Simi Crowns first popped onto my radar during an excellent support set for Pusha T, one in which he blew the main act out of the water. Since then he has gone onto support Kid Ink, Mos Def & play Electric Picnic, as well as countless other gigs. It has been a big year for Simi, but 2015 is shaping up to be a whole lot bigger for him. We caught up with him recently and had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his music, his live show and what he has in the works.
Describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before.
“My music is an expression. An expression of how I and those around me including the general society feels. You know those types of mundane truths that we know exists but fail to acknowledge. I often come across comments such as “for a Dublin guy, you‟re different”. When elaborated, it seems to shock people who‟ve come across my music that, I don‟t match their expectations. Rapping in Dublin/Ireland has never really been viewed as being glamorous like the Americans, so the trend is you either try to make it glamorous by bullshitting (in fake accents, false/unrelatable subject matters, etc.) or you rap “real” but with an emphasis on your Irishness with the strong accent, which never quite seem to get accepted on a mainstream level. Flipping that, I came through as this random guy with a “plain enough” accent that everyone could understand (growing up, I had a very multi-cultural circle of friends) while rapping about these things even Gary, Siobhan, Ahmed, Tin Lin and Kemi could relate to – my not so ghettoish Dublin-tinted struggles, college, race, fantasies, dreams, girls, relationships, hopes, ambitions to succeed, etc.”
How do you feel you differ from other Irish acts?
“Questions like these usually bring out the most favourable biases but I‟ve always seemed to notice that most credible and celebrated Irish artists I know of are of a certain type. Being frank, I feel that black voices are greatly misrepresented and underrepresented. I don‟t mean in a “they don‟t have freedom of speech or expression civil rights type of way”, but when you look at the media, at least 95% of the faces celebrated are white; only black faces we see are the Beyonces, Jay Zs, whatever happened to these black Irish people I know on a personal level contributing to the society and making a killing on multiple varied levels; in college, business, you know. All I seem to notice are headlines in bold letters like “NIGERIAN MAN CONVICTED FOR RAPE”, “NON-NATIONAL CAUGHT SMUGGLING.” What of my childhood friend, Goke killing it in the finance industry, Nubi Kay winning Accenture‟s European Best Innovators Awards, etc. And on the music scene, it seems to always be about the guys with guitars and slick leather jackets, far from being envious, I am friends with many of them and I think they make great music but I always feel like “fuck I have something to contribute too, you know, bring my own meaning and impact to the fucking world” based on my abilities and not what I happen to be. I grew up here and still get people from the media asking for interviews under contexts such as “The New Faces of Ireland” or the “Black Underground Dublin Music Scene”, what the fuck does that even mean? Can we just focus on the primary thing I‟m doing? If you‟re creating something worthy, all these characteristics of yours should be secondary.
Just to clarify, I am not saying those gatekeepers and the ones responsible for the celebration of the “doers” in Irish society are racist, I‟m saying everyone doing something with an impact should be acknowledged without those labels and boundaries, and the only way for that to happen is for people to grow the balls and put aside their race, background, or style of music or whatever and just let their work speak for them… So I guess how I differ is the fact that I have the balls and more to look beyond these superficial elements; like I said in a recent interview, I don‟t give a shit about anything but what I am creating and by God, anywhere the greats are being mentioned, I will be there. If you‟re talking about great records or killing it at live shows, Croke Park, the 3 Arena, wait „til I get there and I‟ll show you there‟s no fucking way my thinking, actions and glory will ever go denied.”
How important are your band in the essence of your music?
“It is kind of a weird one. My band is not an orthodox type of band, we play together, jam together but we don‟t create/write together like say, the typical music band. I create all the musical aspects but when we get together, whether in rehearsals or on stage, their vision and energy brings out the hidden and subtle energy behind those songs. It‟s like when you get your chips and burger from McDonalds‟, you‟ve gotta get the ketchup to make it a proper meal. D.O.G., Princess and Michaeal (my dj, drummer and bassist), you can say are the ketchup to my chips and burger. I rate and value them highly, and you can see by the reaction of the crowd at every single show that they are doing something really great.”
What artists do you draw inspiration from?
