I’m a sucker for a clear delivery so I’ve never really fallen for a British rapper. Unless we’re slyly including Slick Rick on the list, in which case it’s just been a very long while. But back a decade ago when grime and garage were making headway on critics’ year end lists, I just couldn’t get into it. There was some good work but I was mostly drawn to it for the beats as for the most part the emcees seemed basically interchangeable.
Little Simz is all of 20, which means she would have been about ten when the UK grime scene was coming up big, which is more than a little terrifying to someone who’s on the closer side of 30. But that puts her two years ahead of previous Next Big Brit Dizzee Rascal’s breakthrough age and maybe that short span of time accounts for the brash, clear confidence she exhibits on her debut EP E.D.G.E. Throughout E.D.G.E., Simz performs with the clarity and finesse of a veteran artist, which is almost certainly why vets, like Dizzee himself, have flocked to her since the release of her breakthrough mixtape Blank Canvas, eager to capture a little bit of the youthful vigor she has in spades in the process. But Simz’ greatest ability isn’t her intimidating skills behind the mic, it’s the way she dodges trends in favor of a unique, chameleonic sound that contains traces of influences like Lauryn Hill and Nicki Minaj without getting bogged down in debt.
Right from the start of “Desire,” the track that kicks the EP off, Simz is aware of where she has come from yet fully devoted to carving out a bold future. Through her Space Age crew, Simz has aligned herself with other Afrofuturists like Shabazz Palaces and Thee Satisfaction and Jimi Nxir’s production reflects that, its sonic bed made up of alien voices and delayed, bitcrushed drums. Simz’ delivery has the twisty melodicism of Hill, but there are elements of grime’s playful antagonism, too, which serves to make “Desire” a bit like a startling wake-up from interstellar hibernation. “Enter the Void” carries over the dreaminess through its eerie synth lead hook, but here Simz is more rhythmic than melodic, her delivery veering between staccato bursts and an acrobatic escalation of speedy lines.
Some of E.D.G.E’s most promising moments come when Simz is relaxing and looking back, though, whether it’s the jazzy “Stay” or the EP’s title track, a more than six minute long epic built around a Timbaland-like beat from OTG and a key quote from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message.” Both tracks have plenty of shared DNA with Simz’ hip-hop ancestors, but they’re equally symbolic of how Simz is an artist who is more interested in building off what has come before than simply mimicking it. In nearly all of her interviews, Simz has been frank about the ways she feels modern hip-hop has strayed too far from its roots, forgoing groundbreaking experimentation and street level storytelling in favor of riding trends and endorsing crass commercialization. E.D.G.E. offers a glimpse at what Simz is capable of and how devoted she is to using her natural skills and her appreciation for history to steal the spotlight from her distracted American peers.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with Dylan Garsee on twitter: @Nick_Hanover