Artist Little Simz

The rapper and musician shares about her debut album “A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons”.

Little Simz started her entertainment career as an actor with recurring roles on BBC's Spirit Warriors and Youngers on E4. She gained notice through her television gigs but saw music as her true calling releasing her first mixtape in 2010. Her "Blank Canvas" mixtape debuted on Jay-Z's Life+Times website when she was only 19 years old. Following the release of four mixtapes and five EPs, Simz released her debut album, "A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons" through her own label, AGE 101: Music. The album entered the UK R&B Albums Chart at number 20 and the UK Indie Albums Chart at number 43. She's been named "Breakthrough Artist of the Year" at BBC DJ Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: So pleased to welcome for the first time to this program, Little Simz. Barely into her twenties, she’s already one of the U.K.’s most in demand acts and she’s got there by bypassing the traditional channels. She joins us tonight to talk about her debut album, “A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons” and her recent very successful North American tour.

Before we start our conversation, though, a scene from the official video for “Dead Body” from her debut project.

[Clip]

Tavis: I just got back from London a few weeks ago, as I was saying to you, and you’re burning it up in your region of the world…

Little Simz: Trying to.

Tavis: And then when I read Kendrick Lamar–I’ll turn to the camera and tell the audience. Everybody knows Kendrick Lamar now. If they didn’t know before the Grammies, they know him now. So Kendrick says that she might be the illest person in the game right now. That’s from Kendrick now.

It’s PBS, so illest means she’s like the best [laugh]. She’s the best out there doing it right now. That courtesy, that compliment, coming from Kendrick Lamar. I assume you read that or heard that somewhere?

Little Simz: Yeah.

Tavis: How’d that make you feel when Kendrick says that about you?

Little Simz: Crazy. It’s like just to know that someone I’m a huge fan of, someone that I look up to and that is a voice of my generation and many others, is even aware that I exist is enough to just like kind of blow my wig back [laugh].

Tavis: Blow your wig back [laugh]. And then I read something which is just as funny to me and I want to paraphrase you correctly. You said, “This probably isn’t going to come out the right way, but I’d love to exec produce a project for Kanye.”

Little Simz: Yeah, I would.

Tavis: You would? Why?

Little Simz: Just because I think if we were to bump heads, I think he’ll be tight. I have so many ideas for him. I know I sounds like a stretch and a bit far of a reach, but I genuinely do believe my ideas could work well without sounding like arrogant or–I don’t know. It’s just a little personal goal. Might never happen, it might happen.

Tavis: That’s not arrogant. You know, he might be watching. I feel very good about the role that this show plays every night. So there are a number of people who were on this show before anybody else knew who they were.

Years ago, Kanye was one of them. Before anybody knew who he was, he came on this program. Esperanza Spalding came on here before anybody knew who she was. So we’ve been very good about putting people out there in the ethers, so maybe you and Kanye will hook up. When you do, you come back here, right?

Little Simz: Yeah, cool.

Tavis: You and Kanye come back and talk about it. Tell me about your style and why it’s caught fire.

Little Simz: Wow. My musical stuff?

Tavis: Yeah.

Little Simz: So I’m a rapper and, obviously, hip hop rap is my main thing. But I also like to dive into different genres and kind of be a bit more experimental and open myself up a bit, whether that’s taking influence from jazz or soul or electronic.

Whatever it is, I just like to, you know, have those influences and phase it into what I do. And I hope that kind of shows on my debut by something that I’m continuously growing with and trying to figure out.

Tavis: This is something I wouldn’t understand because I am an American, but how does it feel to be from the U.K. and to start blowing up in the US of A?

Little Simz: It’s very surreal. It’s very like pinch me. It’s a dream, obviously. But most as this thing, it drives me to want so much more and I think, more than anything, it shows kids and my friends back home that anything is possible, and that’s something that I hold very close to my heart.

And I need to make that as clear as possible because people, especially where I’m from, really do think like there’s no way out or, you know, once you do London, you cannot expand. That’s it. You’ve cracked London and that’s it. But, hopefully, I can show that there’s more outside of the U.K., you know.

Tavis: Since you’ve referenced it, tell me a bit, Little Simz, about where you’re from, and why folks feel so boxed in there.

Little Simz: Just because I think it’s–well, I’m from North London, Islington, to be exact. But I think one of the main reasons people feel boxed in is, as cliché as it may sound, is just a lack of opportunity. Especially in–I hate to say it–but the way the school system’s set up, it doesn’t, in my opinion, set us up to do great things in life, and that is something that bothers me.

