Published Apr 13, 2015In many ways, UK MC Little Simz is a young veteran. While the North Londoner has released a slew of online mixtapes and EPs, she is still a 21-year-old student attending classes at the University of West London, all while picking up accolades from contemporaries and established artists alike.
One of the reasons for all the attention is Little Simz's versatility on the mic. She can bring the ruthless technical proficiency needed to succeed in a freestyle battle ("Bars Simzson"), deliver intelligently conceived wisdom-dispensing tracks ("Subject Matters") and genuinely tap into emotional and psychological angst ("Deranged," "Quest Luv") with equal dexterity.
This versatility was evident from when she began recording her Stratosphere mixtapes as a teenager in her bedroom studio, where she regularly sourced beats from producers around the world, a process she still continues today. It's given her an expansive view on her creativity that encompasses the name and philosophy of her frequent collaborators and friends, a collective known as the SPACE AGE crew.
"It reminds me of being open. When I think of space, I think about no limit, no boundaries, no glass ceilings, none of that," she tells Exclaim! "It's like the sky's not the limit. There's a world beyond that and that's what I want my music to be a representation of. I don't just want to limit it to just one sound, or one direction or for one particular type of audience and boundaries and make that known. So that's kind of my thought process and it's not even just mine. All my team, we think alike and that's just been our approach in the creation of our music. It's the path I've been following and it kind of works for me."
It's hard to disagree, with events in her life seemingly living up to the acronym of her 2014 E.D.G.E. [Every Day Gets Easier] EP. She's reportedly on the radar of artists like Snoop Dogg, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, and appeared onstage during Chance the Rapper's SXSW show. Additionally, Little Simz has already been nominated for 2 MOBO Awards in the UK and was genuinely shocked to pick up Breakthrough Act of the Year at tastemaker BBC Radio DJ Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards earlier this year.
"That was a very, very big achievement for me," she says acknowledging the respect and credentials Peterson's show carries. "That was sick."
Little Simz's 2013 mixtape Blank Canvas was premiered on Jay Z's Life and Times website. And recently Little Simz's notoriety led to a recent sit-down meal and discussion about music with Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) in Paris, whose "Mathematics" beat she had freestyled over on the Blank Canvas track "Subject Matters."
"That experience was definitely surreal. I guess I would have seen it coming, but not that early on in my career," she says. "Just to know that he was already aware of who I was beforehand was crazy in itself, and then to sit down with him and just to hear his stories and how passionate he is about music — he really studies it. Our whole conversation was really like a freestyle. He was just reciting bars and just teaching me stuff and I learned about him — Yasiin Bey as opposed to Mos Def — which is the best thing, and he came to my show and saw me perform."
As Little Simz nears the release of her debut full-length, which she plans to handle herself through her own Age 101 label, she is still experimenting with different sounds and approaches. The next evidence of this will be from the forthcoming Age 101: Drop 4 EP, likely to be the last EP before her album drops.
Speaking about the EP's just-released lead track "Is This Freedom?" produced by Toronto beatmakers Prezident Jeff and OZ, she says, "I've slowed down my flow. You can hear what I'm saying. It's clarity. I don't need to rhyme in triplets for you to get that I can rap. I've showed you I can rap on five, six, seven mixtapes already. Now it's about the musicality of it and what I'm trying to say, I guess. Not to say I'm gonna start slowing down all my raps but I'm just trying different ways to approach things."
Given how her eclectic approach has been successful for her to this point, Little Simz is unlikely to change things up for her full-length bow.
"Sonically it's still my sound. I've still got that airiness and that atmospheric type of mood," she says. "But then there's the hard-hitting stuff, the emotional stuff. It's just a mix, a blend of different sounds from different worlds. That's just what I enjoy making. Like, if there comes a point where I get bored of it — which I highly doubt — but if there is that point, then I'll make something else I enjoy. I don't feel under pressure because now I've started making that music like I have to follow it through. No, I'll switch it up when I feel like switching it up, but right now it's just what I enjoy and people enjoy it which is the most important thing. And yeah, it's kind of tight."