Little Simz meets Erykah Badu

Little Simz wears jacket MIU MIU, sunglasses ICE STUDIOS X PORT TANGER, bracelet LAURA LOMBARDI and jewellery (worn throughout) talent’s own

The multi-award winning rapper and the Queen of Neo-Soul talk fame and fortune, the come-up and the comedown, connections and family.

Taken from the new print issue of THE FACE. Get your copy here.

On a cool day in May, Little Simz dials in from a flat in London. Bare-faced, with a black T‑shirt on and her long dreadlocks tucked under a New Era cap, she’s grinning from ear to ear.

The 30-year-old – born Simbiatu Simbi” Abisola Abiola Ajikawo and raised in a Yoruba household in North London – is now five albums, and multiple accolades, deep into her career. Beloved for her soul-baring bars about romantic love, family and mental health struggles – nothing is off limits – Simz has more than proven herself to be one of UK music’s biggest stars.

But even new-gen superstars are keen to pay it back.

The reason for Simz’s smile is mirrored on her screen, a face that’s also wide with delight. Neo-soul legend Erykah Badu is on the call from her home in Dallas, eager to chat with the musician. With an ear for new talent (Erykah has publicly co-signed Summer Walker and Ari Lennox) and a catalogue that spans almost three decades, it makes sense that, after hearing Simz last year, the 53-year-old Texan instantly fell in love with the Brit.

t-shirt VANS and shoes VANS ROWLEY XLT, jacket PRADA, shorts SUPREME, sunglasses JUDITH LEIBER, belt FOUND AND VISION and socks stylist’s own

I first heard Simz through my longtime girlfriend Mimi Fresh, who lives in London,” says Erykah, who is dressed in a grey T‑shirt and has a smattering of tattoos on her arms, with a red headband keeping her signature extra-small braids away from her face. She played Gorilla [from her 2022 album No Thank You]. I was immediately caught off guard – it was refreshing. I was like: What is going on?” Sometime later I saw the video and I thought: That’s an MC right there.” Not only MCing but has mastered it, you know?”

How does that make Simz – raised on a musical diet of Erykah – feel? How would it make you feel?” she exclaims, laughing into the camera. This is somebody that I’ve known my whole life, from, like, my sisters introducing me to your music. And then later come to find out we’re both Pisces, it just [made] feel even more connected to you.”

Astrological connection aside, there’s an undeniable bond between the pair. Erykah and Simz flit between big-sister and little-sister energy, then mentor and mentee. At times, they’re just two Black women who understand a height of success in music few will ever know. There’s such an easy familiarity to their relationship that you would never believe the musicians only met in person for the first time a month ago at the GQ Global Creativity Awards in New York. A few weeks later, the Met Gala, also held in Manhattan, placed them in the same space again. Shortly afterwards, Erykah reached out to Simz via social media and requested the instrumental for Gorilla (“She sent it in 48 seconds!”). I just want to feel that energy that Simz is igniting,” says Erykah. And I think everybody should.”

I’m a very insular person. I’ve never been the loudest in the room”

Little Simz

ERYKAH: When’s your birthday?

SIMZ: 23rd of February.

E: I’m [on the] 26th. I guess that’s the one thing I identify with if that theory [of astrology] is true. There’s something very influential about your presence: you capture the attention of people. Maybe it was some Pisces thing.

S: Do you think that is a Pisces thing?

E: Yeah, I do. I’ve noticed that [being] born in a certain season gives you a certain type of personality and influence. Being a Pisces and meeting other Pisces, I definitely generally feel connected to how you preserve your energy and share [it]. That’s why I asked, I guess. I forgot we were both Pisces! Where did you grow up, Simz?

S: North London, a place called Essex Road, with my mother, two older sisters and my older brother – I’m the youngest of four. I’m of Nigerian heritage so my house growing up was very Nigerian: obviously the food my mum cooked, [and] she spoke to us in Yoruba. But then as soon as you leave my front door it’s like: London… Have you ever been to Nigeria?

