21 year old Simbi Ajikawo, better known as Little Simz is a rapper, singer and actress that comes from North London, Islington. The self-proclaimed “artist” who, quite rightly, wishes not to be known as just a “female UK rapper” has just released her sophomore album Stillness in Wonderland independently, on her own label Age 101 Music.
It’s clear by the fact that Simz is releasing her second album at just 21 years old that she has been working away to make a name for herself in music. Since her first release at the age of 16, Little Simz already has a catalogue of 4 EPs, 7 mixtapes and her debut album A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons – all of which she has released independently.
The London native has had her music premiered on Jay-Z’s Life + Times and Billboard.com, she has toured with Schoolboy Q, and even got co-signed by the likes of Kendrick Lemar, Mos Def and A$AP Rocky. As an actress she has, most notably, starred in CBBC’s Spirit Warriors and E4’s Youngers. A busy little bee is Little Simz.
It’s apparent in her music, image and words exchanged in various interviews, that Little Simz is determined to create her own lane as an artist and she is doing just that. Stillness in Wonderland is, for me, an introduction to Simz – I have heard her feature on tracks and seen her name many times but never listened to a full body of work from the young boss.
And I am so glad I made it my business with this release. Over the moon. Like, really happy; I’m always glad to hear an artist that is so authentic and confident in their talents and it’s even better to see such attributes in a young black woman from my side of London (Salutations, girl!). Stillness in Wonderland is like a 15-track dream, a tour around Little Simz current state of mind.
The record starts with “LMPD” Featuring Jamaica’s rising star, Chronixx – it seems to me like a meditative PSA. Over a spacey, intricate production, Simz repeatedly asks “Have I let my people down?” and Chronixx has the answers, “so many people trying to be an activist in society, and these days what we really need is active spirituality“.
Simz’ following verse responds, converses with and mirrors Chronixx’s, with themes of spirituality and expression of the responsibility she feels not to “let her people down“, namely artists that have come before her such as “Nina” Simone, pertaining to whom she says, “We’re running out of legends, I know they look from the heavens down on me, I can’t let ’em down“.
At the time of writing, even, I’m finding it hard to not to jump on social media and spread the word about this one track. “LMPD” is a deep, conversational meditation on the state of the world for youth and black folks, in particular. The mention of important, black figures such as Bob Marley, Marcus Garvey, Maya Angelou, and even the Black Lives Matter movement makes “LMPD” a very important song in my opinion. It provides food for thought and an urge to ‘Do The Right Thing’.
To follow is the first of three of ‘Cheshire’s’ interludes, titled “Cheshire’s Interlude: Welcome To Wonderland” which sounds like a remix of a track from a ‘Sounds of Nature’ CD. In theory, this sounds terrible, but the actual record works. I like it.
On top of that is a voice, a slightly distorted (like an old recording) voice of a man with a wise air about his words stating “Welcome to ‘Wonderland’ Simbi” – I interpret this as a welcome to the listener, also, to Simbi’s very own ‘Wonderland’.
I found it interesting that the first interlude on the record wasn’t at the very start of the album and considered whether that may be because of the importance of “LMBP” as the song touches on important, current issues – Like I said, it’s a bit of a PSA (to me at least) and I feel that the welcoming interlude being placed after it confirms this and highlights the song’s importance on this album, and its importance to Little Simz herself.
According to The Fader, Simz happened to watch Alice in Wonderland whilst making this album, and it clearly influenced the theme and feel of Stillness in Wonderland as Simz takes us floating along through her own self-exploration.
For example, on one of the more personal tracks on the album, “Doorways + Trust Issues“, Simz reflects on what others may think of her, and questions how it affects her “am I insecure now? Speaking out my thoughts now, shit, I know I got trust issues, it’s hard to ignore now” in the first half of the song, and the break into the second, more dream-like part of the song, hears Simz ask “What happens when I follow the white rabbit?“.
Then there’s the contrasting “Shotgun“, another side of Little Simz, which is more lively and less heady – she talks about some corny boy trying to get to know her and how she’s having none of it, basically. You can see yourself bouncing along to this in a drop top (at least in our imaginations, for those of us who don’t got it like that) on a summer’s day, soaking up the sun and the feather light, breezy tones of Syd (of The Internet) on the chorus.
At the heart of Stillness in Wonderland is the aptly named “King of Hearts” featuring Grime veterans Chip and Ghetts. This is a stand out track on the album as it takes the listener around a dark turn in Simz ruminating ‘Wonderland’.
The beginning of the track sounds like the entrance of a villain in an old western and Simz lets us know she is not rampin’ here, “I’ll finish starters all day, king of hearts we don’t play…” introducing Chip for the first verse and following up with her own verse, which is accompanied by trembling flutes and sounding horns creating a tense build up over the warped, rhythmic synth that carries the whole tune.
Little Simz takes centre stage on the track and proves she is far from little in any other aspect than the physical. Her bars show heart and stamina and she lets us know “nobody here can control and demand me, off n***as then holiday in Bali” – Simz is cementing her position in the game, I feel. Enlisting two emcees known for their heart and warring in the grime scene, letting us know she can stand among the men in a male dominated music industry and genre; be it Hip-Hop or Grime, regardless of being a lady.
Simz continues to live in this moment, standing her ground and feeling herself majorly, on the next track “Bad to the Bone” in collaboration with Bibi Bourelly, who is perfectly suited to such a tune. Who better than the lady responsible for Rihanna’s hit “BBHMM” to make help you tell the world that you’re bad and you know it? And that’s bad meaning good, for those of you who aren’t bilingual.
After letting us have it on “King of Hearts” and “Bad to the Bone” comes more humble, classic Hip-Hop vibes on “Zone 3“, featuring her Age 101 cohorts Tilla, Josh Arcé and Chuck20, where Little Simz presents a stark display of her technical prowess as a lyricist.
The Stillness in Wonderland album finishes on a vulnerable note, that sees Simz singing for the totality of the last song “No More Wonderland“. “No More Wonderland” is the presented as the winding down of the long play of introspection and self-awareness that is the Stillness of Wonderland, as it’s solemn and sobering and features wailing bluesy horns.
But I say it’s the peak of the album as Simz decides “I don’t wanna be in this wonderland no more” and finishes the track with a statement “I can’t afford to be here anymore, it’s not real, it’s a figment of my imagination…real s**t’s happenin’ and my people need me. So therefore, I’m out” – This brings the project full circle which you’ll really see if you do the right thing and keep it on repeat.
The concept of Little Simz’ Stillness in Wonderland is one I really enjoyed and had someone described it to me beforehand, I don’t think I would have bought into it, but Simz has made a perfect execution of such a theme. I felt like I was watching a movie or walking side by side with Simz in a Lucid dream and that’s something special.
Simz proves herself to be an incredibly self-aware, creative and strong young lady who is ahead of her time. She has achieved so much at the tender age of 21, including being the first independent UK artist on the Forbes ’30 under 30′ list plus much more. She has taken her career as far it’s gotten with just the help of her team – no big label or money backing her, just dedication and talent, and she has much farther to go!
I feel that Stillness in Wonderland is a culmination of all that Simz has seen, done and learnt about herself and the industry throughout her life and career so far. Little Simz is an artist that is doing exactly what she set out to do, pushing boundaries and being real. She one to watch and I certainly won’t be sleeping on her from now on! Stillness in Wonderland is available for purchase and streaming here and you can watch the accompanying film for the album below.
Words by Vee Hylton