Live Review: Little Simz & Sampa The Great @ Howler, Melbourne

Words by Louella Deville

It’s rare that you see an all female hip-hop line up that’s not advertised as “all female hip-hop.” Not that I’m opposed to that. As a woman involved in the music and hip-hop industry, I strongly support and encourage female unity, but I think it’s important to have all emcees showcased as just that: an emcee.

Last week’s Little Simz sold out show at Howler was an exceptional showcase of talented emcees and DJs. The night began with Mat Cant, a local DJ who has opened and supported acts such as Big K.R.I.T, Clipse, A-Trak, Freddie Gibbs, SBTRKT, DJ Snake, Ladyhawke, and many more. Moving between BJ the Chicago Kid, Lady Leshurr, Konan, and even throwing in some Marcia Atkins, Mat Cant had the balance between what the audience wants and what the audience needs.

Next up, was the one and only Sampa the Great. Now this was the first time I’ve seen Sampa live, and I must admit I was very excited, because every other time the universe has got in my way. After listening to The Great Mixtape, I was not surprised to find her as captivating, talented, and energetic live as she is on record. She’s tiny: a five-foot pocket rocket. She walks onto the stage, fro flowing with a comb to go, looking relaxed and ready to give Melbourne what she’s got. Intro begins and my feet start tapping. While she’s chanting, “I’m obliged to be your friend not your enemy,” the sincerity of her words capture the crowd and you can’t help but feel even more drawn to her and reminded, this is real hip hop. “You know this is a queens’ night right?” she calls into the crowd. “You got me and you got Little Simz.” She looks out into the crowd she asks “Where’s all my queens at?” All the women cheer, including myself. Watching Sampa perform is one of those moments when you know you’ll look back at it and say, “Yep, I witnessed the beginning of something GREAT”. I couldn’t think of a better support for Little Simz.

Little Simz aka Barz Simzon. What can I say? She knows how to rock the mic, she knows how to keep a crowd’s attention and she knows how to turn up. As she walks onto the stage, I can’t help but smile at the ease and confidence she oozes. She’s like a swagged out hippy, and I dig it. “Melbourne!” she booms over the mic. “I’ve got one question. Are you going to do it better than Sydney?” Instantly I know, that she knows, how to connect with the crowd. How can she not? She has been writing music since the age of nine, performing from fourteen, and has a career in both performance and acting.

Persons blasts and the lyrics “Everybody knows that I’m King now” ascends over the crowd and everyone in the venue goes wild. She stops after several songs to address the audience, “Melbourne, I turned twenty two yesterday and I’m still celebrating. Fuck it I’m celebrating all week.” And celebrate is what she did. I would too if I had international sold out shows, dropped three projects in one year, one including her debut album A Curious Tale of Trials and Persons (a conceptual piece around fame and fortune) and had my own record label Space Age 101.

After warming the crowd up with Persons and Wings, came Lights, a more down tempo song produced by Tiffany Gouché, an Inglewood singer-songwriter and producer with one of the most beautiful voices I have heard in a long time, who has worked with the likes of Dr. Dre, Jill Scott, Missy Elliot, and DJ Khalil.

Suddenly there was a small technical difficulty and instead of running off stage, Little Simz apologies to the crowd and decides to gives us a freestyle. A fire freestyle might I add, beat boxing in-between words. “Why don’t they like seeing women in charge?” she raps. The whole crowd cheers. After five minutes, the music starts again with an apology from the DJ.  The crowd didn’t seem fazed and I felt like if this happened at any other hip-hop show, the crowd would have become impatient, but the way she was interacting with the crowd, you felt like you were her long time friend there to support her growing success and not just some punter who’s paid to see a musician they like.

“Okay, I think we’re warmed up enough. I just have one more question for you guys … Have you ever seen a Dead Body?” This was what I was waiting for. I think it was what everyone had been waiting for. Dead Body is probably her most recognised song and the one that put her on a lot of people’s radars. I had to go from the back of the room to the front, stop writing and just experience the energy in the room. Following Dead Body, she played one more song, said thank you and walked off stage.

I stood there thinking, ‘Wait, what, that was one of the shortest sets I’ve seen from a headline show.’ I felt kind of disappointed. Then all of a sudden she ran back onto stage. “So you guys think I travelled twenty four hours just to perform eight songs?! Nahhhhhh! Melbourne, make some mother fucking noise!” The crowd got wilder, the music got louder; the bass literally had my whole body vibrating. She pulls up a guitar that’s been sitting on stage and begins playing Interlude, one of my favourite songs from her most recent EP, Age 101: Drop X (which actually features German singer/songwriter Bibi Bourelly, a name everyone should become familiar with who wrote Rihanna‘s Bitch Better Have My Money). Little Simz plays the guitar as effortlessly as she raps and I think to myself, ‘What can’t she do?’ The transition from vocals to guitar is seamless and the crowd loves it. An artist who can not only sell out shows internationally, but can hype a crowd up with her unique brand of hip-hop, and then serenade them with guitar? It’s safe to say, Little Simz is on her way to international stardom.

Read more: The New King – An Interview With Little Simz

Image by Michelle Grace Hunder for Howl & Echoes. See the full gallery here.