E: I’ve been to Lagos a few times. The first time I went to visit Femi Kuti at [art and music venue] New Afrika Shrine. The next time I went on my own – I wanted to go to visit the shrine of Osun in Osogbo State. I arranged a car, I didn’t have any security or anything like that. I wasn’t even thinking in that kind of way. [I] went to the river and picked some things up out of the water, like cups and plastic straws. I was just beginning my studies of Yoruba at that time. It had to be about 20 years ago.

S: No way!

E: Yes. I got a couple of readings. [Writer and poet] Baba Ifayemi [Elebui- bon] was one of the priests who gave me a reading in Osogbo, and then another unknown priest as well. Interesting culture and readings, but I felt very familiar with it. It didn’t seem foreign to me. It just seemed like a missing piece in my life, since my family is also originally from West Africa.

S: Do you know where?

E: Cameroon. That’s what I heard. [We’re] Bamiléké, which means grass field people. So you grew up in a Nigerian world in London?

S: Very much so, everything was Nigerian. But I’ve always been a performing arts kid. I don’t think I was much [of an] academic type. I did English but anything from performing arts to music, I was very drawn to. I guess my family was very supportive in how they championed me and my creativity. They fuelled it from a very early age. I started when I was nine and it was very much if [I] wanted to do that, I could do that. Which is rare, because in Nigerian families it’s very typical for your mum or your parents to be like: I want you to be a doctor or a lawyer.” Or for the guys, it’s going into engineering. [But] that was never my mum’s vibe. It was like: Whatever you feel [like doing],I’m backing it, I’m supporting it.” But she did want me to have an education and have my studies intact.

THE FACE: How was the conversation when you decided to drop out of university to pursue music, Simz?

S: It wasn’t the easiest. I just had to show her [that] if I’m dropping out, I’m not gonna be a bum or do nothing in my life, you know? I’m dropping out because I really wanna have a crack at this. [For my mum it was] trusting in how you raise this person [and believing] it’s gonna work out, it’s gonna be fine. And now we’re kinda here…

E: You don’t have to say drop out, though. You can say – this is real cute, I learned this over the years – I was disenchanted with my studies and I decided to go in a different direction.” You [mentioned] your mom. Did you live with your pops, too?

S: Yeah, until I was 11. [Then] him and my mum split. Also, my mum had me [when] she was 41 or something. [It was a] didn’t expect me to pop out” type of situation. The doctors gave her all the reasons to not have me: She’s gonna have Down’s Syndrome, you’re over 40…” All this stuff. And she ended up having me.

My siblings probably had more of a relationship with my dad than I did. In [a] way I grew up like an only child because the gap is so wide between me and [them]. I’ve not really had a relationship with my dad. Over the years [it became] the typical story of you start doing well in life and then it’s like: Oh, hello…”

E: Letters from jail and shit.

S: Yeah.

E: I know the drill.

S: But I’ve chosen to protect myself and that’s it with that.

E: Uh-huh, that’s really smart. And when you feel fully ready to re-examine that relationship, I’m sure you will – because there may come a time for that. There may be questions that you have.

S: 100 per cent.


E: Take your time. I’m the oldest. It’s the opposite of you. I have a sister who’s three years younger and a brother who’s 12 years younger, like you. [He was] the new baby, the whole new chapter of my mum’s life. As the oldest, it was me and my sister and then when he came I was like a semi-mama a little bit. Do you have a sibling that’s like the semi-mama?

S: Yup! It’s my oldest sister. Have you always been quite maternal?

E: Definitely. I don’t know how that happened. I did not see my mother being really maternal in that way. My mom was laidback and cool. My grandmothers were more maternal.

They say the first born always kind of has that gene: the leader. I’ve been there the whole time for my youngest sibling. It was a very natural thing for me to dote over him, care for him, make sure to keep him in the right.

S: Did it make for a complex relationship? With my sisters, especially in my teenage years, I started to take on this very you’re not my mum” rebellious type of thing.

E: Yup, that happened. Do you think you were doing that because [your siblings] couldn’t relate to you, or is it because you needed to shake things up?

