Fifteen minutes before her set Little Simz and entourage bowl up the escalators at Islington Academy and sweep past the bouncers and into the venue.
She’s meant to be on stage at nine. Whilst she gets set, fellow Space Age rapper Chuck 20 is holding down the fort, performing cuts from his SoundCloud. When he finishes, there’s applause, fans head to the bar and the DJ begins spinning tracks – Meridian Dan, Stormzy, Skepta. Songs to up the tempo and stir the full capacity crowd into the mood. Nine o’clock comes and passes and the DJ keeps spinning. Quarter past nine, twenty past and then half past with no sign of Simz.
Ten or so minutes later the music cuts and the whir of expectation spreads through cramped venue. Backed by a live band, Simz arrives on stage with a green bowler hat and a stretched grin. “London make some noise!” She hasn’t been home for a while. Her time as of late has been spent touring in America, doing radio and press. This is a homecoming of sorts, back in her backyard of Islington amongst her most loyal supporters. The crowd look like a packet of skittles: teenaged girls, middle aged men, musicians, those that work in advertising, those who work in sales, journalists, friends, family. All here for to celebrate with Simz on her special night.
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She eases in with Wings, the IAmNobodi produced track unveiled last month. The connection is magnetic and everyone is excited to hear more cuts from her album which is out in a few days.
Simz sounds excellent in your headphones but it’s the stage where she finds her element; dancing back and forth, delivery impeccable; never missing a step or a drop. She waltzes through the debut live performances of ‘The Lights’ and ‘Gratitude’ amassing a mosh pit in the front row as she goes. The next track ’Mary’ is an apology to her next door neighbour, who she kept up for years; playing and making music way into the early hours. It’s perhaps the most endearing moment of the night. “I've been very inconsiderate. I genuinely am sorry,” she says. “I haven't given this to her yet. I will do when I move out. There’s no point when I'm still doing the same shit.” The crowd laugh and she laughs. But she’s serious and it’s this eagerness to go the extra mile with everything she does that meant this show sold out in six minutes.
“Dead Body,” already a smash in its own right is invigorated by the live band. The kicks and clatters are more menacing now; darker, with the heavy drums pulsating around the venue. It’s her closing act and she leaves stage to lengthy applause. Incredible as it was, the set felt short and we all exchange confused glances wondering if it’s all over already.
It’s a setup, the highs feel that much better when you can’t see them coming. Simz jumps back on stage and tells the DJ to spin Dead Body. This is a different verse though, more aggressive, less measured than the version she had just closed to. When the verse finishes a lanky guy in a hood bullies his way to the front and jumps up on stage.
It turns out to be Stormzy who; mic in hand, tells us that he’s jumped on the remix. One problem. He hasn’t memorised his verse yet. The audio plays anyway; this crowd don’t need much to get them going, his presence seems to be enough. Simz and Stormzy bop and twist around the stage, the later nodding his head as if he was just hearing his verse for the first time. (For what it’s worth, it sounds like another strong feature from the Croydon MC.)
In amongst this I spot another hooded guy in the crowd, nobody can quite see his face and he lacks the distinct identifiable physical features of Stormzy. He makes his move as Simz finishes the hook. Yells go up when he hauls himself up onto the platform. KANO! He snatches a mic catches the beat and spitfires through his verse. Nobody knows the words, yet mosh pits are raging, friends turn to each other in disbelief.
Grime’s greatest lyricist is a Simz fans like everybody else! When he’s done, he turns to her. “London, she’s a fucking special one,” he says before raising one arm and turning back to the crowd. “She’s the one.”
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Words: Aniefiok Ekpoudom
Catch Neef on Twitter.