little simz in conversation with anderson .paak
Fresh from appearing on Forbes' 30 under 30 list and winning Best Breakthrough Artist at Giles Peterson's Worldwide Awards respectively, Simz and Anderson .Paak discuss their songwriting methods, breaking the rules, and the relationship between drugs...
Last year, 29-year-old Anderson .Paak caught the attention of none other than Dr Dre. Cue features on eight tracks across his Compton album, a Stones Throw-signed project with producer Knxwledge called NxWorries, plus a tour with Earl Sweatshirt and, as you'd expect when an artist does the former two, major waves were made in the music world. i-D favourite Simz is 21, straight out of North London and doing the same, having earned fans like Kendrick Lamar and become the first independent UK rapper to make Forbes' 30 Under 30 list. Both Simz and Anderson possess the sort of unpredictability in their sound and their actions capable of keeping the industry on its toes and the listening world interested. Mutual fans, ahead of their performance together at Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards (at which Anderson won Breakthrough Act of the Year), the two of them hung out backstage to discuss their songwriting methods, breaking the rules, and the relationship between drugs and music.
Simz: Soooo, Mr Paak. Let me start... to what extent do you think your music is a product of your upbringing?
Anderson: I think it's pretty much in everything. I was raised on soul, gospel and hip-hop and there's a lot of that in my music. I grew up in the suburbs so there was a lot of rock too, so I guess that influenced me as well. What about you?
Simz: Well I'm the youngest of four siblings so everything has been injected in me subliminally.
Anderson: Yeah? What kind of music were they playing you?
Simz: UK Garage... I don't know if you're familiar with those kinds of sounds? Obviously early hip-hop... well, I'm 21 now so as far back as it goes for me... plus afrobeats, reggae... cultural shit man. That's what I was brought up on and I think it shows in the music I make today. I try to be as diverse as possible with my sound because I feel like with me especially, singing to the world as a female rapper, it's so easy to be put in a box. So I just try to broaden it a bit.
Anderson: And who was your favourite MC growing up?
Simz: Lauryn Hill
Anderson: Damn! For real?
Simz: Of course! Biggie too. I just think his ability to tell a story is so out of this world and yet so simple. He's just so clever... he's cocky but smooth and just...
Anderson: So much character! Great rhythm and stuff. You've got the rhythm too...
Simz: Thank you! I try and slow it down cause I realise that anyone can have flow you know. Anyway... the whole Dre situation... how did that manifest?
Anderson: I think it started with Suede. The A&R hit me up and he was like, 'you wanna come work on this shit with Dre?' and I was like, YEAH. I didn't think it was gonna happen but I get to the studio, pass all the security and shit, and I finally get in there and the first two people I meet are Dre and D.O.C. They were just sitting watching the play-offs, like, 'what's up?' And then they played Suede to Dre and really cranked that shit up and he played it three times, and after the third time Dre was like, 'alright, let's work!'
Simz: No wayyy.
Anderson: Yeah so I tried to freestyle on their beat and when I finished I opened my eyes and they were all like 'ahhh shit!' And that's how I started working with him.
Simz: And how far back was that?
Anderson: It was last summer... yeah, not too long ago.
Simz: They say that you're only as good as your last piece of work... do you believe that?
Anderson: Yeah, I believe that phrase... that you're only as good as your last record, your last interview. I believe you're only as good as the people that you surround yourself with too. And I feel like your word should be your bond, you know? I believe in that shit. I feel like this project is my best work to date. I still feel like I'm just getting started too. But I feel like everything with me has just been like a slow boat and I'm grateful for that cause I see a lot of people not know how to deal with their quick success. I think I was headed out on this journey and I had a plan with what I was gonna do with Malibu, and I knew it was gonna be something special. And I even held onto songs for it. I thought, okay, Venice is gonna be some party shit, you know? Some face value type... not shallow, but just not too deep into my story.
Simz: Just easy on the ears...
Anderson: Exactly. But the thing with me is that I've never really been able to do one cohesive project, one sound. And that's what labels are always afraid of. They tell me that I can't do this or that, or that I can't just put something out! But that just makes me wanna do it more. I feel like more people are ready for that variety now though, because that's kind of how the listener is now... they're listening to you, they're listening to Taylor Swift... you know, that's the kind of people I want listening to my stuff.
Simz: Yeah, sick. I didn't think of it like that.
Anderson: What about you? How have you come on since your first projects?