“I listen to a wide variety of music. With my African background, I listen to a lot of King Sunny Ade, Fela Kuti and Asa especially for their contexts. I tend to listen to African artists when I‟m in a radiant mood, there‟s a lot of warmth and sun in their music, maybe it‟s an African thing, you know with the warm climate. Also listen to a lot of American hiphop and soul (Nas, Kanye, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Talib, J. Cole, Common, etc.), but I feel that I can never fully relate, maybe because I didn‟t grow up in that environment but these guys are the pioneers and the ones that are primarily responsible for pushing forward the black music culture and breaking boundaries, meaning they must be doing something right in their storytelling, production, communication and business practices. I‟d be daft not to study and learn from them. My musical view is quite diversed though, I love Bjork, Little Dragon, Gorillaz, MJ, South African House Music, throw in some Jazz and Tito Puente too but no Tiesto please.”
You put a lot of energy into your live show. Do you think we live in an age where a gig has to make as big a statement as an album?
“Shows in my opinion definitely have to be a big statement, probably a bigger statement than the album. The thing about a live show is that it is an opportunity to give life and interpretation to these words and sounds you‟ve strung together in your bedroom or wherever. People at my shows have blessed me with some minutes of their lives to search for my songs on YouTube, SoundCloud and engage with it, so when I get on that stage, it‟s time to show appreciation and gratitude. It‟s like we‟re in this together and fuck the rest of the world, unless they want to join us. My songs are like the training days in the premier league, the shows are my match days and you really ought to know I‟m getting those three points.”
What has been your favourite live show so far?
“Besides the State Faces of 2014 show where everyone went nuts, the recent support show with Mos Def at Vicar St. has to be a serious contender. You know, I had people in the crowd who‟ve come to know me now as a “doer of this music”, they knew my fucking songs and sang along, nearly 2000 people showing so much love for this random chap from Parkwest. It was a real emotional show too, as I told them the story about my deceased friend who once told me that one day he expects me to be on that stage making a difference. Unfortunately, when the time came, he was no longer with us but his presence was felt when the whole crowd cheered and applauded his memory.”
If you could open for one artist who would it be?
“This will sound either confident or arrogant, depending on who‟s reading but I‟ve always held the firm belief that my ultimate purpose is to be the main event at everything I do. So I never really think of artists I‟d like to open for. There are a few artists I‟d love to meet though; but in the most respectful and humbling way, I don‟t see why I couldn‟t play my cards to be on an equal playing field with the best of them.”
When and where is your next gig?
“December 20th at Opium Rooms in Dublin. It‟s been a fantastic year for me and those around me (musically, personal relationships, personal successes, etc.) so I feel it‟s only right we give a show that demonstrates our appreciation for those supporting and those blessing us with the opportunities.
Playing with my band, we also have really good friends of mine, visionary guys supporting the show. ProFound, a really young bright guy from Blanch with so much to say and give, there‟ll also be a hiphop dance group (All Stars Deuces Company) and several Arts and Graffiti Exhibitions. It‟s long overdue, but we‟re bringing the culture together on this show. Call me a Psychic if you will, but next year is gonna be a great year, a game changer for those who are staying hungry and working smart and for the entire culture in Ireland.”
Do you have an album in the works?
“I have enough materials to put out an album but I‟m a fan of smart work over hard work. Giving the circumstances, being independent, perhaps putting out an album now is not the most effective and efficient way of spreading out this vision. I do have several EPs and mixtapes though, which I plan to release next year with the first being around April/May 2015.”
What hip hop albums have caught your ear this year?
“God Knows My Name is John – Rusangano/Family (Ireland)
Ghetts – Rebel with a Cause (UK)
T.I – Paperwork (USA)
SchoolBoyQ – OxyMoron (USA)
Jessy Jagz – Jagz Nation Volume 2 (Nigeria)
Bas – Last Winter (USA)
Nipsey Hussle – Crenshaw (USA)
M.I – The Chairman (Nigeria)
Looking forward to J.Cole‟s 2014 Forest Hill Drive out this week and still gotta get the new Wu Tang Clan album.”
Simi Crowns will perform in Opium Rooms Dublin December 20th, tickets €10.