S: I was more like: You was once my age, though? You never smoke a joint?” I [didn’t] understand where this holier than thou energy I was getting [came from]. I understand a lot of it now I’m older. I know a lot of it was [them being] very protective. I have a very protective family and I’m the baby, the cub, so it’s even more so – just a pack of lions [that were] super protective of me.

E: Who is the closest sibling?

S: I have seasons, but me and my brother have always had a really special bond. He is a water sign, Cancer. Our worlds very much align.

E: That’s perfect. How much older is he?

S: He’s actually gonna be 50 – he’s the first born. The gap is super wide.

E: That’s me and you.

S: Yeah, literally.


E: You can see where I’ve been and I can see where you’re going. I could see where that’s relatable. Cuz I don’t quite feel like you’re 30 and I’m 50. I don’t quite feel like a mom [talking] with a 30-year-old – even though my son will be 27 this year. I still feel like an older sister to a 30-year-old.

S: Where was you at when you was 30?

E: I was just starting my record career. I got signed [at] about 25 and my first album [Baduizm] dropped at 26. I was coming out with my second album in 2000 when I was [almost] 30, Mama’s Gun. I was trying to figure out if I was right or wrong at that time because you just don’t know, you know? Things happen for you, to you and around you at 30. Am I grown or am I a child?

At that point you’re releasing a lot of different hormones, depending on your gender, and you are beginning to own your life: Oh, I’m responsible for this. Oh, I made that.” You’re taking responsibility for things. That’s [also] when the guilt starts to kick in. At 40 is when you release the guilt. But it’s a whole life, you’ll see. [At 30] are you noticing your frustration or [feeling like you’re] being pulled in two different directions: spiritually, mentally?

S: Yeah, it’s [been] the most transitional – but blatantly transitional. I can feel everything about me is shifting and it’s somewhat uncomfortable. But I understand I’ve also been called to do something, you know? It’s never a why me?” thing. But it feels like a lot and I don’t have all the answers for things – sometimes I feel like people expect me to. I’m still transitioning. But I do also feel like a new burst of something, I feel more energised. I’m more accepting of challenges. [Especially] now that I know life will constantly be presenting them. In my twenties it was like, what? A [negative] hit from here and a hit from here, but now I understand: oh, it’s life – that constantly happens.

E: [How] has your family, values, religion, customs [helped you] in those situations? And what are those traditions?

S: My mum is a very Muslim woman, very religious. I grew up in that way, so she obviously had intentions for me to really become that. But over the years she’s embraced my feelings towards religion and spirituality. I’m a very insular person. I’ve never been the loudest in the room. I’ve never been extroverted. I find comfort in writing, [and that] stemmed from early. Even when I used to ask my mum [if I could] stay at someone’s house, I used to write it in the form of a letter. It’s just always been easier for me to write things down.

E: Are there any particular practices your mum taught you all that you find yourself leaning on, or reaching back out to?

S: Prayer, for sure. And listening to God. I guess the other term for that would be meditation. When you pray it’s your opportunity to speak to God and when you meditate you listen. Speaking and listening to God, it was installed from early. Even until this day, my mum is very much aware that I have my own personal relationship with God. I guess she still really wants me and God to be the best of friends. It’s maybe because her experiences in life have been tough and her faith and her relationship with God are really what’s carried her through. She understands the importance of that relationship and wants that for me.

E: Do you noticeably feel calmer and more at peace when you’re surrounded by your family [or] friends at events and things?

S: Yeah. Especially because I’m a quiet person and sometimes I fear that’s read as antisocial or stand-offish, even though that is not my vibe at all. If there’s nothing to talk about [then] I’m not gonna talk. But because my family and friends know this so much about me, I just relax with it. But then, because I know them well, I do come out of my shell and it’s funny… What’s something that binds your family? Is it food? Music?

