To talk to Little Simz is to be taken aback. Our conversation was littered with remarks that ring true to the allure of her character, such as when she found out I had been thrashing her new album on repeat. “Oh shit, you’ve heard it? What did you think?” The way she asked for my opinion, from the excitement in her voice to the candour of the question, speaks volumes of the sincerity that is consistent across her entire discography. But for fans new and old, Stillness in Wonderland is Simz like we have never heard her before.
There are a couple of things that set Simbi Ajikawo apart for your average 22-year-old Londoner. For one thing, she’s “not really into meme culture”. For another, she’s put out 10 musical projects since 2013, and her most recent album is a testimony to the artistic development that only comes from such a relentless grind.
When A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons dropped, we heard Simz rap “this the type of music that ain’t never gonna sell? Well… What if I prove you wrong?” One year on and the Simz that opens Stillness In Wonderland is coming from a place that sounds a lot less like she has something to prove. We hear a more self-assured Simz, but she said it’s “not about me not having anything to prove anymore. It’s more about me just knowing myself better as a person.”
Having lived that hectic tour lifestyle whilst simultaneously working on another album meant that the creative process behind this record was on a whole different level. This chaotic living is reflected in the range of tracks on the album, where the switch up in producers and the array of styles brought by each featuring artist attests that there is a lot going on for young Simz. Yet as a piece, the sense of chronology from track to track makes for an undeniable cohesive flow. This isn’t easy to accomplish, in fact, very few artists are lucky enough to say they’re doing it the way Simz is. She achieved this by creating a story line that begins in Wonderland, as listeners question “why haven’t I been in this Wonderland all along? It’s amazing… But as it goes on and as I get deeper, I start to get lonely and realise this Wonderland isn’t what I thought it was and I want to get out… So I wanted there to be this story, and that’s how I felt recording it.”
It is this storyline compound with such a sense of purpose that makes for an art form unlike anything else coming out of the UK. And the number of features in Wonderland make it clear that she’s got an army to back her up. Despite having such an intimate relationship with her fans, Simz has only recently become comfortable with expanding her inner circle. “If you weren’t my family or close friends, I wouldn’t really talk to you. It wasn’t a matter of being rude or nothing, it was just shyness. I’ve gotten better at making friends since I started though for sure, and I think that’s why there’s more features on this record.” That, and it never made sense to Simz to have a debut album loaded with more bars from feature artists than yourself.
Where Simz is concerned, it’s more about showing your sound first, then working up to that kind of impressive track list. It is this resolution that has blessed us with features like her verse on ‘Table’ by Kehlani. As a word to aspiring artists, Simz says that best thing you can bring to the table is “whatever you want. It should be about you doing what you want rather than trying to figure out what people want.” Herein lies the key to her successful 2016, and it’s as simple as maintaining honesty to yourself.
Little Simz has a good feeling about next year. Kicking off 2017 with her Australia & New Zealand tour and performing at Sugar Mountain in January stands as yet another reminder to her unwavering drive. Having copped that 20-hour flight down under just last year, the game changer for this tour will be the number of tracks on Wonderland that guarantee inevitable turn up. Last year, she didn’t have “many bangers”. Geared with the knowledge and experience of the rowdy nature of Australian day-parties, she’s pretty ready to fuck shit up.
Few can walk the line between absolute bangers and more prolific tracks that boast a message—but Simz does so with utter grace and finesse that is a manifestation of a commitment to her own personal evolution. Stillness In Wonderland is a journey and a half and unabashed, Simz spits facts without reservation in a bravery that is beyond her years. Perhaps she has an old soul, which could explain why she didn’t know that “the frog meme” is called Pepe. Or perhaps that otherworldly sense she gives off in conversation and in her music is merely a reflection of her introspective nature. Either way, we’re thankful that she’s out here calling spades—or in Wonderland’s case, we’re glad she’s the king of hearts.