Exclusive Interview: The Truth About Little Simz
Little Simz gets candid about her battle with the music industry and the importance of bringing truth to the people...
“The game has it’s way of tainting people, and maybe she got tainted. I don’t know, I don’t like to talk about it,” Stormzy seems shook when speaking about Little Simz’ ‘Dead Body’ in the North Londoner’s short film A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons: The True Story. As Simz stares stardom dead in the face with her debut LP, perhaps Stormzy – still yet to release a full-length record – is worried that he might be next. More likely though, it’s an intentional blur of the lines between fiction and reality; a device Simz likes to use to heighten the truth. It’s something to think about, and that’s the main thing the 21-year-old hopes to achieve from her listeners.
On A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons Simz adopts multiple personas and perspectives in order to challenge perceptions and deliver her points in a vividly relatable way. On ‘Tainted’ we hear her singing her own praises and chasing money over love; it’s the person that we might have found ourselves talking to today, had she not nipped it in the bud. The track showcases the person she hopes never to become, and yet she caught the character slipping out accidentally one day in a studio session. “When I first started writing it, I was actually writing that as me,” she admits. “But then I thought ‘Rah! Is this what I’m talking about now? Nah, this can’t be what I want. I’m not really feeling that.’” She decided to take it to almost parodical levels, pouring in the braggadocio and taking a poke at the substance-lacking output that often comes coupled with fame and fortune. “I needed to speak upon that character because I know my life is headed in that direction and this is normally the person that famous people turn into. They started with a lot of substance and ended with nothing, and that’s not the person I want to become, or the person I look forward to ever meeting in the future.”
Juggling different characters was a concern for Simz initially, if the listener doesn’t do their part in figuring out the alternate perspectives they could well think that she is lost, or even worse, follow the influence of their twisted wire. Her ‘Dead Body’ video – the first to surface from the album – shows Simz dragging a corpse through the desert. It was criticised by some for being too dark, but they’d failed to hear it in the intended context. “When I was making ‘Dead Body’ I was just thinking ‘I know this is going to start some shit but I’m cool with that,’” she remarks. “Because if anyone ever asks me I know my reasons behind that, I know that I wrote it from the perspective of a homeless man. Not everything said, people should take from face value, there’s a deeper meaning behind it. In the video where I’m dragging the corpse, that’s me getting rid of my demons, my flaws and my imperfections,” she pauses, adding. “It would be different if I’m just talking and there’s no meaning or no truth behind it.”
The truth is very important to Simz. Her use of fiction refines the concepts and ideas that she’s trying to articulate, creating a very pungent and effective truth, without pushing too far to where she’s fronting. It’s a balance that she’s mastered early: through the eyes of her adopted characters Simz plunges the listener into an alternative universe that evokes an emotional response and questions society. In a musical climate rife with allegations of ghost-writing, ironic viral sensations and Twitter drama, she sees honesty as all the more vital to her generation. “I just found out about some guy called Slim Jesus,” she says, of the 18-year-old Youtube sensation from Hamilton, Ohio, who makes violent music inspired by Chicago’s drill scene, but has been open about its fictional nature. “It’s like ‘What are you doing?’ I’m so confused. At first I thought he was being real, and then I watched an interview and it just confirms he’s not about it. Why would you put that out there as if there isn’t enough shit going on in the world? It’s just a bit of a joke.”
Simz thrives on exposing these truths, even if at times she has to be the bearer of bad news. She believes that ultimately her audience will respect her for being frank with them. “We’re already lied to in our society anyway through the political world. And music influences this generation the most, more than any politician. So I’m not going to come in and tell you lies, I’m not going to add fuel to the flame. I’m not going to add to the problem when there’s already a bigger one, a bigger war happening outside,” says Simz. “I’m going to tell you something that you might find uncomfortable, but I know why I’m telling you this; because you need to hear it. I’m [not just] giving you what you want, I’m giving you what you need and I feel like more artists need to do that.”
It’s no surprise then, that she has referenced both Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city and Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill as her inspiration to create a concept album. With great homegrown rap albums being worryingly scarce across the past decade, she wants to remind listeners that they do exist. She’s put great detail into the structure and cohesion of the record, rather than just rounding up the fruits of the past three months’ studio sessions and dropping a twenty track compilation. In fact, the process behind A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons was so focussed that the album had to be wrapped in one month – the time she’d been given by Red Bull Studios who offered her the use of their facilities. With such an extensive discography of great music having already been released for free, Simz needed a way of making this one different. While many in a similar position resort to throwing budget at big name features and producers, she instead honed in on careful planning, making it stand out in a more subtle, but lasting way; taking literature as inspiration to create a timeless record. “English was my favourite subject at school,” she reveals. “And I’ve always been fascinated with how to put a book together and how a story goes through different stages. So when I was making this record I wanted to make it feel like it could be a book; if you wrote this down you could actually read this. That came down to the cover and the title, the fact that it was a concept album… I’ve put out a lot of work and it’s like ‘What’s going to be different from this album to everything else I’ve put out?’ I think the fact that I’ve looked at it like a book just made all the difference.”
