This post is part of a series called Why We Create, in which I talk with producers in the IMF extended community about their creative process.
I had a chance to sit down with longtime IMF member Simms, a rapper, singer, and all around positive force in music. His storytelling, matched with beats you can’t help but jump around to, will put just about anyone with a pulse in a good ass mood.
I had a chance to chat with Simms for a while recently about his new album, his music backstory, and more
Simms and I made a spoken word piece for Indie for a Cause Volume 3, which is a great accompanying soundtrack for reading this article. You can check it out on Soundcloud.
Our conversation is below, edited for clarity and brevity. Please enjoy.
You recently dropped your new album, Yes I Am a Mess…tell me about it.
This was the most difficult music project I’ve ever done. My close friend Jack Rudman recently moved to California…he’s always been my main engineer, and we’ve always worked on projects together. I had to learn to record my vocals myself, and that took a lot more effort. I’m really just a singer and a rapper, and I didn’t know much about mixing, and had to teach myself.
In the past, I never handled any of the recording process. I’m actually really glad that I had to make myself learn. I got more intimate with my equipment, and with the mixing process. It’s really made me better as an artist. I’ve discovered I could do things I didn’t think I could before.
I’ve always wanted to be a producer – before I started rapping, I had a dream of making beats and being a producer. I was always intimidated by the software – there’s such a steep learning curve.
I also got COVID twice during the process of making the record, which I’m still not entirely recovered from. As you can imagine, that made it harder to get the vocals I needed for the album.
I’ve worked on it pretty much nonstop eight months, every day.
Has getting more comfortable in the studio started you thinking about making beats for your own music?
I’m not sure – I don’t really have a problem using someone else’s beats. Right now, I find that whatever I make, there’s someone out there who can make a better version than mine. But if I feel like my beats are good enough, I’d be happy to use them. It would be great if I could produce a record with my own beats someday.
How did you discover music?
I’ve been making music since I could walk.
When I was a kid, I used to go to church every Sunday, and I had dreams of being in the choir. I so badly wanted to be up there singing. So I joined the kids choir when I was seven, and I was immediately promoted up to the full choir. It was seven-year-old me and a bunch of 20-someting-year-olds, which was pretty intimidating, but also a great experience for me.
I started listening to a lot of gospel music – Kirk Franklin was one of my favorite artists. Something about gospel music just brought out a certain kind of fire in me. I still feel that way today. It’s the kind of music that allows you to connect with the person next to you in a really intimate way. The age difference in the choir wasn’t really a barrier for me – I really felt like I belonged.
My mom and dad would always play R&B in the car and around the house, and I would listen to Lauryn Hill and whatever. I grew up in DC, and we have this local party music called Go Go, which I also really loved. I fell in love with the bongos and the beat.
But as I got better at choir singing, I joined the National Children’s Choir in DC. I performed all over the place – in the White House, at the Capitol, the Kennedy Center, all over the place. We got all the gigs in the area where they needed a kids choir, which was a lot. I spoke at the Obama White House, and met Michelle Obama. I did that for a few years. It was a unique experience that I really value.
I used to have terrible stage fright—not just singing, but also performing in school plays. And it was awful—I used to be literally crying before I went on stage—but all this performing helped me get over that. Now I just don’t experience that feeling at all anymore.
My performing self is different from real-life me. Even though I give off an air of confidence, I’m really socially anxious. That lack of confidence held me back from making music for a long time, because I was afraid it would suck.
How did you move from performing to making your own music?
I started making music in high school. My buddy Jack Dosik was was working on a class project—he was in an audio engineering class, and he asked me if I could write a song. That song became the first Simms track, Lunch. In our high school, we had a recording studio, which I know most schools don’t have. Me and my boys would spend like five hours a day in the studio making music. We made an album (The Waterpark Album) that doesn’t exist anymore. Shout out to SENSU Gang—Jack and those guys—who are really killing it right now.
I would skip my classes and go hang out in the recording studio for most of my day. So shout out to my teacher Mr. Evans, who would just let me skip class and go work on music.
We released the album, and we were forced to take it down, because we put a track on it called F You, Bob, which was about a security guard at the school that nobody liked. Bob got very upset about that. Before we had to take it down, the album had got all around the school – it never got beyond the school, but the album getting taken down just added to the lore and fame…we were notorious!
So anyway, Lunch was my first track, and I released it on the internet, and it got a great reception.
Have you always rapped about your personal experience?
I find that the best music is about being real. I don’t really want to rap about how I want to get bitches and money, and whatever. I get more from rapping about my life, my experiences – the things that make me, me.
What’s your favorite part of making a rap song?
I love writing choruses. That’s where I have the most fun with melody. I imagine myself in front of a crowd with everyone jumping around and really getting into it.
Actually I really like everything about writing songs. Sometimes it just really flows…I wrote Mommas House and Toxic in a six hour span one day, and they just came out of me. For me, that’s possible because I’m writing from personal experience.
