Hip-Hop

Little Simz Talks 'GREY Area,' Kendrick Lamar & Lauryn Hill Co-Signs and Making Her Presence Felt in the U.S.

Little Simz
Jack Bridgland

Little Simz

Over the years, U.K. hip-hop has been making its presence felt across the Atlantic Ocean with artists like Dizzee Rascal and Skepta crossing over to the United States with their respective brands of music. Today we have an emerging MC from North London who’s looking to put America on notice of her music.

Little Simz is a 24-year-old rapper out of the busy London hip-hop scene who has been tearing up it up overseas. The hyphenate has built a resume that’s worthy of being one of the hottest rappers in London and there’s no sign of her stopping. She’s won awards like breakthrough artist of the year at BBC DJ Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards and earning a pair of MOBO nominations in 2017 for best hip-hop act and best female act. She’s toured with the likes of Gorillaz, Anderson .Paak and Ab-Soul and has earned a coveted spot at the BET Hip-Hop Awards Cypher.

Simz’s laserlike focus has also caught the attention of respected lyricists such as Kendrick Lamar, who has considered the young MC one of the hottest emerging artists in hip-hop, and Lauryn Hill, who brought Simz along as a special guest during her Diaspora Calling! Tour. With so many achievements checked off on her list, Simz feels that she’s far from reaching her prime. “I feel like there's so much more things for me to tap into,” she explains to Billboard. “I'm not here for the awards because you know how that goes. I’m in this because I love it.”

Simz is looking to take her artistry to the next level with her new album, GREY Area. Led by the single “Selfish” featuring Cleo Sol, the 10-track project features the Islington MC dishing out steely bars with precision over an eclectic mix of neo-soul, deep funk and experimental pop. She also taps into her roots in grime, giving her listeners a profoundly vivid analysis on her life experiences.

To accompany the brand new album, Little Simz is embarking on a 10-date US tour, making stops in Chicago, Atlanta, and Brooklyn to expand her reach to a new wave of listeners. “I think I'm letting this be a steady, organic process,” she says. Billboard spoke to Little Simz about GREY Area, crossing over into the United States, how the co-signs from Kendrick Lamar and Lauryn Hill pushes her to be better, and her status within the London hip-hop scene. Check it out below.

When we spoke to MIST last year about the Birmingham hip-hop scene he said it’s growing, but it’s far from London’s scene. With you being from North London, how is the scene out there?

The hip-hop scene is definitely growing. I'd say probably there's quite a lot more in London as opposed to anywhere else in England. It's been alive, man. I think there are some really good names coming out of London at the minute, but I still think it's building and growing. I feel like with me traveling around the world and seeing people being quite receptive to it shows that it's getting picked up.

Do women have a strong voice in the London hip-hop scene?

I have a strong voice. It feels like there are a lot of women on the rise in music in London and I feel like we're all being heard actually, for sure. Especially in the last, I'd say two years? It feels like there's a growing community of women in music that are being seen and heard, women of color especially.

It’s well documented how competitive grime is in London. Can you tell us how the genre inspired your razor sharp lyrics?

I got into grime when I was like 14 or 15. At the time, I was too young to be a part of a scene like that. I just was a fan of the music and was inspired by it and was into just writing raps myself. It definitely was a competitive sport. I'm not a grime MC, but I have roots there. Grime definitely influenced my style of writing in terms of like my flows and cadences. You can tell I've listened to grime. I think I've found a way to like bring those elements into other styles of music. I can have a grime-like flow over a jazz instrument or like something funk-based. I think I've managed to merge and weld it together through my music.

In an interview you did with Noisey you said you feel like you’re stationary in the United Kingdom. Do you still feel that way now?

Not as much. I think part of that has to do with the music as well like in hindsight. It's probably the music that wasn't responding as well as I thought it should or actually may have. But now with this new music, we'll obviously see what it does when the album comes out. I don't have any expectations but I just feel like I made a record that broadens my horizons a little bit in terms of sound. As much as I'm from London, this can transcend to other places.

What was the inspiration for The GREY Area?

