LITTLE SIMZ IN NEW YORK, OCTOBER 2015. PHOTOS: VICTORIA STEVENS. STYLING: RIKA WATANABE. MAKEUP: NAM VO/JED ROOT USING CHANEL LES BEIGES. HAIR: MAHFUD IBRAHIM/EXCLUSIVE ARTISTS MANAGEMENT USING ORIBE HAIR CARE.
“Everybody knows that I’m king now,” announces Little Simz on “Persons,” the opening track off of her debut album A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons . Coming from another rapper, such a statement might seem like standard braggadocio, coming from Simz, however, it feels different. It’s not just because of the proud appropriation of the common male noun “king,” either (though kudos for the lyrics “What they fucking mean she’s not a king / All these backwards bitches need to realize it’s 2015 / We redefining the very definition”). Rather, simply put, the 21-year-old is extremely talented.
“When I had that statement I was like, ‘This is going to spark something. Whatever it is, I’m ready for it,'” says Simz of the king line. “It’s about me knowing how mentally strong I am as a woman and as an individual,” she continues.
Born Simbi Ajikawo and raised in North London, Simz has already been proclaimed one of the “realest” rappers releasing music today by Kendrick Lamar. Released in September, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons is an ambitious, 10-track concept album about “the trial, the blessing, and the story of” fame. The powerful affirmation “Persons” leads into “Wings,” a track about coming to terms with burgeoning success (“I ain’t prayed in a minute…for a long time I though that praying was just asking for things / like the road to riches and diamond rings / But now I know that I just gotta be thankful.”) By the seventh track, “Dead Body,” things are a little darker: “Asked for forgiveness, can I or will I? / Negative of heart, am I? / Or shall I explain what the world done to me? / You wouldn’t understand what I been through fully.”
“I wanted to talk about something meaningful that I’m going through and express my story,” explains Simz. “Just give people a real body of work—something that is good for our culture and means a lot.
Before releasing A Curious Tale, Simz acted in several television shows in the U.K. and put out multiple mixtapes. She’s been courted by major labels (her first professional visit to New York was courtesy of Epic Records to meet Sylvia Rhone and L.A. Reid), but has chosen to create her own, independent label Age 101 instead. She’s not afraid of bearing her soul in her lyrics. “I can’t let that be a fear,” she says. “I’m aware that as much as people like hearing and listening to my music, it’s also very therapeutic for me to be able to express myself some way—how I’m feeling, how I’m thinking, and just saying what’s in my heart and on my mind. I need to do that to maintain my sanity.”
Although her music has been very well received, Simz is convinced that her best work still lies ahead. “I’m not easily satisfied with things,” she tells us. “I always want to do better, I always want to improve, I always want to grow. With that mentality I can’t see myself ever being like, ‘This is my favorite song I’ve ever done, or the best song I’ve ever done.'”
HOMETOWN: Islington, North London
GROWING UP… Everyone [in my family] was into different things, but music was very prominent in my household. Everyone was into new, good music. I suppose I took that on without even realizing it. I’m the youngest of four. I have two older sisters and an older brother and was raised by a single mother. Basically, my household was just full of life. Everything was lit all the time. It was great growing up, especially where I grew up in Islington. I met all my friends that I’m close with now—we all lived in the same area, went to the same school. I’ve learned so much just from being there and growing up there.
SIBLING SUPPORT: There’s a 10-year gap between me and my sister that’s older than me, and then there’s my other sister and my brother. They were very protective. They were the ones that were encouraging [me to pursue music] the most and just really behind me. They took me to all my shows, my studio sessions, managed me for a while. They were just really there.
OLD MATERIAL: I definitely cringe a little bit [when I hear some of my older songs]. It takes me back; I remember where I was when I wrote those songs, the kind of state of mind I was in. It takes me back to remembering why I do this and where I started.
UNEXPECTED FANS: Snoop Dogg followed me on Twitter. This was maybe two years ago. I was like, “Shit, that’s crazy.” I did not see that one coming; he just seems so far away in, like, career and height. I think that one shocked me the most.
AGE 101: I wanted to look at new ways and exciting ways of putting out music—being different and doing things a bit unorthodox. That’s what I’m all about. It just seemed like a no-brainer for me. I was meeting with a lot of different labels and I didn’t really feel like they were understanding my vision or what I was trying to do. So the solution for me was the do-it-yourself thing. I just created my label.
WRITER’S BLOCK: Do I get writer’s block? Sometimes, but that’s just a lack of inspiration because I’m not living enough, I’m not experiencing things, I don’t really have shit to write about. That’s when writer’s block hits me the most. But when I’m active and living or spending time with my family and friends and I’m having these experiences—maybe I’ll get my heart broken, whatever it is—I’ll have these things to talk about.
GREATEST FEAR: The fear of losing myself in the industry. I don’t ever want to feel like I’m losing myself. I think that’s a sign of weakness and I don’t believe I’m a weak kind of person. I’ve had moments where it’s like, “shit this is a bit full on,” but not in a sense where I’m about to let it defeat me.
THE POINT OF MUSIC: I think it’s the most powerful thing after God. Music talks to everyone; it’s a universal language. It speaks to your soul. I never knew listening to a song could give you goose bumps and make you cry until I listened to Lauryn Hill. It evokes an emotion that’s indescribable. Lauryn Hill has afflicted that emotion onto me, and to know that I have the power to do that to someone else is mind blowing. That’s what I want to continue do: keep freeing the realness and being honest and open and true in my music.
FOR MORE ON LITTLE SIMZ, VISIT HER WEBSITE.
For more from our 16 Faces of 2016, click here