That’s something that I dealt with whilst being in school and it’s something that I feel like we need to shed more light on this. And I think that’s one of the many reasons why young people especially feel like they’re just being set up to fail or just being set up to be an employee and not an employer.

That’s one of the many reasons, but hopefully, with the way things are going–not just myself, but all different artists and musicians coming out from London where we’re showing that it is possible and these things can be achieved.

Tavis: So the megaphone that you have and the platform that you have is growing larger, growing exponentially by the day. What do you want to say with your music?

Little Simz: I just always want to be as transparent as possible. I always want to be an honest as possible. I always want to talk about what I know, what I’ve experienced, and I want to openly tell my listeners that I’m not perfect and you’re not the only person experiencing this, and just to share my story in that light and I think, more than anything, make relatable music.

Make music that another 22-year-old young girl can listen to and connect with or not just a 22-year-old young girl, but a grown man or a young kid or whoever it is, you know, just to make it as broad as possible and just make relatable music, I think.

Tavis: So the other part of your story that is as impressive for me as the success is that you are having in this country and around the world, the thing that’s most impressive for me alongside that is the way you’ve done this. I intimated in my introduction that you’re barely into your twenties and you have an Indie label. You put your own project out on your own label.

I know–I ain’t gonna call no names–but I know a whole bunch of folk at major labels, some major label heads, who if I called the names, everybody would know who they are, who tried to get you to sign with them and you wouldn’t do it. Tell me why you bypassed the big labels and why you wanted to do it your own way.

Little Simz: Because I kind of liked the idea of a challenge and I liked the idea of doing things the unorthodox way and not just like doing things by a set formula. You know, basic is the easy. Do the single, do another single, the third. You put out the album, then you do the tour.

It’s like, well, maybe I want to put out the album first and then release a single and then wait a bit, then go on tour, then release another–like I just want to do things a little differently, and I just want to test the waters, to be fair. I’m 22. If it doesn’t work, I have nothing to lose. If it works, I have nothing to lose. I’m just like going with it.

And at the same time, as well as being a good musician, I also want to be entrepreneurial. I want to be ambassador-like. I want to, you know, set examples especially as a young Black female. That, I think, is important and I just want to be a bit of an example, you know.

Tavis: I assume that being able to control, to your point about being entrepreneurial, I assume that being able to control what you say and what you do and how you say it and how you do it is one of the reasons why being an Indie label is so important.

Little Simz: Yeah, for sure, definitely. Just having that, you know, control over everything I put out to the people that support me, I just want it to be all 100% organic and real. And it’s not to say that I’m never going to sign a major label. Just at the times I was being presented with deals, it didn’t feel right. And I’m not desperate to sign like a record deal. I’m very hungry, but I’m just not desperate for it.

Tavis: I like that. I’m hungry, but not desperate. I’d love to use that one [laugh]. Hungry, but not desperate. Tell me, in the time I have left with you, tell me how you would describe this debut project musically. How would you describe it musically?

Little Simz: Musically, it’s wonderful [laugh].

Tavis: ‘Nuff said! Thank you for watching! God bless you! Goodnight [laugh].

Little Simz: It’s a concept album really and the main theme it discusses is fame and basically what that can do to a person, how that can change a person or maybe the people around that person and not necessarily that person.

And me just basically being aware that my life is heading in that direction, so how do I feel about it? Am I having anxiety? Am I scared? Am I fearful? Is that what I want? Is that not what I want? You know, how do my friends and family feel about it?

It’s just all those kind of things and addressing it, I guess, and talking from different characters’ perspectives, not always being [inaudible], talking from the perspective of a homeless man, talking from the perspective of a single parent that has kids and that’s giving up her dreams, and talking from the perspective of someone that is rich and famous and has everything. So just like really a lot of storytelling.

Tavis: Yeah. I been calling you Little Simz. I’m going to close by calling you King Simz. Can I do that [laugh]? Little Simz is the name of the artist. If you are seeing her or hearing her for the first time, get used to hearing the name.

I know you all know Jay Z and Kendrick and the list goes on and on and on, Beyoncé, but I promise you this is a name that you’re going to hear many, many times over in the months and years to come. And you saw her first here on PBS. Little Simz, congratulations on your North American tour.

Little Simz: Thank you.

Tavis: Go home and get some rest. And when you come back this way again, come see  us.

Little Simz: I will, for sure.

Tavis: I’m going to hold you to that.

Little Simz: Yes. Thank you.

Tavis: All right. That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: April 5, 2016 at 4:08 pm