Simz: I think with every project I do, I kinda just look at it like it's my first thing. I always feel like I have something to prove, like there's gotta be a new listener or a new fan that hasn't heard the rest of my shit. So with each project I feel like I have to kind of - and I hate this word - reinvent, myself. Also, I don't just wanna be a rapper. I think that's too limiting for me. That's not enough. I don't feel complete in just saying that I rap. I wanna be able to say that for a start, I try to be a good person. I see myself as a humanitarian, a musician, but I also wanna act. I don't wanna be one of those people that try to do everything and isn't good at some of them. I wanna be tight at everything I do. Maybe I have big ambitions and I need to scale it down.
Anderson: No, honestly, that's awesome. And I could definitely see you on a model tip too...
Simz: I don't know about that. I just try to be tight at what I do and not to get too comfortable or complacent. You know, my mum didn't grow me like that. She didn't grow me to just be satisfied with things. And as I'm getting older I'm still trying to learn more about myself, about my history, you know... the proper way to try and love myself more and just becoming a woman. Especially in this industry.
Anderson: Well said. I was wondering, when you're writing, what do you think is the best way of getting out your creativity? Do you write with producers or by yourself? Do you like being put on the spot? How do you work?
Simz: I love being able to write with people, especially singers and writers, because everytime I go into a session with someone, I just like to have a conversation for a start. I wanna find out what people are into and learn more about the person that I'm working with. I hate getting in sessions where it's like, right, get to work. You feel me? It just feels so forced. I want everything ideally to be natural. But then I also write on my own. If I'm pissed off at something, it just all comes out. I feel like a lot of my songs come from an unhappy place. Some of the greatest songs in the world are about heartbreak, hurt and depression, so I try to use that as fuel and take good things out of the bad. What about you?
Anderson: I think it depends. When I take my time and really live the song for a couple of days, that probably results in my better stuff. Cause my thing is figuring out what pocket to fit in in the musical landscape. And I guess as I do it more, I can hear when it's not right. You know, a spidey sense goes off and I can feel it. So yeah, I think that sometimes when I live with a beat for a while, it can be both a pro and a con. On one hand I can get too heavy and into my own head, but then that's probably when it's the most like, woahhh you're going in! Also when I'm outside of my comfort zone and just thrown into something - I like that cause ideas just rush to me as opposed to spending days thinking up things. But I'm the same - I like to talk man, and I grab things from conversation, bouncing off other people.
Simz: Same, exactly that. Sometimes I scroll through my texts like, oh, that was kind of tight!
Anderson: Another thing I wanted to ask, was how much do you think that drugs play a role in music? Like, what would you say is the biggest shit out here right now? Trap? Grime? Would you say that there's a drug associated with them? Something that goes hand in hand?
Simz: For sure. I don't indulge in that kind of activity myself, but absolutely, 100%. Cause I guess it just eradicates any kind of negative feeling in the same way that music does. So when you put the two together, it's like heaven. Not that I'm a part of that, but I see it man. I go to shows and I see people that're on something and you can see that they're clearly going through shit in their lives that they come to let loose from.
Anderson: Do you think it helps to open and have that release? Or do you think it's kind of numbing it? And do you think that people do it just cause they think that's the shit they gotta take?
Simz: I think it's influence, man. I think that if you hear about it enough times in a song, you're gonna be curious to see what it does to you, if it has that positive effect on the artist and they're your role model. So if your favourite artist is saying, 'yo, this is what I do'. And you've got their pictures on your wall and you wanna do and feel what they do... I just think that's a big influence, personally. And I think if your favourite artist was to tell you not to do it, you probably wouldn't.
Simz: I'm not saying it's a good thing or a bad thing. I just think it is what it is. It's just one of those things. You either do it and you grow out of it, or it gets a hold of you. It's risky business. What do you think?
Anderson: I think drugs are something that people do to in order to tap into something that's already in them. It's just, for some people it becomes a crutch, you know?
Simz: They rely on it.
Anderson: And I think it does release something, but when it's continual... but then I think about people like Jimi Hendrix and all that kind of music and acid and I don't know how much of it was that and how much of it was raw talent. But then the people listening to the music were taking the drugs too. You know, what's the correlation there?
Simz: I feel you. I'd never really thought of that before...
Anderson: Anyway, to round this up, do you have any favourite artists that you know are just complete ignorant trash but you love it still?
Simz: I'm a Gucci fan. He's so tight at what he does. What about you?
Anderson: Damn... right now? I like that kid Madeintyo. He's like, the child of Gucci. He's pretty cool. He has a track called Uber Everywhere. It's pretty tight.
Anderson .Paak's Malibu LP is out now, as is Simz' debut LP, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons.
Text Francesca Dunn
Photography Lily Bertrand-Webb