But I don’t think recording is fun. I micromanage myself so much. If I say one syllable a way that I don’t love, I have to go back and do another take so I can fix it, even when other people tell me that it’s OK.
What’s your writing process?
I write in the Notes app in my phone. I used to write in notebooks, but I kept losing them, so I stopped doing that. I can’t tell you how many songs are lost to the ether because they were in notebooks that I lost.
One time in school, I wrote some lyrics and accidentally printed them in class, and the teacher found them on the printer and read them to the whole class, which was super embarrassing. I never owned up to it, but I think everyone knew they were mine.
What music do you draw your inspiration from?
Like I said, Gospel first inspired me, and it led me to other things. I found neo soul like D’Angelo, and Go Go, and rap. That led me to rappers like Kanye West and Chance The Rapper.
When I first starting thinking about rapping, I was listening to fast rappers like Eminem, because I thought that fast rapping was good rapping.
I read the whole dictionary from front to back, which I think was totally worth the time—I think it made me a better rapper. I watched a lot of Watsky videos, and Zack Sherwin. My tastes have evolved since then – these days I listen to guys like Kendrick Lamar, and I appreciate story and wordplay as much as technique.
Chance The Rapper is probably my biggest influence, in terms of direct comparison between his tracks and sound and mine. His Acid Rap album really opened my eyes to new possibilities in rap.
What’s next for you?
Honestly, I don’t know…I’ve got a couple singles I’m working on.
But I’m really working on getting my album heard and played. I’m sending it out to some labels that I have contacts in.
I’m trying to release at least a half a dozen new singles and a new album in 2022. I only released two songs in 2021, and I don’t feel satisfied with that.
Are you performing as well?
COVID really messed me up – I was planning to start doing live performances. I’ve never actually performed my own stuff live. I’m honestly a little bit nervous about it, but I’m really excited to perform. It’s on my list for 2022.
What’s the thing that you’ve made that you’re proudest of?
My song Mommas House. It’s exaggerated a little bit for effect, but it’s the most personal song I’ve ever made – getting kicked out of my mom’s house, which is what prompted me to move from DC to Baltimore. I was really mad at her about the whole situation, but I spent some time thinking about it, and I realized that I had done made some mistakes, and that I needed to make it right. My mom heard the song without me playing it for her.
It’s really helped the relationship between us – it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely better as a result of my making that song.
It’s the fastest I’ve ever written a song.
The best part about music for me is that it lets me convey emotions in a way that just writing something down or saying it out loud can’t. Instead of a diary, I have my music. I’ve written songs about the way I feel after a breakup, about how my girlfriend makes me feel, about feeling depressed and worthless. It’s a great outlet for me. It’s beautiful like that.
Do you collab?
I do, but I’m pretty picky about who I collaborate with. That’s not about the artist, but really about the musical style. Often when people approach me to get on their tracks, I turn them down because I don’t think I’d actually be the best person to have on the track.
How do you think about music and money?
I want to make music my career. I’m committed to putting in the work of making great music, and making sure it gets heard, and making the connections I need to succeed.
And I’m not really a big fan of social media in general, but I see that it’s a powerful tool to get attention and build an audience. I’m working to learn more, to be more online savvy. It feels a little disingenuous for me sometimes.
I find social media emotionally draining. I deleted my personal Facebook a while back, and I don’t really use social media for social reasons. I don’t like the negative aspects – pushing young people to present themselves in a certain aesthetic way. There’s a lot of artifice about the entire social media ecosystem.
I just launched a Tiktok, and think I probably should be more active on Twitter and Instagram. Maybe I’ll start making memes with my music – that might be a way to break through in 2022.
I’ve seen lots of artists break through based on their personality, and I want to follow that path.
There’s a lot of pay-to-win in the music industry, which is just how it is.
How did you find IMF?
I was on Reddit looking for places to share my music and find listeners, and found the IMF subreddit. This was a couple years ago, when the Discord community was really small. I found the community to be really engaging and kind. I’ve been parts of lots of other music community, and IMF felt different. People on IMF seemed to really take a liking to my music and were really supportive. This was when I was first releasing my music, so I really appreciated.
IMF community members are really knowledgeable, and surprisingly willing to share their skills and expertise with other people. It’s really special, and I’m proud to be a member of IMF.
How do you think about people who listen to your music?
I love sharing those experiences with other people. I feel like it’s kind of a mind control device…I can make people feel the way I felt when I made the song, which is kind of incredible.
I’ve gotten messages from people saying that my music really helped them through difficult times. This kid in Australia hit me up, and said, “I was having a really bad day, and I listened to Good Ass Mood, and it just made my day better. I really hope you make more songs like it.”
If I can make one person feel good, I feel like I’ve done my job. I hope my music can spread positivity and joy in the world. It’s all about that human connection.