASH.
The afternoon I arrive in East London, Little Simz is in the midst of a come down. Drop 4, the concluding chapter of her Age 101 EP series was uploaded to her SoundCloud early last week and the ensuing days; all press and promo, recording and mixing have inevitably emptied the tank. We’re in a ritzy Shoreditch hotel, popular with touring rappers and pop acts. It’s a dainty kind of ritzy, if not slightly pretentious: Curtis Mayfield 12” shelved at the front desk, spritely moguls in ankle-tight chinos eyeing the antique bicycles on exhibition in the lobby.
Simz and entourage are downstairs, gathered in the corner of the hotel restaurant which drips in yellow light. There is her manager and mentor Eddie; an intense bearded stocky man who almost always wears a hat. Then there is her publicist Rachel, a cheerful blonde with a disarming smile. The two chitchat whilst Simz curls up in the corner and picks wearily at a plate of chips. Her ocean blue Fila hoodie is pulled high over her forehead and her beady coal eyes hang low. If she could reclaim a few hours’ sleep right here at the table, she would. She’s in a sombre mood but still polite when I arrive, flashing a welcoming grin and introducing herself as ‘Simbi.’
“So tell me about Drop 4,” she says with an uneven grin and in a tone anchored between subtle sarcasm and slight irritation. A fully charged Simz at best struggles to dissect her own projects and now she fears that another journalist is going to reel through a strinFg of dreary questions she’s answered four, maybe five times already. Retiring upstairs to the confounds of a duvet and having Rachel reschedule would have been the easy option, but Simz doesn’t want easy. The stress-free route isn’t an option for those with ambitions as lofty as hers. So here she is, sat in another hotel, pouring herself another cup of black tea, making polite chat with another journalist.
When we do finally clear the hurdles of awkward introductions and empty small talk her aura brightens and our roles flip. Simz, intrigued by my recent travels in the Far East adopts the mantle of journalist and for a few minutes I become familiar with how unsettling life on the opposite end of the Dictaphone can be.
“Did you get a sense of freedom out there?”
“I want to go to Tokyo, have you been Tokyo?”
“Did you go alone?”
“Sorry,” she giggles. “I forgot this was an interview.”
I want to talk about freedom though. The very first song on Drop 4 you weigh up what it actually means to be free. Is freedom something you think about?
I genuinely didn’t understand that word. Something just wasn’t clicking. Then I just started thinking about the word entrapment. I just think about a bunch of words [laughs]. As beings we’re trapped. Everybody’s trapped in a job, trapped in something, in love, in this and that.
It might not be complete freedom in that sense but being able to support yourself through music must bring a degree of freedom?
That’s the best thing, to be able to do something you love and make a living it. But understand this was not my life, a couple of years ago I was not making a living of this shit. It was just a lot of belief. Like [thinking] ‘I will be [here] at some point.’ My current situation is not permanent either but I’m too blessed to be in this position. Just to know that it can only go up from here as long as I continue to do what I’m doing just fuels me even more.
Is it unnerving? You’re at the age now where artists sometimes have to compromise their music for the sake of making ends meet. I mean, artists need to make a living somehow too right?
Trust me. It’s life. Life gets in the way.
Are you still at the point where you don’t have to compromise?
One hundred percent and that’s also because I’m unsigned; I don’t have to answer to any of it. I ain’t got know A&R to hit me to make this kind of record because this is what’s in right now and [say] ‘you’re stuff ain’t working right now so change it.’ I’m just able to do whatever I feel. For example everyone is doing grime. I could go and make a grime tune because that’s what’s popping but I’m not that type of person.
I’m not saying everyone’s jumping on trends but I wouldn’t be being true to myself. Through out of all the time I’ve been doing music people can see I was honest and I’m open and keep it me. You know what I’m saying? The only person I have to answer to is myself.
I think part of that comes from your fan base. They seem to be very loyal; even if they don’t hear from you for a while. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know. I’m really a horrible person in real life [laughs]. I think because I just say how I think and feel and its human nature to think and feel. Regardless of if you feel the same as me, you can appreciate the fact that I feel some type of way and I’m putting it into writing. And it’s real. I don’t know; I could be wrong.
The first time I saw you perform was at the Tate last year. At the end your manager told the audience that we need to respect greatness. Was there a moment you realised that you were doing something special?
