UK hip hop is in the middle of a moment right now. The scene there is the healthiest it has been since the heydays of the mid-2000s when the likes of Dizzee Rascal and Wiley first put grime on the map. Alongside Skepta, Stormz, and Slowthai, one artist who is right at the heart of rap’s renaissance in Britain is Little Simz and she bought her energy and swag to the Tuning Fork in Auckland, NZ last night in what could only be described as an a-game performance.
Coming off the back of one of the best albums of 2019 so far in the form of Grey Area, this was Little Simz first visit to New Zealand and having played both Glastonbury and just last week Splendour in the Grass in Australia she was match-fit and ready to go.
Kicking off the evening in front of an all-ages crowd was Aotearoa’s own rap queen JessB who has been in fine form recently both on stage and in the studio. I have seen this talented MC several times now and she has never once failed to disappoint, always binging a strong stage presence and charisma to proceedings.
Her set with DJ half.queen was the perfect warm-up for the main event and included the announcement that a new project is on the way in two weeks. She even had time to shout out the protesters and occupiers at Ihumātao in Mangere of whom she visited earlier in the day.
After a strong entrée, the main course was even better and Little Simz accompanied by a three-piece band proved why she is quickly developing a reputation as one of the best MCs in the game.
Coming on stage dressed in blue overalls, megaphone in hand, Simz immediately had the crowd in raptures, proceeding to turn the Tuning Fork into the Brixton Academy for the evening. It was like being in North London right in the heart of British rap, although this was Tāmaki Makaurau and we were witnessing a shining light of UK music in our backyard.
The setlist was primarily made up of songs from her latest album Grey Area, an album hotly tipped to receive a Mercury Prize nomination. Highlights included the energetic Offence, Sherbet Sunset, and the crowd-pleasing Selfish, although there was still time for an older track in the form of God Bless Mary. This song Simz dedicated to her neighbour who put up with her recording in her bedroom at 3 am in the morning, something Simz said without which she would not be in New Zealand playing music.
Having been impressed by her latest record I was intrigued to see how she would replicate these great songs live. The results were more than adequate with her MC skills and brilliant flow - eye-catching to say the least. Then there was the band themselves who was on form all evening and even included a cameo bass and guitar performance from Little Simz herself, a cameo that included an instrumental cover of the Notorious B.I.G.'s Big Poppa, something I must admit I was not expecting at all.
I have said it before and I will say it again, a live band at a hip hop show makes all the difference and it was the case here again with a great band ensuring that these songs which sounded so good on record were bought to life on stage with the same energy. It also helped that the Tuning Fork as a venue has excellent sound ensuring it continues to be one of the best small venues in Auckland.
It is not often the case you get to hear one of the albums of the year played by an in-form artist just before they likely get nominated for the UK’s most prestigious music prize. Well, that was exactly what the audience at the Tuning Fork got to see last night and what a treat it was.
Little Simz lived up to her reputation as a charismatic performer and world-class MC proving exactly why she has been one of the most talked-about rappers in music circles in 2019. Her performance was perfect in every respect and it was made better by the fact that she genuinely appeared chuffed to be in Auckland despite being so far from her home town and at the end of a long tour.
I hope she comes back to these shores as she’s just getting started at age twenty-five. And if her first show in Auckland was anything to go by, then Little Simz is going to be around for a few more years yet. That, there is no doubting.