It was pretty much just growth, man. You know growing pains, that was the inspiration behind it. Just coming into myself a lot more and being a young woman in my mid-20s and like still learning about myself. Still getting to know the things I like and don't like, just basic life shit you know. I think it's something that's a universal topic and I think we all go through it. I'm not talking about anything that I feel, even though I kind of felt I was going through it alone in hindsight. I think it's something that all people go through. It may not be in their mid-20’s, it may be in their 30’s or even younger than that.

Is that why you called it The GREY Area, because you're at this point in your life that you don't really know where you're going next?

Yeah, for sure. I mean, it's not so much me not knowing where I'm going. I think I've always had a clear vision of where I want to be or where I want to get to go. It's just more so like I didn't know it was going to happen like this. How I've planned things to go, I'm still getting there but it's not the route I expected myself to take. But I don't know, that's life isn't it sometimes? You can't really care about that stuff, you just have to go along with it. But yeah nothing felt like it was black or white. Things weren't right or wrong, good and bad, like it didn't feel like that to me. It just feels like everything is a lot more complex.

On the album opener “Offence,” you say on your bad days you’re Jay-Z but on your worst days you’re Shakespeare. Do you feel that your skills are at its peak now or there’s even more for you to get better?

I definitely feel that I improved and I can feel that in myself that I've gotten better. Not even just with writing but my way of recording and the way I use my voice in my performance. Looking at my process from my first album to now, I can see how I've matured and grown through my music. Especially through the subject matter and content.

What was the most challenging song for you on this album?

The most challenging? I have a song on there kind of talking about a friend of mine getting murdered. That was quite a tough one for me to write because I wrote it on the day I found out he died. I think the state I was in like I was going through so many different emotions and I guess nothing was healing me apart from trying to open up and write about it in a way.

There are other songs on this album that have a deep narration on your observations of not only personal events but on society as well. Was there any moment where you felt you couldn't get out of the places you had to take your mind to while writing these personal songs?

Yeah, for sure. But I think I needed to do that in order to heal from what hurts and overcome it what bothers me. As opposed to just running away from it I kind of tackled it and faced it head-on. It was 100 percent more difficult at the time, but I'm so happy I did that and worked myself out of it, but also it pushed me to be my most vulnerable self. It let me be emotional if I need to be emotional. Things do get to me, I'm human and I have a heart. I'm also a Pisces so that helps as well [laughs].

Apart from going on this tour, what else do you have your sights on in the United States?

I mean the United States is a very big place. So the more that I come back, the more I'm learning there's a lot to cover. I guess I'm not really how I used to be where I wanted to crack America. I think now I'm more focused on reaching the people that I've already reached. Having them grow with me and let that just work. I think the more music that comes out, the more that I tour, and the more that I make my presence known. I understand that it's not going to happen overnight, but the more I know this whole thing will grow. I've been going back and forth from America for the past three or four years now. I'm okay with the steady process, you know. I don't need to rush.

What’s it like getting that co-sign from Kendrick Lamar and Lauryn Hill?

It was everything you'd imagine it to be. It's great and it was like shit they really like my style for real. It didn't make me complacent or take it as a job well done and that I could relax now. It's a fire under my belly. These people know I exist, and that's great, but that also comes with a bunch of different eyes that are now going to be on me. So now it's like I'm not going to let that go to waste.

Was there any gems that Lauryn Hill gave you while you were on tour with her?

Not advice, as such. She did thank me for being apart of the tour and I obviously thanked her for being who she is [laughs]. That was pretty much our encounters but I did watch her soundchecks by myself. I watched the way she moved and constructed her band and took mental notes. That was enough for me honestly.

With the success you’ve already found in London do you feel there is more for you to do before potentially crossing over?

No, I don't think that. I've done a lot for sure but I think there's so much more to do. It's the same thing I need to do everywhere else. Just tour more and continue to touch people through my music. I've made my rounds, been featured in all these magazines, spoke to these people and those people but it's not like I've swept up all the awards over there. Again, it's a steady process. I'm not rushing anything. If it's not this album then it's the next album after that.

Listen to Little Simz's new album, GREY Area below.