If you've been sleeping on Simbi Ajikawo, it's time to wake up. Loved by critics but somehow evading the mainstream, Little Simz has toured the world both in her own right and with Gorillaz, released seven EPs, four mixtapes and three albums, the latest of which is ‘Grey Area'. Thirty-five minutes of pure honesty, it tackles everything from the grief of losing a loved one to the challenges put upon young women, all through a lens of learning to put away childish things, negotiating young adulthood. A newly-turned 25-year-old, she holds in her hands the key to her future, the product of believing in her own talents.
"It's been about a year in the making – I always knew I was going in to make a third record," Simz explains. "I never really work on ideas when I'm on the road – I write vague things down, and I take pictures, and then when I get in the studio, I start remembering things. Last year I was quite overworked. I'd been doing so many shows, so I didn't really write – I was just expanding my palette, listening to old 70s Nigerian funk, jazz, a lot of neo-soul, a lot of 90s hip-hop. When I finished touring, I just got in the studio, and it just poured out."
Working with childhood friend Inflo, Simz found her footing with ‘Offence', a no-nonsense track she initially wasn't sure about. "Flo just got on the drumkit and made this pattern, then hopped on the bass. I was just writing - the first bit of anything I'd be writing before we started on anything else," she says. "I didn't really like it because it felt different – it was an uncomfortable sound, but I guess discomfort breeds magic. I'm happy that I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried something new because I love the result. It's exactly what I needed in making this record; to be surrounded by my people."
If there is one theme that defines the record, it is a newfound sense of security in her skill. Both ‘Offence' and ‘Venom' carry a swagger that feels new for Simz, the former asserting her as "Jay-Z on a bad day, Shakespeare on my worst days," and the latter discussing the fragility of an industry that fears confident black women. With bars like "They will never wanna admit I'm the best here / For the mere fact that I've got ovaries… Never giving credit where it's due cos you don't like pussy in power," her point is more than clear.
"I'm not shying away from my greatness anymore," she says. "I know I've done that a lot – London has this thing where you feel like you need to apologise for being great, and I've never liked that. I don't feel like my gender defines me; I'm not trying to be catching feminists or playing that role. But at the same time, I know I am trying to shed light on it, and more for other women to feel like they haven't got to be submissive to no one. Your gender really doesn't mean shit – no more of this ‘she's good for a girl' stuff."
With other tracks such as '101FM' providing levity ("that one just fell out of me"), it's a well-rounded effort that offers as much vulnerability as it does self-assurance. ‘Flowers' proved a difficult creation, inspired as it was by the icons of Simz' musical upbringing. "It's a very special song, and I wanted to attack it right. It's a bit of a tribute, and I wanted to do it justice in that sense and not let anyone down. I kept thinking of all these greats, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix… just wondering if they were listening whether they'd like it. I guess I put a bit of pressure on myself in that sense. And I recorded it in the same place Amy recorded her record too – the energy in the room was very powerful."
With a summer of festivals ahead as well as her own tour, it's highly likely that Simz will soon find herself spoken about in the same sentences as her idols. A creative who clearly never stops striving for greatness, it's hard to imagine her ever feeling truly content. What does a truly successful Little Simz look like?
"I think I am successful," she counters. "Very much so. I've got a long way to go, and I'm aware of that, but I'm getting into the habit of recognising my achievements - nobody else is going to do that for me, but I need to notice that I'm doing a madness," she laughs. "What I want it to say, I think the record does for itself – it's all in the lyrics. But I'm going to be here for a long time; I wholeheartedly believe that."
Taken from the May issue of Dork. Little Simz’ album ‘Grey Area’ is out now. She’ll tour the UK from 23rd October.
Featuring Lewis Capaldi, Fontaines D.C., Ten Tonnes, Little Simz, Billie Eilish, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and more.