E: It’s comedy – we grew up in a house [watching and listening to] Richard Pryor. It’s our whole family’s coping mechanism. We gonna joke about the shit that ain’t supposed to be funny constantly. [Say] it’s an earthquake outside, we joking! Get down!” It’s how we relate, it’s how we bond. My family’s sense of humour is very morbid and silly. My grandmother Thelma was the matriarch of the house. She passed away at 93 [two] or three years ago. Now my mother, Queenie, is the matriarch, then I’m next. So I’m like: Oh, my God…” Usually we move into the family house, [which] is the house we still have.

S: Is that traditional in your family?

E: Yes. This is the third generation. I would be the fourth. [First] it was my great-grandmother, Odessa…Then I’m the oldest girl so it’ll be me, or my sister, three years younger [than me], to take over that place. That’s a very important space and place. I’m 50 so I think about that now. Are you interested in having a family of your own? Because not everyone is.

S: Definitely. I think that’s wicked. Kids are the greatest blessing, I’d love to be able to give a child my love and not necessarily my thoughts. Teach them to be free thinkers and individuals and stand on their own, but give them unconditional love and care. The fact that you’re blessed enough to do that, I think you should. And hopefully that is in my path at the right time, hopefully with the right person if that’s also my path.

But 100 per cent, especially [since] I’ve got nieces and nephews. I have the best relationship with them. I’m very present in their lives and even seeing how they grow up together, I love the idea of having a community within a family. There’s a younger lot and then there’s me and my cousins that all grew up together. Now we’re in our thirties, there are conversations that are different. Then there’s my mum and my aunties. I like that within the family. But [ultimately] we’re all one. Did you know how many [children] you wanted to have?

E: I wanted to have seven. I have three biological children, two nieces and two nephews, so it gives me seven. But I always wanted to have seven and I named my first son Seven so I could count down backwards. But it didn’t quite work out like that! I had other kids in between those kids, which were [my albums] Baduizm, Mama’s Gun, New Amerykah Part One [2008] and Two [2010]. I have to ask you a funny question… When you started to do well in your career, did you notice that the family started to act shifty when it comes to your money and your shit?

S: I try not to decipher what that is. Also, I’ve had a weird relationship with money myself. It’s like this fear of: never wanna go broke, never wanna go broke, never wanna go broke. So: never wanna spend, never wanna spend, never wanna spend. But [I’m] happy obviously – if anyone needs whatever, I’m here. [But] I think I’ve had to learn: No.”

E: You had to learn no”. I was thinking the other day: when I became an entertainer – or, got a record deal and had a certain amount of success – nobody in my family was thinking about being famous or thinking about money. We didn’t have the internet. We didn’t have cellphones. I had one of the first cellphones in my family besides one of my mama’s boyfriends in the 80s – he had that big phone that you can put in the car with you and carry around in the suitcase. But that’s a whole other life [and] my family was not thinking about that. Then all of a sudden y’all thinking about it. Y’all got your mind on money and fame now!

THE FACE: How did that change you?

E: The only thing that changed really about me was how other people treated me, which made me have to behave a certain way. Which is hilarious when it comes to family. Because it’s so obvious to me which family members feel a little envious. Which ones feel a little, you know, needy.

It got to the point where I had to create a message from my answering machine on my phone. It’s called the Erykah Badu Hotline. It says: Hello, you have reached the Erykah Badu Hotline. If you callin’ for Erykah, press one. If you callin’ to ask for some shit and know she really don’t fuck with you like that, press two. If you callin’ and askin’ her…” There’s about 12 of them. I had to do that just to let people know. I am very aware that things are different and that I have some shit that y’all need. I had to find my place in my success and my family had to find their space in that success. How do you manage?

S: That’s so mad. I don’t tell no one what I’m doing, what I’m up to, what moves I’m about to make. I move low. Whereas sometimes my family, because they’re proud, they have a habit of just discussing [things]. I’ve had to say to them: Protect me.” It was like: Say no more.”

