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Review: Little Simz at Belgrave Music Hall

19 February 2016
Review: Little Simz at Belgrave Music Hall
“We about to party up in here” says Simbi Aijikawo, better known as Little Simz as she walks on stage at The Belgrave Music Hall tonight. “But first, let’s do something heartfelt”.

Dressed in an oversized maroon shirt, with a fringed bob haircut and trousers nearly a foot too short, even judging by appearance you can tell she’s not someone trying to fit the mould of your stereotypical UK rapper. And as an artist noted for her ambitious independence, that’s probably because she isn’t. At only twenty-one years old Little Simz has already released four mix-tapes, five EPs, founded a record label through which she just released her debut album A Curious Tale of Trials + Person and has received praise from some of the biggest rap artists across the world.

But Simz’ label, Age: 101 Music, isn’t the creation of a struggling rapper cast aside by the industry. When she was finally ready to release her debut album last year the offers from labels were there, but after seven years chasing her dream of signing to a major, when the opportunity finally arrived, the numbers and the ideas of the A&R reps she spoke to didn’t sit well. Rather than sign herself up for a label-forced moulding into the cast of the predicted shape of the UKs next exploitable rapper, Simz took the initiative to invest in her own individuality, artistic talent and determination, and signed herself.

Though not a ground-breaking story in itself, what’s interesting about Simz’ career is since that decision, she’s not only been making waves across the UK mainstream, but she’s also recently found love from across the Atlantic expressed by some of the biggest artists in the world, with Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000 and Jay-Z all voicing their acclaim. And while it’s undoubtable Simz’ work has been eased in to American audiences through their recent ‘acceptance’ of grime, the instrumentation and genres from which Simz draws her musical style should also be considered a large contribution to her transatlantic success.

In the opening of ‘Wings’, the second song in Simz’ set tonight, she demonstrates this more universal style perfectly. Layers of smooth guitar lines drift over a circle of major sevenths, pushed out by a loose, soulful piano. As Simz begins to rap in her honest, assertive, cards-on-the-table style, a tide of Channel Orange-esque synthesizer lines sweep in with her before a beat that sounds like something lifted from a decade old Timbaland track. It’s not quite something you’d expect watching Kano or Stormzy do their thing.

But her origins in the London rap scene aren’t something she’s left behind, either - far from it. That’s made clear through her heavily London accented vocals and lyrics addressing topics such as continuously disturbing elderly neighbours in council houses. On top of that there are glimmers in some of the broken up rhythms of her music that pay homage to garage and 2-step beats, along with other moments, especially in crowd favourite ‘Dead Body’ that make you think she could quite easily have become the next big thing in mainstream grime.

The drive that Simz has demonstrated in retaining control of her own music, blurring genres and tackling America isn’t lacking in her stage persona either. After a few slow numbers early in the set she shouts to the DJ behind her tonight, “Let’s give these guys something to step to”, and whilst manically bouncing round the stage demands every hand in the room is raised.

At the end of the night, the rest of the artists who were here in support, collectively known as Spaceage, begin to filter through on to the stage. She demands everyone ‘chilling round the edge’ make their way to the front of the crowd and warns “It’s all about to get sweaty and gross”. After charging the crowd up with three rewinds, Simz ends the night with an explosive performance of ‘Lane Switch’ and signs off: ‘Remember, you guys were here at the start’.

Dan is a volunteer music writer for Leeds Living, reviewing gigs and festivals around the city. He also plays guitar in Leeds band Dancing Years