Unfortunately, like the stories Simz tells through her music, not all truths are ones we want to hear. While we’ve avoided boxing her into the ‘female rapper’ prototype, it feels appropriate to address the issue in our conversation. She opens up her debut album with the proclamation that “Women can be Kings.” It’s bold and to some ears it’s likely abrasive, it’s Simz‘ mantra (or war cry, depending on how you look at it) as she breaks through into an industry that would sadly be ten times more likely to listen were she some young lad grabbing his nuts. We ask if she feels her music would be perceived differently were she male, and the response is shameful. “Yeah definitely,” she responds instantly. “I feel like it takes a lot for the man to say ‘D’you know what? You’re actually fucking sick.’ Some guys are just like so open with it and I love that because it’s nothing to do with gender or anything, they’re just genuinely like ‘Forget all of that, you are fucking sick.’ But some people don’t want to say it simply because I’m a girl and they don’t like the fact that I’m doing what I’m doing or I’m good at what I do. We live in 2015 you know what I’m saying? Things evolve, people are allowed to be good at whatever they want to be good at regardless of gender, class, race, whatever it is, we need to move on. I don’t just want to be good at something ‘for a girl’. Nah, I don’t believe in that. That’s just something that I wanted to talk about more.”
There have been several incidents in which Simz has found herself mysteriously snubbed or ignored, one in particular being an MTV write-up of the BBC Proms which ignored her performance despite paying attention to everyone else on the line up. “I find myself like ‘Am I doing something wrong? Like I don’t get it,’” she says. Being the only female that played the show, she sees the writers ‘error’ as difficult to over look. “To miss that out is 100% intentional, I’m not stupid. I don’t understand why that was done, because it makes no sense to me. You’re talking ‘UK’ and ‘we’re all meant to unify’ but then you pull funny moves like that, and it just opens my eyes a bit. I question it a lot. When I saw that it actually pissed me off, because I’m thinking ‘Rah, is this what I’ve worked for? To get to this point for my work to not be acknowledged?’ I felt like I contributed something, and for you to over look that it felt like a slap in the face a bit.”
She believes the issue is more rife amongst the hip-hop/rap community, as she finds herself more commonly embraced by male music lovers from outside of the culture. “Sometimes I look at my mentions and I’ll just click on profiles of people that have shown interest or like my music and it’s like ‘Rah! I would never in a million years would’ve expected…’” she pauses. “And I know this is bad because I’m instantly judging, going off of what I see, because that’s what we do as human beings. But it’s like I would just never have imagined like half of these people to have interest or show interest and it’s sick, it just means that I have a universal appeal.” Despite the inexcusable narrow-mindedness that Simz has had to endure on her come up, and is still battling to this day, in many ways it’s been a gift and a curse. She’s has been forced outside of the box and her music is a lot better for it. Simz doesn’t make music that’s precious of a particular territory and she doesn’t feel any allegiance to a particular genre, for her the box is wide open and she’s ready to play. “My mentality is I’m a musician, so it’s not difficult for me to do a rap or hip-hop tune, it’s not difficult for me to do something electronic based or soul based. Whatever it is because I see myself as well rounded, I just want to keep expanding my horizons. I never want to feel like I can’t take on something because it’s out of my comfort zone. Music should be universal, and I just want to continue to broaden my horizons in that sense.”
To ‘taint’, according to Dictionary.com means “to infect, contaminate, corrupt or spoil.” And as Little Simz works hard on her craft, telling truths, spreading honesty and making great music, it appears that it is the game, rather than the player, that is tainted. Simz’s role has been to spread awareness and take the battle head on. By crowning herself King, and eschewing territory and genre she makes herself a target, but once she’s engaging an audience, talking them around comes naturally to her. “People are so quick to judge and have an opinion, that people don’t like to give things chances,” she says as our conversation draws to a close. “I think the hardest thing for me is getting people to press play, and it’s mad because I know when they press play they like it. Telling my story is easy, it’s nothing, I’ll tell you my story all day. That’s what I do, that’s what I write about, that’s what I know best. But to get people to want to listen to it is a different thing. I enjoy heartfelt music and the feeling that I get from that is amazing. I would love someone to feel that from listening to what I’ve got to say, especially if I have a voice.”
Words by Grant Brydon
Images courtesy of Red Bull & Vevo Lift