I can be impulsive – if I want it, I want it to be done now”

Little Simz

E: I feel that. I feel like I kind of move in silence as well… I found myself in my early thirties where you are, [not needing] anybody. I had my career – I mean, the whole world was applauding. I didn’t need my family as much [but] they were in my life. My grandmother was my publicist, my other grandmother was my historian – at one time she was my accountant. My mom helped me with my children, my sister was a personal assistant, my brother did merch. Everybody had a place.

S: That’s so interesting. And how was that, working with family? Do you think it’s tricky?

E: It’s tricky because they come with these different personalities and you think family just means loyalty. I got family members that are so loyal to the point where they sacrifice their own feelings for some things that I would want to do. Then I got family members that will say it out loud: I will kick your ass.” There will be a time, I guess I’m saying, where you may be estranged, you know, in order to find a piece of yourself and it’s necessary. But no matter how great you become to the world, you are always – and this is refreshing – little Simma to your family. And they are my asshole checkers. They make sure that I’m not going too far off the deep end. That’s what I appreciate a lot.

S: Every artist has an ego because they’re artists. How much do you lean into that? And do you know when to remove it?

E: Ego is a more intricate thing than I thought it was. Ego is not just a part of your personality that is needy. Ego needs an identity, it needs a conflict, it needs all these things to help it to continue to identify this character that you’ve become. It’s deeper than that because it starts to take over in my mind. The ego wants to hold on to anything that gives it the identity. That feeds it. When they say you can feed the two wolves, whichever one you feed is the one that will become strongest. I feel that leaning back on my family values helped me to make better decisions. Is there anything you’re struggling with in your memory, your mind or your egoic self that you feel you would want to let go of? That does not further your evolution as Simma?

S: Definitely letting go of things. Subconsciously I’ve grown up in a home where, let’s say, my mum hoards stuff – just never [wants to] let go of things. And I understand the sentiment. I understand it’s a memory and it traces back to this. But I’m trying to practise letting go and getting out of the way, especially in my creative process.

THE FACE: Can you explain more about getting out of the way” of your music and art?

S: Sometimes I get in the way and it’s not necessary. To be a vessel is to truly allow something to pass through you. Even if you don’t understand it in that moment, allow it to pass through you and let go of control. It’s OK to take charge. Like we were saying earlier, you realise you’re responsible for all the makings and the doings in your life. But I think as well, there is such a thing as allowing things to be and seeing things through. I’ve had so many songs where I’ve got to the end and done something different, like: Those two lines is a whole other song and actually that’s what it is. But [that wouldn’t have] happened if I didn’t see it through…” [Also] learning to be a bit more patient. I can be impulsive – if I want it, I want it to be done now. I don’t like waiting on people. I’ll just do it myself. But taking time, sleeping on things [is also good]. I wake up in the morning and think: actually, I don’t even feel like that anymore. I’m glad that I slept on it.

THE FACE: How creatively useful is it, meeting with and talking with a figure like Erykah, an artist a generation ahead of you?

S: I think something I would really benefit from is to be [more] honest, [have] more conversations like this. Sometimes I come into spaces and I like asking questions and genuinely love being a sponge, soaking up information – especially when the person is fascinating or has an interesting story, I just wanna know. I wanna learn. I would love more spaces to be held where I can ask questions about things like you said – you’ve been through it and [now] I’m going through it. Not to say you’re gonna tell me to do it this way or I’m totally gonna follow your path. But knowledge that isn’t shared is almost wasted. Whatever I do with that information is up to me. But to be able to know, or to be able to be shown that isn’t the only way, would be helpful to my life in general. What about you?

E: I’m a collector like your mama. I always keep gifts that the fans give me because they took the time to do it. I just don’t like to throw it away. It’s symbolic to me in some way. [But] I’m learning to find another way to see that, as I’m getting crowded out with all of the things because I appreciate them so much. I remember at the very beginning of my career, in 1997 – 98, when people wanted to meet you, when you’re a new artist [at] meet and greets, I would stay to the very end.

