Little Simz has a reputation as a leading woman in British rap and an MC whose wordplay rivals that of more famous faces. Stormzy and Kendrick Lamar have each hailed her talent. But on this opening show of a UK and Ireland tour, she seems to care less about weighty labels and more about simply enjoying herself.
Many of her peers in rap tend to go big, with entourages for their stage shows complete with hype men finishing off each of the main star’s bars to help them stay on point, but here it’s pared down to just Simz, her five-piece band and her incredible stamina: her set is nearly 90 minutes, deftly mixing old and newer material. At one point she freestyles a cappella, showing off vocals honed by years of such freestyling. Highlights include the trappy Might Bang, Might Not, which is expertly mixed into Venom, and her delivery of the latter track might even be speedier than on the record. Recent hits such as the rhythmic, pacing Point and Kill, and I Love You, I Hate You also thrill the crowd with their swagger. Simz rocks along to the percussion while performing, declaring herself “unstoppable” on the former tune.
As well as gushing over her band multiple times throughout the night, she thanks her audience – a mixed range of excited teenagers and polite middle-aged couples – for letting her “try new things”. The things in question may just be some playful gimmicks designed to heighten anticipation. First donning dark sunglasses and a bandana, she quickly dips off stage, only to return minutes later in a new getup, the first in a series of false starts intended to tease the crowd. It makes the set feel slightly disjointed, but it’s made up for by her incredible form.
Simz towers over her audience, closing the show with the luscious Woman; an expert in getting the crowd to follow her, she has everyone in song for the chorus. Towards the end of the show, she cheekily asks Birmingham whether they’re still there. The cheshire-cat grin she wears when hearing their response suggests this singular talent, whose lightning-speed flows never compromise her knack for powerful storytelling, never feared losing their attention anyway.
• Little Simz plays O2 Academy, Newcastle, on 27 November; O2 Academy, Glasgow, 28 November. Then touring.