At 2.59pm I got the text from Nic.
“We’ve just wrapped up soundcheck now. Heading to the apartment.”
By then, I had already made the short hike from Newcastle train station to the Maldron Hotel in the heart of the city. My spot for the night. There was a buzz in the air, my first time up to the Toon and I was already impressed. Riding across the Tyne river entering the city landscape, with a view of the seven bridges, it is quite a sight for those yet to visit. I checked in, dumped my bags and grabbed the gear before heading around the corner to the Grainge Street apartment to link my Northern Baby crew for the next 24 hours.
Nic came downstairs and greeted me before we walked up a couple flights to the apartment, a few new faces dotted around and greetings ensued before we set up in the cosy but modern front room. We chopped it up briefly and the excitement and anticipation of tonight’s performance was quickly replaced by the anxiety and stress of a music video shoot day. Before long however, the man of the moment himself walked in with a few of his boys.
It’s nearing the end of summer and today, Simba Shore, unquestionably the most exciting prospect to emerge from the North East, is dropping his first track of the year. Follow 4 Follow, a ferociously commanding first person account of a day in the life of Simba, sprayed over a deliciously resolutive beat, one which, enlivened by it’s chopped vocal sample, immediately caught the ear of Simba, he explained as we sat down to discuss. “I heard the beat and wrote it at 10am in the morning, I finished at 11am. At 12pm I was in the studio, at 1pm it was done. I’ve never written a track so fast in my life. I heard the beat and I just thought wow.” He spoke with enthusiasm and excitement, which despite his calculated demeanour, shimmered through in moments.
Though Simba Shore is already garnering the support of a household name up North, he’s technically only 4 tracks and 1 feature deep into what promises to be an extensively celebrated catalogue one day. It started at the top of 2020 with ‘Exposing Me’ an instrumental sampling Whoopty dissected and flexed upon unforgivingly by Simba. The track splashed him on the map, amounting over 2 million streams in no time and has raised a few industry eyebrows. It was followed up in March 2020 by a now customary ‘2am In Newcastle’, then, his bass-ridden collaboration with Hargo on Eazy later in the year. “Well I’ve been making music since I was 15, but I don’t think it was a high standard. But in my city people were taking it in…And then I came with Exposing Me. 2 milli streams, with no playlists, that was crazy for me. I feel like I wouldn’t have even done that if it wasn’t for people around me, pushing me. I’m happy they did because now I’m loving it, I’m enjoying it.”
We spoke on camera for a little while on his motivations, sharing memories of bluetooth / infrared phone days and our favourite artists before wrapping up. After a quick few snaps with Matt, photographer for the day, it was time to start shooting the video. The apartment was cramped with the director and his kit, a few of us in the second bedroom grabbing BTS and a living room full of the boys, blasting out the new drop. The first scene was shot, shot again, and shot once more before Simba dipped out. The rest of the crew stayed back for a minute, gathered in the living area and ran through a host of music videos and Daily Duppy’s on the TV screen. The fridge was raided for all the Maggies one could ever ask for and the apartment was vacated. Onto the next location.
As we marched up to Grey’s Monument, a 134 ft tower standing tall over the Metro station in the middle of Newcastle, it felt more like late autumn than mid-August. The air was frisk and despite the buzz of a city centre sprawling with shoppers and young teens capitalising on their last couple weeks of Summer holiday freedom, it maintains a sense of calm. Life is a little slower here or, so it was. After about 20 minutes of scouting locations in the vicinity and linking up with Sisi, another young talented prospect out of the north, Simba rolled through, this time, in one of two gleaming white Mercedes-CLA AMGs and pulled up onto the pedestrian walkway. Whilst he hopped out and reconvened with the director to finalize the plan for the city centre cuts, it didn’t take long for the feds to show. We were ushered along so the two beauties sped off to turn back and all cameras got into position.
They drove up and down 3 or four times to ensure we caught what was needed, pissing off a few commuters and bus drivers in the process. By the time it was time to do the walking shots, the sidewalks across both sides of Blackett Street were filling up with stopping passers-by rapt in all the commotion. More and more seemed to join the squad as Simba and his crew paraded up and down the middle of bus lanes for a handful of takes. As we stood and watched the crowds gather and friendly faces he recognised from homies to fans he stopped to chat to, the vibe truly attested to his words from our conversation earlier in the day when questioned on his motivation. “My friends. My people man. I look back and I wouldn’t have done certain things if it wasn’t for them. I wouldn’t have even started the journey. They’re in my new song you know. The same people I started with are the same people I’ll finish with. So it is what it is.”
