Little Simz, the UK rapper known for her soulful and complex sound, graced Toronto for the first time in four years during her 10-day North American tour. Following the release of her fifth album NO THANK YOU, Little Simz has been enjoying steadily increasing recognition. She noted, during her performance on October 8, how only a few years ago she played at a much smaller venue in Toronto, The Velvet Underground, compared to now when she was basking in front of a much larger, sold-out show at HISTORY concert venue.
Little Simz is a hip-hop artist, through and through. Vulnerable while still clever and self-assured, Simz’s music, despite being from across the pond, emulates the American tradition of legends like Lauryn Hill and Nas, both of whom she cites as influences. Like Lauryn Hill, her music, and particularly her latest album, blends rap with gospel and RnB. However, Simz also adds her own spin on an American tradition with African drum beats — seen on songs such as “X” — and with her gorgeous British accent.
The show opened with the song “Silhouette,” an intense and magical track where Simz’s steadily accelerating bars and percussion are coupled with airy gospel. Simz casually stepped onto the stage in her now-signature white dress shirt, black tie and black bomber jacket. She was cool yet sincere, wearing sunglasses in the dark concert venue but speaking with gratitude and poetry to the audience.
Simz was fantastic, hyping up the crowd to music that is admittedly difficult to thrash to due to its intellectual lyricism. But on songs like the viral “Venom,” the crowd erupted as the beat dropped and green lights started flashing. It was truly a great show — minimalistic but effective.
If Simz is one thing, it’s effortless. Around halfway through her performance, two guitarists emerged in suits identical to Simz’s. Simz and her two-person band would sway rhythmically in unison to tracks like “Gorilla,” bumping in perfect synchronicity. Her flow, steady and controlled, did not falter for a moment. Even the audience had trouble keeping up, with the concert venue left speechless as the rapper crafted a trail of smooth bars without losing her breath.
She interacted with the crowd like a true professional. Perhaps her measured approach to performing could be seen as lacking emotion or rawness — Simz didn’t strike me as the type to soliloquize to the crowd, make brash jokes, or break her choreography in the heat of the moment in rockstar fashion. However, I think her stage presence reflects how much she cares about her art — she’s got it down to a science. She told the crowd that she wanted us to know, not in an arrogant way but in a confident way, that we were “witnessing greatness.”
Indeed, we were.