Though hip-hop has gained an international following since its inception decades ago, MCs attempting crossover from outside the music genre’s birthplace have been relatively rare. One continent that’s had the best track record over time is obviously Europe. From the Golden Era rhyming of Slick Rick and Monie Love, to contemporary sonic explorations M.I.A. and Estelle tread so well, the common binds of language have made the hope for U.S. music charts aspirations more practical. Attempting to join the illustrious ranks is North London native, Little Simz.
Having a passion for hip-hop since the age of nine, 19-year-old Simbi Ajikawo would later find inspiration from a specific Virginia-born MC known for her abilities to push boundaries both musically and visually. “Must have been maybe ten or eleven and I couldn’t get enough of Missy Elliot,” she explained. “I just remember loving watching her videos; she always had these cool, spontaneous and fun looking videos. The thing that always comes to mind is how she would have young kids dance in her videos. She was probably one of my earliest influences.” According to Little Simz, Lauryn Hill would also become a major creative reference point down the line.
At the tender age of fifteen, Little Simz would independently release her debut mixtape STRATOSPHERE following years of winning local and national talent competitions, along with opening for the likes of Estelle and Leona Lewis. Normally, the period of adolescence would be even further complicated thanks to the added dreams of superstardom, but that isn’t too much of a problem for the MC. “It kind of helps that I have good people around me to keep me grounded,” said Little Simz. “ I have good friends and family that allow some form of normality in my life.”
Being a multifaceted artist, her profile as an actress rose around the same time. In fact, acting was something she was involved in before she picked up the mic. “Acting is something that’s always been a passion of mine,” said Little Simz. “ To be fair, I was always a performing arts kid— whatever it was, I loved being involved with performing arts; moving between the two, it’s always been smooth.” Though the feeling of unfamiliarity may linger for U.S. audiences understandably, she earned major kudos for roles in the critically acclaimed series Spirit Warriors and Youngers. On the music front, Little Simz’s profile as an artist would rise thanks to dropping a few more projects in a 2011 sequel to her debut, STRATOSPHERE 2, and XY.ZED earlier this year. Her biggest break would come late September with the release of the Blank Canvas mixtape, which made its premiere on Jay Z’s Life+Times website.
It doesn’t stop there as she works on her feature length debut EP. Little Simz describes the project as something featuring darker sounds and evolved storytelling. “With this project, it’s just me being open and honest with everything,” she continued. “This will be my first project with all original beats and production, and I have some wicked guest features lined up.” Making her way into mainstream, Little Simz has succeeded artistically on two fronts where many have failed at one. Guess it also helps that she has earned the respect of industry tastemakers like Sylvia Rhone to fellow MCs. “Three years ago, I went to go see J.Cole at the O2 Arena and stayed in line for hours trying to get a front spot,” said Little Simz. “The other day, he’s out here to promote his new album and he tells me how dope I am after bumping into him. It was just crazy and weird how it all worked out.”