“i’m not afraid to say no”: little simz stands strong on self identity, presented by g-star raw
We joined up with G-Star Raw and Little Simz, to find out why she's thinking about moving from Islington to LA, and why she's still a little misunderstood as a musician.
It's an exciting time for British rap and grime. Perched on the cusp of impending global potential, artists like Stormzy and Skepta are slowly starting to infiltrate the Stateside soundscape with their performances at SXSW and sold out tours around the country. But while much has been made of the male MC's moves in America, Little Simz has quietly been making her own mark in the US for over three years. To date, she's done three SXSW's and two tours -- and she's done it all, like the aforementioned, as an independent, unsigned artist. One of the most talented rhymers of her generation, Simz is a true storyteller; these aren't just words that rhyme well, the 22-year-old paints pictures with her creative compositions, like those found on 2015's brilliantly adventurous debut A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons. Refusing to sell out her sound or her identity, we joined up with G-Star Raw and Simz to find out why she's thinking about moving from Islington to LA, and why she's still a little misunderstood as a musician…
You're back! How was the tour?
It was amazing, I had a great time.
Take us through four Little Simz tour essentials, please.
1). The soundtrack to the tour was Hiatus Kaiyote's Choose Your Weapon. That was, like, every flight, at every gate. On the way to the airport, even at the airport, it was that album. That was my tour soundtrack.
2). When it comes to lonely hotel nights, it was How To Get Away With Murder. I love Viola Davis.
3). My suitcase staple is a hot water bottle; I go everywhere with one. I just hate being cold!
4). When it comes to clothes, for the first half of the tour I had the same outfit. I just had one set uniform, which was a mix of G-Star and Zara, basically a black suit. I like the fit of G-Star but I also love the aesthetic. I like what they stand for. They're a brand, but it's about wearing things how you want to wear them, how you feel comfortable and I like that because sometimes I'll work with brands and they try too hard to make you come into their world. I think style should really be about identity. You make it work for you.
Little Simz recreated the look from her Dead Body video for her tour, using a mix of clothing from G-Star RAW and Zara.
Why is identity important as a musical artist?
It's the one thing you really have that's yours. It can't get stolen, you can't take someone's ID. It's you. You can take someone's music, you can take someone's flow, but you ain't gonna take that person's identity. You can't do that, in my opinion. That's why I think it's important; it's the one thing you really have.
You've been playing the US for three years. How did that happen so early on in your career? And have you noticed a change since you've been going there?
It's been really interesting to see the change since I first started going there. My first show in the US was in 2014, either in LA or at SXSW, I can't remember. But it happened because I managed to get a booking agent, ICM, in LA in 2013 and they got me my first SXSW in 2014. That time, no one knew who I was. The second time I went, the same thing. This year, people actually came out to see me. So over the course of three years, I managed to make the transition from nobody knowing who I was, to people coming because I just so happened to be there, to this year people actually coming to see me.
How do you think that happened?
By being consistent. By -- not to get too deep! -- but by putting it out to the universe. I knew it was going to happen. I remember [something you said to me at an event recently], that the best things sometimes take the longest. I knew it was going to get to that point. I'm not completely satisfied with where I know I want to be, but I know it's going to take time and that's ok.
Would you say you're quite spiritual?
Yeah. But not spiritual like 'indigo child'! I know within myself that I'm a spiritual person and I'm very connected to things in the universe and I believe in those types of things. But it's not something I'll openly talk about all the time. I just feel it. I believe that makes me spiritual. It's within me, and I talk about it in songs, but that's as far as it goes.
Why did you see the US as being a part of your path? Most people focus on cracking the UK first, and then concentrate on other countries. Was there a strategy, in any sense?
Not at all, I think it was just my calling. I've never ever seen myself as 'just' London, or this is it. I knew within myself that I wanted to do my thing over there on the low, and I want to build, and I want to keep building. Even now I'm considering a move there because I can see how it might work for me. But at the same time, I know I have a lot of work to do here. I'm trying to figure it out. It's obviously easier to say it than to actually do it, but I have good people around me, my family, my friends, who tell me anything is possible. They really encourage me. If the people I love and care about most are telling me this could be good for me, I've got nothing to lose. If it doesn't work, I come home. Home is always going to be here.
Do you feel that America understands you more as an artist?
Yeah, definitely. It's changed, there's been a weird shift. And I can't pinpoint the exact moment where I felt like I was being understood just that little bit more. I mean, I still feel misunderstood, but I think people are paying attention a bit more and trying to understand me a bit more. Especially in the States anyway.
How do you feel misunderstood?
I think people are confused how I'm doing what I'm doing without a label…
But it's 2016! This shouldn't be news to people, than an artist can be DIY.
For me doing what I'm doing -- let's just say a young girl was to come and do what she's doing and not be signed to a label -- it would be fine because she's seen Simz do it or JME or whoever. I think people maybe misunderstand how I'm doing what I'm doing and the fact that I'm selective about what I do. Perhaps people misunderstand that. But it's just that I think about my moves. It's like chess. I think logically, and I don't act off of impulse. I'm not quick to say yes to things and I'm not afraid to say no.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
I'm vulnerable, I'm sensitive. I'm truthful, I'm imperfect. I'm self aware. I care, a lot. But I also don't care. So somewhere in between caring and not caring is where I fit.
Will grime/ UK rap break the US? Does it matter? Do we need the validation?
I think honestly, we have a shot. Why not? I think we still have a lot of work to do, but I think we have a shot. Especially going to SXSW this year and having the SBTV showcase…
Which was great, although it would have been nice to see a female on that line-up.
But it will be hard for you to do -- I resist having to talk about female rappers being 'female rappers' because it feels regressive. But being a female rapper trying to break America will be tough. Possible, but tough.
But even that, like, I just don't like labels. With anything, I'm just not a label person. Even when I'm seeing a guy and he's like 'So what is this?' It is what it is. Labels are just for other people. In a year's time, I could want to do an album that is heavily influenced by rock & roll. Then what?
You're a musician.
That's it. I just want to be that. If you see the catalogue of music that I listen to, it's so diverse. Of course rap is what I predominantly do, that's where I'm comfortable and that's where I'm at home. But in terms of where I wanna take it, I'm a person that likes to learn and likes to grow. I like to be a sponge, I like to sit in sessions and just not talk and just watch the engineer and learn. With music, I'm not scared to take risks or to try new things. I love this shit so much, I'm willing to try something and fail at it.
So you don't want to be labeled and you don't want a label.
I would rather not be labeled. But I understand if people do. And I'm not against labels, but right now I'm chilling. When I look at Chance The Rapper, he just finessed the whole game. You watch what people are doing, and you see how that can apply to your situation. I feel like I have nothing to lose right now.
What's coming up for you?
I've obviously come off this tour, I was just in Israel for Forbes' 30 Under 30, which was amazing, an incredible experience. I took my mum, which made it so meaningful to me, that she could really see what I do, and the places my work has -- and is -- taking me. I'm sad about the tour ending -- happy and sad. I'm like conflicted! But now I'm straight into recording, I want to work on new music. I've been on the road for such a long time and I miss getting in the studio but I wanted that feeling. I wanted to miss it because I know that the moment I go back in, that's it. Over the last couple of months I've seen a lot and I've met a lot of people and I've been through a lot, so I have a lot to talk about, which is a good starting point for me. I'm so full. I'm just so full! A lot of words, a lot of ideas, so that's basically my focus right now.
Little Simz wears G-Star RAW, including the G-Star 5620 Elwood, in celebration of its 20th Anniversary.