EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney), Tuesday 29 October
“They will never wanna admit I’m the best here / From the mere fact that I’ve got ovaries,” Little Simz raps on the red-hot, rapid-fire a capella intro to ‘Venom’, before the pounding beat kicks in and the audience erupts. Well, forget the doubters: tonight she’s riding a career high and on extraordinary, incendiary form.
25-year-old Simbi Ajikawo grew up in Islington, a couple of miles from EartH, the 800-capacity Hackney venue currently going nuts for her masterful take on UK rap, and this stunning show represents nothing short of a hero’s welcome.
In the past year she’s starred in series three of the acclaimed, Drake-backed Netflix drama Top Boy and released her stunning album ‘GREY Area’ (in a five-star review, NME’s Kyann-Sian Williams wrote that Simz’s “unapologetic words, coupled with… vicious beat[s], make you feel unbreakable”) and, on the final show of her current tour, she’s in the mood to celebrate.
Simz storms onto the stage in Matrix-style shades, wielding a megaphone into which she belts out the lyrics to booming opener ‘Boss’: “I don’t need that stress… I’m a boss in a fucking dress!” For the final line of the song, she swaps the megaphone for a mic, crystal clear when she warns: “Stop fucking with my heart.” It took years of grind for the rapper to get her due – ‘GREY Area’ has been something of a commercial breakthrough – and she’ll no longer be overlooked. “No-one wanted to fuck with my shit,” she says mid-set, “and now look…”
Her live backing band – a percussionist, producer and a keyboard player – provide a tight counterpoint to her loose stagecraft; she dances joyously, implores the audience to raise their hands and, at one point, emerges with a guitar to noodle through a languid solo on ‘Sherbet Sunset’.
There are more killer ‘GREY Area’ moments – Simz kicks the air triumphantly when she delivers the ‘Therapy’ line on which she imagines raising her daughter and promises, “If she’s anything like me I’m raisin’ a king” – before she takes it back to her underrated 2015 debut ‘A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons’.
The woozy track ‘God Bless Mary’, she explains, is an ode to a neighbour who never complained when an unknown Simz was working on her music. “If it wasn’t for her I probably wouldn’t be on this stage,” she says. So the audience unites to chant “God bless Mary”, an indication of tonight’s warm-hearted spirit. This is conveyed, too, when Simz admits that she was more nervous about tonight than any other on the tour: “Thank you so much selling out this show… My family and friends are here – this is my hometown.” At the end of the show, she hands out white roses to fans on the front row.
Her encore, impeccably, kicks off with the ‘GREY Area’ track ‘Offence’ (“Allow me to pick up where I left off…”). Simz said earlier that “this is the show” and, surely, few here would disagree – she’s on a winning streak right now.