They would be stacking chairs on the table and I would stay to the last person, writing things on their paper, on their dollar, or whatever they wanted me to sign! It started out [with] me writing their name, then a: Thank you so much, I really appreciate you. You’re gonna do great and thank you for sharing your life with me in this moment.” Now my shit just be like EB”! But I still have the same energy. I still have the same feeling. I’m just learning to spin it smarter and not work as hard… [But] I always want to give you the most because I’m so appreciative of these people listening to this little girl from South Dallas. It’s me. I’m just Erykah.

THE FACE: From that knowledge, experience and insight, Erykah, do you have any advice for Simz?

E: Don’t believe these negative things people say about you – and believe only half of the good things, because everyone has an agenda. Don’t lose focus of your inner voice. You guys are up against a lot of adversity with social media. I sometimes wanna just jump through the phone on people.

I had to learn [that] these people [online] don’t know you and everybody has an opinion… But [with] all of those things, people are on a mission to chain us down, to prove us wrong, to prove that you’re just as regular as I am. To prove that what you’re doing is not dynamic. But I could see through it: they want to investigate your shortcomings more than they do the things that are great about you. My advice: that don’t matter at all. And I know everybody says that. But it’s a real thing.

S: It’s mad because I really needed to hear that actually. I’m mad sensitive, you know? To everything around me and especially things that are directed at me. [When] it’s a direct attack on my character… for what?

E: You could make the most positive post in the world, but they gonna find something. They gonna tell you: That’s good but you didn’t do this.” Or: You’re not passionate about that. How you gonna do this and you don’t do that?” I’m like: who the fuck? Why y’all in all of my business like this? Social media has given people such an opinion.

S: It’s given them balls. I’m also from a place of: pull up and say it. All this behind the screen stuff? I’m not into it. If I see you in real life we can have a conversation. But I definitely don’t subscribe to that whole [online commenting]. It’s a bit cowardly and, yeah, it’s not my vibe.

E: We definitely not in a pull-up-and- say-it culture right now. I tried that once. I put my location on. I’m like: why did I do that?

S: Really?

E: A long time ago, when I was a young internet-er, back in 2013 or so.

S: Did anyone show up?

E: Nah, no-one showed up.

THE FACE: Erykah, Simz – thank you both for your time. We know you’re busy women and have stuff to do but, before you go, do you each have anything more to say?

E: I guess I would say: I’m your family. I want to extend to you my love and information, wherever that is. Like I said, comedy is my coping mechanism, so you just have to get used to that style. But I’m so happy that I had an opportunity to meet you – and especially have this conversation about family, as we’re becoming family. We got a lot of things to do. I’m so happy we ran into each other [again] at the Met Gala just a couple of weeks ago.

S: Even that! Obviously my body, everything within me, is like: go and say hi! But it’s already a blessing to be in the presence of you [and] I also feel like, if God wants this to happen, he’ll make it happen. And I stepped out, left the party, had my cigarette outside, come back and then boom – you were there. Even to now be having a conversation like this: it must have been written, you know what I mean? Hopefully we have many more.

E: Well, it’s so funny that I got this call to do the interview because two weeks before this, I hit you [saying]: Send me that instrumental to Gorilla.” And you sent it in 48 seconds. So I’m working on something for you. I got a song for us, too. Me and [the producer] Alchemist working on something. I just want to feel that energy you are igniting. It’s really cool. And I think everybody should hear you. It’s ill. Your flow is ill, your wordplay’s ill, your timbre, everything is live. You got a huge, huge, huge, huge future – possibilities are endless for you. And I’m gonna be there to see it.

S: Thank you for doing this, man. I’m just mad grateful, tenfold. And as well, even if I can be of service, I can give however [I can], I can contribute, I’m here [for you] as well. I’m really, really happy we was able to cross paths.

E: This is the beginning of a beautiful one.


HAIR Chantelle Fuller MAKEUP Amirah Ajikawo PRODUCTION Tann Services PRODUCER Katherine Bampton LIGHTING DIRECTOR Eduardo Silva PHOTOGRAPHER ASSISTANT Fallou Seck STYLIST ASSISTANTS Zakkai Jones, Alexandria Smith and Jagger Cruz

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