Little Simz review – red-hot ambition and technical flair

02 Academy 2 Islington, London
The rapper’s talent and drive are clear and her presence is engaging, even if her storytelling skills are still developing

Little Simz is a 21-year-old rapper, straight outta Islington, with one pin-sharp goal: she wants to make it, and on her own terms. No label, no fancy guest features on her album, no nonsense. That album, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons, is about to come out, and tonight is packed with supportive friends and fans, who shout “Gwarrrrn Simz!” as she gears up for each track. But Simz is a focused performer, and goes into songs as she might go into battle, her eyes narrowing, ready to take on the audience as if they are a gladiator’s ring.

Simz makes her struggle to get here clear: songs about tussling with the downsides of fame (The Lights) and the will to be a voice of her generation (Wings) are set to downtempo, jazz-flecked beats, jammed by a tight trio of a live drummer and two keyboardists. You can feel that red-hot ambition as she spits a trillion syllables a bar, plaits flapping either side of her flat cap. As technically impressive as Simz is, she’s also warm and engaging – at one point she admits how emotional tonight is for her, as a marker of how far she’s come.

But while it’s thrilling to watch a vocalist who raps one verse with more talent than most people have in their entire careers, her songs often fight with each other, firing her fury at scattergun pace over – but rarely entwining with – the music. And dedication may seethe from her sweat ducts but, after a while, I yearn to hear tales above and beyond industry-baiting. Even her track God Bless Mary, which she says is about her neighbour, is an apology for keeping her awake while she practises.

More nuanced storytelling will, hopefully, come with experience. “She has no limit to what she can do,” says grime stalwart Kano, after joining Simz and Stormzy for a surprise rendition of her moshpit-flaring party track, the rave-spiked Dead Body. It’s hard to disagree. Simz has laid out her mission statement – now let’s see what’s next.


Kate Hutchinson

The GuardianTramp

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