“ALLOW me to pick up where I left off,” Little Simz spits on ‘Offence’, the opening track of third album GREY Area. “The biggest phenomenon and I’m Picasso with the pen.”
As the title suggests, the London rapper is still bridging that gap between her grime and underground hip-hop beginnings and a burgeoning artistic profile that has garnered praise from Kendrick Lamar, tours with the likes of Ms. Lauryn Hill, and collaborations with Gorillaz.
“I left it all in the music,” the 25-year-old tells me, reflecting on another emotional creative process, following 2016’s Stillness in Wonderland, which put her on the map. “The anticipation has been crazy, which has been nerve-wracking as well, but I’m excited.”
Dealing with anger, love lost, grief and the call to greatness, Little Simz takes us through these 10 songs of intense emotion and lyrical prowess.
This track not only sets a great tone for the album, but it’s a wicked call to arms. When in the process of making this album did this song come to life for you?
This was one of the first songs we made, actually. I remember [childhood friend/producer] Inflo working on the production. I didn’t even like it, to be honest. It was so different. I think it just caught me off guard. It got me out of my comfort zone. I didn’t like the beat, he didn’t like my writing, but we decided to build on it because I liked my writing and he liked the beat! There had to be an element of trust and we collectively kept building on the song.
The bassline on this tune is such a good example of how groovy this record is, the rhythmic control throughout is great. Can you see ‘Boss’ as being a bit of a companion piece to ‘Offence’?
‘Boss’ is just me going off, really. It’s super raw, cutting edge. It’s just very raw. I remember when I recorded it, I recorded it on a shitty little hand-held [mic]. I recorded the rest of the album on this really nice, crispy [one]. I thought, “I need to re-record ‘Boss’ on this other really nice mic”, to make everything feel consistent. I thought I could add the distortion and the effects later. So I actually did. I recorded it and it just lost some of the magic. We decided to keep it [the original version] and it turned out perfectly.
"‘Wounds’ was a song I wrote when my friend had just died. He was murdered. I remember getting the news in the morning. I woke up to a missed call telling me."
‘Selfish’ (ft. Cleo Sol)
How did you get linked up with Cleo Sol for the first time?
I met Cleo through Flo [aka Inflo]. Cleo’s been around for years, I used to listen to her when I was in school. I think what she brought to ‘Selfish’, I don’t feel like anyone else could have brought. When I was writing this song, it was super stripped back and raw. Nothing had been added, no strings, no bass. It was literally just the piano and drums. We kept building on it and it became more and more special. I think we all knew it was going to be something really special from the beginning stages; I’m really pleased with how that one turned out.
‘Wounds’ (ft. Chronixx)
When it comes to ‘Wounds’, the way you channel pain and raw emotion is done so well. The orchestration tied in with your lyricism adds another level of emotion to it. Take me through the significance of this one to you?
‘Wounds’ was a song I wrote when my friend had just died. He was murdered. I remember getting the news in the morning. I woke up to a missed call telling me. Later on in the day, I went to the studio and just sat in the studio by myself in the dark and just cried. Nobody knew I was at the studio, no one in the building even knew I was in the studio. I just snuck in. I just looped a beat and started writing. That’s what started. Before that event had happened, we had the beat for it already. Flo had made it and I just didn’t know how I wanted to approach it. It had to sit for a bit and I knew when I came back to it, it would make sense, but I wasn’t going to force it. It’s a shame that it took that to happen for me to write that song.
‘Venom’ was me releasing all this built up anger that I had over the years, brooding. I released it all on ‘Venom’.
This one reminded me of Jay Z’s ‘Big Pimpin’’ era. This track sounds like it was a lot of fun to make.
When I had made it, I instantly knew, “This was the one.” This was what I grew up on, you know? As much as it does have that ‘Big Pimpin’’ hip-hop aesthetic, it is a grime track. It’s what I grew up on, so that song – as soon as I had the beat, I connected with it so quick. I felt 15 again. It’s nuts. I felt like I was in my pocket, I knew how to sit in it. It felt very familiar. Even after we made that, we made another three grime songs. After we had our little grime phase we steered back on course for the album.
‘Pressure’ (ft. Little Dragon)
Another collaboration that works well even though it might be left field for some, with Little Dragon in the fold. How did that come about?
We had the song and we thought [Little Dragon singer] Yukimi [Nagano] would sound great on it. My manager at the time hit her team up and it just progressed from there. We connected and started talking. We chopped it up. She’s super lovely, super nice. It turned out she was a fan too, which I didn’t know. I thought it was going to be a bit of a long shot, but she was into it for sure.
Unabashed confidence and honesty is a huge drawcard here. What mindset are you in when you’re writing this sort of song?
I think it’s a universal topic, therapy and mental health. I think it’s one that a lot of people can relate to. More so at the time when I was writing the record, I’d been told that therapy would be good for me. I didn’t really want to hear it, I didn’t really understand the concept. Going and sitting there in an appointment, I didn’t get it. I didn’t feel like it was something I wanted to invest my money into at the time. I just took to what I do, which is do it myself and put it on record. I guess I wrote it imagining myself in a therapy session, lying on the sofa [with a] coffee table and someone in front of you. It’s like I’m talking to a therapist.
"I guess I wrote it imagining myself in a therapy session, lying on the sofa [with a] coffee table and someone in front of you."
What took you down this song’s direction?
Love, innit? Another universal concept; something I’m sure a lot of people can relate to. I didn’t want it to come across as a diss track, I’m not out here dissing anyone. It’s just my vibe. To be honest, everything I needed to say about that song, I’ve said it. Even just thinking about it now, I’ve said everything I’ve wanted to say on it. Especially on that one.
‘Flowers’ (ft. Michael Kiwanuka)
As the album closer, ‘Flowers’ is very defined, very weighted. What does this song mean to you?
It’s super important. I’m really proud of this song. Paying homage to the greats, of course, people who have paved the way. Great, great musicians who have graced this earth. [‘Flowers’ namechecks artists who died at 27, including Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Robert Johnson, and Amy Winehouse.]
For me, just looking at my life, where I’m at now and where they were at when … that age is right around the corner. I’m not saying anything’s going to happen to me, touch wood, but it’s crazy how quick time flies.
When I think about how much I want to achieve and how ambitious I am, I’m thinking about how ambitious they must have been, too. They were so young and there was so much more they could have done and offered the earth. I remember when 25 looked so far away. Now I’m here and I don’t know how I got here, I just did. I landed here. It’s another reflective song, paying homage.