Best new artist at the BRITS. Mercury Prize winner. And, whether you believe an award can be evenly split or not, winner of the best album at the MOBOs just two weeks ago. It’s fair to say Little Simz – the moniker of Simbiatu Abisola Abiola Ajikawo – has had quite the year, reaping the rewards from her incisive 2021 album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.
So when the Islington-born rapper announced less than a week ago that a new album would be dropping before the year was up, of course it was met with adulation. But perhaps, if you’re a slight cynic like me, the news posed a question too: why release something else when the ink has barely settled on your latest prize?
Well, if there’s one thing we should be aware of about Little Simz by now, it’s that she follows no one – and never compromises when it comes to her art.
In fact, such sentiment is the point that’s driven home on her new album’s opener ‘Angel’, with its hushed, pared back beat sitting beneath Simz’ forthright lyricism and a gentle chorus from previous collaborator Cleo Sol.
“They don’t care if your mental is on the brink of somethin’ dark / As long as your cuttin’ somebody’s payslip / And sendin’ their kids to private school in a spaceship”, Simz asserts of people in the industry, before adding the even more emphatic, “I refuse to be on a slave ship / Give me all my masters and lower your wages”.
Whether such lines refer to events that led to her cutting ties with her former manager of seven years, reportedly just weeks before the Mercury Prize, is unclear. Her message to other artists to “know your worth and stick to your guns”, however, after she was forced to abandon a US tour earlier this year, offers another suggestion to the fact not everything has been smooth – financially and contractually – for the artist.
Similarly subtle ‘No Merci’ provides akin reflections: “If the contract more than 2 pages, a bad sign / I was convinced it was fine, it’s my damn time.”
What we do know musically is that such moments, all delivered in the same crisp manner, demonstrate Simz’ ability to assert without needing to shout. As the self-effacing title of her previous album set out, she’s come to embody the fact that a greater strength lies not in being the loudest in the room, but the most authentic.
The beautiful, seven-and-a-half minute ‘Broken’ does this better than most, continuing the honest confession-making of Simz’ previous album, as it oscillates between the first and third person – a higher Simz consoling her human, vulnerable self. ‘Heart on Fire’, which recounts the struggles of early life and trying to make it for yourself, is equally emotive.
Thankfully, Simz has had some people around her she can rely on. Especially her friend and producer Dean Josiah Cover, aka Inflo, who also recently picked up a well-earned award at the MOBOs for best producer.
The pair have known each other since they were young, and worked together on Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, as well as Simz’ 2019 GREY Area. Their ability to experiment and not be boxed in is evident once again on NO THANK YOU.
‘Broken’ ends with a good minute-and-a-half of classical strings, for instance, whilst the spaciousness of ‘Who Even Cares’, also featuring Cleo Sol, sounds like it could feature on a downtempo balearic mix.
That said, what worked so potently with Sometimes I Might Be Introvert was the sheer amount of varying styles, the moments of high-energy and the softer climes; the fact it could jump from the likes of near-acapella ‘I See You’ to swaggering, trap-influenced ‘Rollin Stone’ via the cinematic interlude ‘The Rapper That Came To Tea’.
It was these unexpected twists and turns that granted the album such depth. NO THANK YOU is a more consistent album throughout and whilst there are some more impassioned moments, notably on ‘Silhouette’ and ‘X’, for instance, both of which are powerfully backed with a gospel choir, you still hope for one more moment of fervency – one more ‘Introvert’ or ‘Speed’.
That, no doubt, will be sure to come. And with NO THANK YOU released the way it has been, we should begin to see it all amounting to the legacy and catalogue of Simz’ art – one which we’ll be dipping in and out of for years to come – rather than standalone projects.
As Simz reminds us on ‘Gorilla’, “I got bangers out in the world soarin’, and I got bangers in the vault, I been hoardin’”. Indeed she does. And as for what’s to come, we can only say: yes, please.