“Listening to Dizzee and Kano, eating chicken and chips, hanging around Finsbury Park, Highbury and Angel,” laughs Little Simz, real name Simbiatu “Simbi” Ajikawo. She’s reminiscing about the teenage years in London that inspired 101 FM, a song from album Grey Area, released in March. The laid-back hip-hop tune remembers her emergence on the UK rap scene – taking buses to the studio, skipping fares on trains and playing PS2. It’s a love song to the UK capital.
Little Simz’s star looks likely to rise high. Aged 24, she’s released three mixtapes, eight EPs and two albums. She has toured with Gorillaz, (appearing on stage at Fiesta De Los Muertos in Dubai in 2017), and staged two huge festivals in London. It’s a lot already, and she’s not stepping back any time soon.
Kendrick Lamar described you as “the illest doing it right now”. Did you see your career take off?
I definitely did notice a change, but his statement didn’t make me complacent or comfortable. It was more like fire in my belly if anything. It made me more hungry and determined because I was aware: “Okay, if he’s said that, you better not make him look silly. Really show people what you’re capable of.” There were some eyes on me, but more fire in my belly.
Can you still remember the teenage years that inspired 101 FM clearly?
Yes, 100 percent. In that track I talk about how nostalgic those days were for me at 15 and 16, going to do radio sets and to my friends’ house parties, and what we used to wear back then. It’s funny because when I go Stateside, people tell me it’s their favourite song. I find that crazy. I didn’t even expect them to understand some of the words I’m saying. It’s proof that music travels, and people get it because they feel it as well.
You toured with Gorillaz (including a show in Dubai in 2017). What was that like?
Everything you’d imagine it would be – nerve-wracking, exciting. There were a few pinch-me moments. Just to be able to perform in front of so many people each night was something I’d always dreamed of, and to do it with Gorillaz... I mean, I grew up on Gorillaz. You never think you’re going to tour with the people you grew up listening to.
Tell us about the ‘pinch-me’ moments.
Definitely when I performed at The O2 arena [in London]. When I was young I remember going to see J Cole there. I was one of the first people in the queue from 1pm and the show didn’t start until 9pm. Now to be the person on stage – it’s a bit surreal, isn’t it? But I always knew I was going to get there.
You made Grey Area right after your Gorillaz tour. What was that like?
“I’d been touring for so long and I hadn’t been in one place. When I went made that album, I was at home, I came off social media and I honed in on getting my feelings out.
There’s a track on the album called Therapy. Is making music therapy for you?
I remember being told I should go see a therapist. I didn’t understand why I should go and pay money to talk to someone on their clock. I decided to have my own form of therapy and just write. [The track] talks through the perspective of me imagining what it would be like to go to a therapy session with someone taking notes. That’s not to say I’m against it. I’m just not there yet.
Lastly, what can people expect from Grey Area?
It’s a coming-of-age album. It’s about peeling back layers and tapping into deeper sides of myself. Things that I once loved, turns out I’m not even that into anymore. And things I was so certain I didn’t like, I don’t mind. And as I get older, there’s going to be more of that. I thought I was so sure of myself, I thought I knew myself – but it turns out you don’t.
O Little Simz’ album Grey Area is out now.