The Evolution Of Little Simz

We talk to London-based artist about new music, owning your style and the value of keeping your head down

Little Simz

by Jazmin Kopotsha |
Updated on

‘I remember being mad nervous’ Little Simz recollects. A sentiment that anyone who’s ever watched Simz in all her cool, frank and lyrically unwavering glory perform live, might be a little hesitant to believe. She’s been touring with Gorillaz this year and speaking to The Debrief about sharing the stage with Damon Albarn, the 23-year-old artist explains how it all came about.

‘When I get into sessions with people, I sometimes don’t know how to manoeuvre in the sense that I have my own way of working, everyone has their certain way…’, Simz explains. But when she turned up to lay down the vocals on Gorillaz single Garage Palace, the chemistry was just there.

Using an industry name drop of dreams, she explains that Damon Albarn had been in conversation with Kano (who Simz collaborated with back in 2015) and mentioned that he was looking to get someone on a song he was working on for the new album, but didn’t know who. ‘Kano suggested me and I ended up going to the studio to meet with them both’, Simz explains. ‘We kicked it. It was cool’.

Little Simz

Little Simz’s work with Gorillaz was happening at around the same time she was working on her latest album, Stillness in Wonderland. And yes, you think correctly. The album’s namesake was inspired by fantasy favourite Alice In Wonderland, but the concept was born out of the whirlwind of a journey Simz was on while touring earlier this year. ‘I was in so many different environments. I was getting inspiration from so many different places because I’d been exposed to so much, so I think that’s why the concept came around the way it did, in terms of me being in this wonderland trying to figure it all out’.

Created on the road and finished up at Red Bull studios where she worked on her first album, Stillness In Wonderland is an incredible body of work. An album that you can listen to as an album rather than a sporadic sprinkling of singles and a couple of extras. Which was kind of Simz’s intention in the first place.

‘I definitely wanted the record to feel fluid in terms of listening to it as a body of work as opposed to just selecting a few songs and just randomising it’, Simz says. ‘I wanted it to feel like an audio experience. I wanted you to feel almost immersed in Wonderland’. It was also the most she’s stepped out of her comfort zone musically, she adds. On this album she sings, she produces and helped with some of the mixing too. ‘I guess pushed myself a lot on this record and that’s something that I obviously want to continue to do as I keep making more music.’

A fair amount has moved on since she dropped her first mixtape back in 2010, but Simz doesn’t necessarily think that she herself has changed. ‘I think it’s just been an evolution’, she says. ‘I’ve always had, from when I was young, the same message. I’ve always come from a very real place - I believe - and I’ve kind of just always kept that but I think my sound has just matured. If anything, I’m learning new ways to use my voice. Before, I used to feel like I needed to shout all the time and just learning that there’s just different ways to deliver certain things’.

How she portrays herself in her music is something she seems to be pretty conscious of and as with most things, it’s a bit of a balancing act. ‘I don’t ever want to come across super preachy, but then I don’t ever want to come across like I don’t care, so it just like finding a balance between all these things. But more so just having fun with it. And working with people that allow me that space to do that’, she explains.

It’s no secret that Simz has always been really selective about who she’s worked with – her music is largely self-released. Why? ‘I’m a very insular person’, she explains. ‘I don’t really work with people like that just because I’m so used to, growing up, doing everything myself. When it comes to putting out projects or whatever, sometimes I struggle when it comes to getting in the studio with people, but I’ve been lucky enough to come across people who just allow me to do my thing and just trust that I’ve got this and just help in any which way they can.’

This about as far as her interaction with the wider industry goes, though. Keeping your head down and doing what you need to do is a manta Little Simz really seems to value. Safe to say it’s an outlook that has paid off massively. Speaking about the goings on in music on a more general scale she says: ‘If I’m being super honest, I don’t pay attention to much … My vision is just like tunnel vision all the time. I feel like if I start paying attention… I just feel like I don’t want to get distracted by anything.’

‘I’m just so focussed. And not to say that I can’t listen to other things or can’t, you know, take in what’s happening. I think that the past two to three years I’ve been on my own thing and just kept myself to myself and just been on that. I do miss a lot, if I’m being honest, in terms of who’s just dropped a project.’


The Debrief Little Simz Nike Air Force 1

Little Simz Nike Air Force One1 of 2

Little Simz Nike Air Force One

Little Simz Nike Air Force One2 of 2

Little Simz Nike Air Force One

And not allowing external expectations to dictate her actions is something that filters into Simz’s personal style as well, of course. At the moment she's one of the faces of of Nike’s new London-focused Air Force 1 campaign, which is live over in London's Niketown from 7 December, by the way. And whilethe AF1's place has long established it's place in the street style hall of fame, for Simz the priority has always been a little more low-key. ‘When it comes to fashion and style I always feel like I just want to be comfortable, like I never want to feel like I’m doing too much and I don’t ever want to feel like I’m being pressed to'.

'Especially because of what I do', she adds. 'It's so easy for people to feel like because I'm a woman and I rap, I must be a sex symbol... and it’s just like, no. Because the girls growing up in my area, they don’t need to always be seeing that. [What they do need to see is that] there is a tomboy like me, or someone that is not necessarily like a sex symbol or whatever the case... and I want to be able to show that that’s fine and you should always be able to do that. You should never feel pressed to consume any of those things. So it’s always been a comfort thing for me.'

If you're not already, now's the time to get excited about Little Simz. Beyond Nike, she's already working on music despite only just wrapping up the Gorillaz tour and we can look forward to something a little bit different to this year's album. 'It will still be in the same vein because it’s me, so its always gonna feel familiar. But I think, especially with what I've been listening to recently, my headspace is in a different place musically - I'm just on other stuff'.

That 'other stuff' includes experimenting more in the studio. And if there's anything else (other than the drums, guitar and singing that she's been working on recently) that Little Simz could try that she hasn't yet, well, you'll probably not be too surprised. 'I’d love to try a one woman band type thing where I’m just playing everything myself and compose everything myself and see how that turns out', she says.

'But just for fun, you know. It doesn’t always have to be serious. I’d just like to do it and see if I'm capable of doing it. I believe I am, whether or not it’s going to be good, I don’t know. But I'd like to try that for sure.'

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**Follow Jazmin on Instagram **@JazKopotsha

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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