All images courtesy of Mabdulle.
This article originally appeared on SBTV.
As the working day wound to a close at Angel Central shopping centre in north London, and weary managers drew down the shutters over the store fronts, the O2 Academy Islington began opening for business.
A world tour had stormed their gates, one arguably more personal than the hundreds previously seen in this venue since its opening thirteen years ago. Little Simz, raised in this tiny borough north of the Thames, was coming home. In the next weeks and months, her tour will take her to Auckland and Toronto, Seattle and Sydney. But tonight, for the next few hours at least, Simz was focused on home.
The queue, that snaked past an electrical store on the corner eventually resting by an emptying cafe, was makeshift yet orderly, and soon dissipated. Before long, eight hundred were pressed inside, mostly downstairs in the pit, but also up in the balcony, where supporters leaned heavily on railings, peering from the heavens at Little Simz who took her place on centre stage.
Among that crowd were Timmy and Totch, from Hertfordshire. “We’ve been messing with Simz for a minute now,” says Totch, who wears tinted shades and a blue bomber jacket. “She’s doing it right now. But sometimes she doesn’t get her props because of how lowkey Hip Hop is in the UK right now, so she’ll get her deserved props in the future.”
They both smile when thinking about the which songs out of her winding discography they would most like to hear her perform. “I loved the album, it’s one of the best from the UK in this last year definitely but I don’t even know if she’ll do the tracks I want to hear. I like the songs from ‘Drop 4,’ I’m looking forward to hear that if she plays it.”
This performance, on this frosty evening in the dying embers of Winter, was the one that had tied knots at the pit of Simz’ stomach, not because it was London, her hometown, but because she was, for the first time on this world tour of hers, performing in front of her loved one’s. These eight hundred, at least some of them, were her people, and she pointed and smiled a big full grin whenever she spotted a familiar face among the sea of bodies.
“Simz is someone that I’ve been following for a long time,” says AKS, who is a rapper himself. “Since she was doing shows at ‘Sistova,’ about five/six years ago now. It’s been a slow but good progression. It’s just been amazing to see her growth. Really and truly she’s been doing amazing things, internationally she’s doing great things. God Bless her moving forward.”
Henny, from Hackney, is a musician also, who — like many of Simz’ fans — draws inspiration from her journey. “It inspires me, because she’s not signed to no big label,” he says. “She’s kind of signed to herself, she’s got management here and there. It’s fucking crazy, this is a world tour, you know what I mean? That’s dope. She’s doing her own thing, she’s not following someone elses sound. She’s doing her own thing; I respect that. “
“Also,” he adds, “When I met her at ‘Birthdays’ she just seemed mad cool. You know when you vibe with someone? She seems like a down to earth person, I fuck with that. I feel like I could be her you know? In college I feel like we could have been friends or whatever and she’s succeeded and it’s like ‘yo I could do that too.’ I really fuck with Little Simz.”
Tonight, Simz’ tight knit team, mostly made up of friends, all play a role. Each had their part and, from their black woolly hoodies, to their curved brim hats, they were cloaked in ‘Age 101’ apparel. The Space Age clan mobbed the stage for ‘Dead Body’ and gathered like kids around an ice cream truck and recorded from their phones when Kano arrived as a surprise guest.
Eddie, her manager, hyped the crowd during intervals and when off stage, ferried special guests from the ques to the crowd. “We’re independent,” he reminded the 800 at one interval. “We own everything.”
“For me I got to know her properly in the last year,” says Icykal. She stands with her friend Elizabeth and both have traveled from South London. “She’s massively underrated, but you know why? It’s because she don’t give a shit, she does what she does, and she does it to the best of her ability. She doesn’t conform to anything. She’s not following a trend, she’s doing her own thing and people will get scared of that. They like people who will do what everyone else is doing. But she’s doing what no one else is doing.”
Elizabeth cuts in, “I came across her like three years ago. I’m a proud fan,” she laughs. “For real I just really liked her individuality. It’s been amazing to watch her grow. She’s improved so much and you can tell that she’s learnt about her self as the years have gone by. It just shows in what she says, and just her appearance.”
For a brief moment that night, there was silence. Little Simz’ sparkling hazel eyes, two dazzling things that glinted like crystals in the roaming purple spotlights, were for a second unsure and her thin bottom lip, that had moments ago stretched into a full hearty grin, had withdrawn from its smile.
Under the intense beam of the heavenly spotlight, her hair pulled out in a frazzle resting delicately by her shoulders, she recalled her first memories of the this venue. She gingerly retreated a few spaces and pointed to the centre of the stage. “This is actually mad,” she begun. “When I was ten years old I did my very first show.” “I was stood right here,” she said pointing to the stage, her eyes growing wide. Then, as if speaking to herself, she repeated again. “I was stood right here.”