It had already hit 6pm before the Monument shots were all done and we were behind schedule. A few more snaps with fans and friendly faces passing through and it was off to the next and penultimate shoot location for the day, before the grand finale. Trap Food House. A little gem on a corner of Waterloo street. Simba went inside and placed the order for 10+ wing combo boxes as we all congregated on the steps outside ready for the camera. The sun was beginning to set as everyone grew hungry and eager for a respite, but again Simba’s enthusiasm reigned supreme throughout the multiple takes of the track and in this moment, that energy shone through once more. It’s attributed to his work ethic, determination and newly found grind. It’s quite possibly, alongside the pure talent he possesses, why he’s at the forefront of a city yet to be recognised and championed. A city unspoken for, “without voice” as he spoke on… “There’s no voice up here, we kinda get overlooked here, I feel like, if artists are doing a show, 9 times outta 10, they’ll do Manny, jump over Newcastle, go straight to Scotty, they won’t come here.”
“I want to give my sides a voice, give myself a voice. I’ve got stuff to say, I feel like that’s important. We’re tryna give the city a vibe, to let them know what we’re here to do.”
By the time they wrapped the final shots, I jumped inside the shop just as the chefs were serving up the boxes. Two types of marinated wings, deep-fried calamari, shrimp, hot sauce and a scoop of creamy mac ’n’ cheese. Simba passed me mine, I handed my share but he refused. “You got me when I come down to Brum” he says. Say less. I grabbed the box, dapped everyone up and left to get an hour or so to refresh at the hotel, detouring at the boss-man shop to grab a bottle of water and a red-bull. We needed our energy up for the night ahead.
10pm struck and the phone buzzed with the penthouse pre-party address.
“602 on the door. We’re heading there now.”
I pulled up, entered the code and smashed the ring button. After giving my name through the speaker, I heard them shouting in the background ‘let him up’ hoping we don’t have similar problems getting through the doors of Jungle later that evening. Little did we know…Elevator was out. Stairs it was. As I climbed, a familiar face met me halfway, Johno of the increasingly popular YouTube channel RIDE music, documenting the stories and happenings of the scene. We entered the penthouse and it was dark, buzzing and the speakers thumping, everyone dressed to a T, tables full of bottles lining the ceiling to floor windows, a pool table littered with red-cups and a balcony amongst the lit-up concrete jungle landscape. Truly the sort of scene we’re perpetually bombarded with in this game, except, it was real, it was happening, the vibes were positive, energy up and we were all there, a part of history for the city Simba is running. He arrived shortly after me and got to shooting the party scene for the video pretty quickly, running through the track two or three times as we slowly became more waved.
Despite all my experiences with artists over the years, this was probably the first time I’d witnessed the first one to come out of their city so strongly. Despite having yet to scratch the surface of his career, the support, locally and nationally seems to be there. “So far the industry support has been amazing, you know. Before I even had a song out, we were doing label meetings. For me that was crazy…” Simba explained to me. “Cus I’m seeing things I’ve never seen in my life before, like wow, this is the life I wanna live you know. I was there and I’m seeing artists that do this everyday, recording a song a day. I was recording a song a year. It showed me the amount of work you have to put in to get there. There’s not much more the industry can do for me apart from give me a milli but yeah…” he smirked. If tonight was just a taster of that lifestyle, then it was one we’ll undoubtedly savour for as long as we can. You can’t help but feel the tide is incoming as Follow 4 Follow rings through the speakers and vibrates the penthouse walls, it won’t be long until Simba Shore swings again. But we weren’t quite done for the night, one more stop.
Jungle night at Tup Tup Palace. The spot to be at for those A-listers that do come through the city. Just a short uber ride away from the penthouse and the venue playing host to tonight’s carnage. There were queues either side of the entrance hemming the pavements. For the final time today, Simba pulled up in convoy, this time in a matte black G-Wagon, right outside the entrance. What ensued was a frenzy of fans, club-goers and crew, blocking traffic, taking selfies, fixated on the hysteria. The hype was contagious and fans rushed up to the car windows to say hello and grab a picture. After about 15 minutes of the energy building he hopped out and the track began blasting through the whip’s door speakers, full beam lights on in the background, blinding the lens, with Simba ready to perform another take outside the club.
He did so and after another 30 minutes of loitering, selfies and greetings, past the due-stage time, it was time to head inside. The club was dimly lit, with mosaic lavish Eastern-style interior, across multiple levels. We headed to the VIP section, flashed our wristbands and battled our way straight to the bar. Just after 1am, Simba hit the stage. Seemingly out of nowhere, the beat dropped, he appeared, hooded up in his camo jacket, ring lights and cameras swarming behind. Bodies flooded the floor and the lights blinded us. He ran through Follow 4 Follow and Exposing Me, with every word being screamed back for the latter, before disappearing again into the night.
The beautiful thing about these moments and these times is the opportunity to capture an artist at their tipping point. A true protagonist in his environment, with solid foundations and endless ambition. As the night drew to a close, his words rang true again… “My name’s Simba man, from birth, gotta let them know the powers there. That’s what it is man, all I can do is tell my truth…” It’s time to let everyone know, there’s a new King of The North coming.