Rising Islington rap star joins Sheeran and Adele on Forbes ‘30’ list

Rising Star: Little Simz, real name Simbi Ajikawo

Rising Star: Little Simz, real name Simbi Ajikawo - Credit: Archant

Islington rapper Simbi Ajikawo, more commonly known as Little Simz, speaks to the Gazette after becoming the first independent rap artist to feature in the Forbes “30 Under 30” list.

Rising Star: Little Simz, real name Simbi Ajikawo

Rising Star: Little Simz, real name Simbi Ajikawo - Credit: Archant

“It felt weird,” admits Little Simz. “I haven’t had time to take it in since I’ve been on tour.

“But I’m happy, overwhelmed and excited.”

The rapper’s appearance on the Forbes “30 Under 30 Europe” list puts her shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Adele, Ed Sheeran and Star Wars actor John Boyega.

Simz, real name Simbi Ajikawo, is just 21 but has already claimed a first for her hometown – she is the first unsigned rapper to make the magazine’s power league.

“People think I’ve exceeded expectations but they have no idea,” she tells the Gazette. “I feel like I can achieve so much [more] – the sky’s the limit.

“I told my mum [about the list] and her reaction was great. My family have been really encouraging and supportive – they’ve always been there.”

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Born in 1994 and educated at Highbury Fields School, Little Simz nurtured her talent at the St Mary’s Youth Club in Upper Street, whose alumni include two X Factor winners – Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke.

She launched her career after studying at Westminster Kingsway College.

“For a long time my mum’s focus was education,” the musician says, “but she’s always told me to go with my heart.”

Little Simz first began rapping when she was nine. Her debut album, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons, was released to critical acclaim last year.

“At first it [rap] was just about what was happening in my life,” she explains.

“Life experiences inspire me – it’s easy for me to write about what’s happening in my life but it’s more of a challenge trying to write for someone else.”

Simz has strong thoughts on the rise of the grime genre, as well as the role of record labels and where she fits in a male-dominated industry.

“The music business is a business,” she says.

“By not being signed I care about the things business people don’t care about.

“If I was signed I would be frustrated. I would be a pain to work with.

“I’d rather not be in that place.

“I’m 21 years old. If it works, I’ve lost nothing; if it doesn’t, I’ve lost nothing.”

Simz sees plenty of room for improvement in the British rap scene, which she describes as “not moving”.

“I think people are becoming a bit more aware [of UK rap],” she says, “but artists are just not delivering.

“When I hear things from my scene it’s not moving.

“It’s cool to have a club song, but I feel that I should have music that I can listen to.

“I just want that again – to listen to an artist and for that to be my escape.”

The young artist has received support across the globe and has a fan in Grammy nominated rapper Kendrick Lamar, who described her as the “illest doing it right now.”

“It took Kendrick Lamar to say that before more people started to respect me,” says Simz.

“The UK tends to have more cliques than the States. I believe in unity.

“Everyone needs support – it’s nice to feel appreciated and loved by your peers, by people you respect highly, but if you don’t have support from the people it means nothing.”

Despite being one of the few female rappers to gain recognition in the industry, Little Simz refuses to let people put her in a box.

“I have no control over what people say,” she shrugs. “I’m not fussed, really. I’m over it. I’ve been dealing with it for years.

“Females should do this, females should do that – I don’t buy that. The only way we move is if we acknowledge all genders, all backgrounds.”

The rising star has no idea where will be in five years, but hopes she’ll still be making music.

“I like the fact I don’t know,” she says.

“I’m not superstitious, but the other day my right foot was itching. My friend said I should Google it – and it said it meant my path will be prosperous.”