I’ve been feeling like this. I’ve been feeling like I’m onto something great for a very long time. But even now people ain’t really like fucking with it. As much as you think people are taking to me or whatever, I feel they’re being very stubborn. They’re like ‘you’re a girl, what do you mean you want to start breaking rules? What do you mean you want to start switching things up? Stay in that female rapper lane, show some skin. Do what’s worked.’ It’s mad how the easiest thing to do is deemed as the hardest, and that’s just to be yourself. I don’t know why people feel to jump on all of these trends and go for what they think is working. It’s just like no, do you.
You still get people trying to pigeon hole you like that?
I’ve been getting that for the longest time. I can tell you exactly how it goes: Female rapper from North London. Acted in a TV series. Was approached by Jay Z. Released mixtapes. One to watch for 2015. Full stop. That’s how it goes; I know it off by head. And regardless of the fact that I want to be humanitarian, I want to be entrepreneurial. I want to make a difference. I don’t just want to be a ‘female rapper.’ That’s where my frustration comes in. Because it’s like you’ve just looked past all of that and that’s what greatness is. You can talk about greatness and UK on the rise and this that and the other but you just want to feed people the same information. That’s why I have to put that in the music and be like ‘yo this is what it is, this is what I’m about. Fuck with me, regardless of what anyone else is like.’
I read a recent interview where you said that you want to inspire and having just heard what you’ve just said, do you see rap as just one chamber of what you’ve set out to achieve?
There’s so much that I want to do in this life, it’s ridiculous. I just feel like music is the route and the platform that is going to get me there. But I feel like I don’t want to be that person who is taking on bare stuff and just trying to juggle. That’s not logic. Start one thing, finish it, and move on. Start it, master it. There’s so much I want to achieve in this life, so much.
For your age you’ve got a huge back catalogue–EP’s and mixtapes. And you went through University too. Has there been a point where you felt like you needed a break from the constant work?
There’s a lot of times where I feel like a need break. I need to gather my thoughts. I’m not a person that always wants to be seen or be at every event or be in the limelight. I’m just easy, I just like to chill. You know what I’m saying? There’s so many times where I just want to turn off my phone and disconnect myself completely. But this is what I signed up for so I have to treat it like I’m happy to be here –which I am. I’m not ungrateful but its human nature. Too much of one thing gets sickening; it’s a bit much too stomach.
So is it just a case of pushing through and having to treat it like a job sometimes?
I try not to treat it like a job because sometimes jobs can become a bit of a chore. So I always try to find the fun in it because that makes it exciting. If I know if I need to finish a verse, which could be seen as a job, I just have fun with it. I enjoy using logic. I find it fun; I find new ways to mess with my voice. I don’t treat it like work, I’m either learning or this is free time and I’m just experimenting.
I’ve seen you’ve been abroad recently and are going back abroad soon. How impactful has all of the travelling been?
Going away, it’s bare weird. Travelling and going to all of these countries and seeing these different people is mad. To come from Essex Road, North London, Highbury to go all the way to LA or to Paris or to anywhere where they don’t even speak English but they can connect. There have been so many instances where I’ve met people who have flown into to see me perform. I had a case where a guy in a wheel chair wheeled up to me and he couldn’t really get his words out but I felt that he felt it. You know what I’m saying? You don’t even know whose listening to you or whose lives you’ve affected or who’s going through what you’re going through.
That must be a strange feeling, going from making music with friends to then touching people who aren’t even from this country.
Exactly, it’s crazy. And the maddest thing is that most of my plays are not from the UK.
They don’t rate me here [laughs].
I think we’re slightly less eager to hand out praise over here.
You’ve hit the nail on the head. [pauses]. It’s just different levels of appreciation. If you have something in front of you that is so great you just don’t really pay it no mind because you’ve got it. You aren’t trying to get it because you’ve got it.
It’s almost too local.
It’s too local. It’s too close to home but for me that should make people feel like ‘rah she’s from ends. This is possible for me. I can do that as well. Of course I can travel; my music can be heard by people from different walks of life.’ That’s what I want and that’s the mentality I want people to get. Don’t get me wrong. Some people are very supportive and they are very proud and that makes me feels like it’s worth it, so I just keep focus on them.