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Whenever British rapper Little Simz felt like dropping the follow-up to her critical and commercial breakthrough, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, she would have had the world’s attention with every pre-album single and Instagram snippet teasing new music. Instead, she went the surprise release route, sneaking up on the music world with the thrilling NO THANK YOU, which sounds vital and fresh on the heels of Simz’s big breakthrough – a real-time reflection of an artist coming to terms with just how popular they are.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, which took home the Mercury Prize on October 18, introduced the wider rap world to the MC born Simbiatu Ajikawo in 1994. That the album exists at all is a bit of a miracle in Simz’s mind. During her acceptance speech, she said, “There was times in the studio I didn’t know if I was gonna finish this record, I was going through all the emotions.” Alongside producer Inflo – celebrated for his work in Sault, among other efforts – Simz pushed that record over the finish line and into the arms of an adoring audience obsessed with her vulnerable, honest examinations of life in the spotlight, and the unending quest to line up ones desires with a life of authenticity. On NO THANK YOU, it’s unclear if she’s squared the image of who she wants to be with the one she presents on record, but she’s more comfortable than ever expressing her discomfort and joys – the highs, lows, and crushing mids of life in the public eye.
A lot of what you need to know about NO THANK YOU goes down in the mesmerizing, down-tempo leaning minimalist headbanger of an opener, “Angel.” Inflo once again handles production, crafting crisp drums and hollowed-out synths that do their best to stay out of Simz’s way. She raps, “I can see how an artist can get tainted, frustrated / They don’t care if your mental is on the brink of somethin’ dark / As long as you’re cuttin’ somebody’s payslip / And sendin’ their kids to private school in a spaceship.” On a purely technical level, Simz is at her sharpest on the project. The quick internal rhyme of “tainted” and “frustrated” emphasizes the claustrophobia she feels as fans, label heads, and everyone in between pesters her to keep churning out music. She then expands the bar outwards, cleverly juxtaposing her career with those that profit off her. It’s worth remembering that it was only earlier this year that Simz postponed a North American tour because it didn’t make sense financially.
But what makes Simz one of the most exciting and daring artists in the rap game is that empathy is one of the chief motivating factors in her songwriting. Take the way she talks about label bosses on “Angel” and juxtapose it with her thoughts on “Broken.” Over a looped melodic sample and hi-hats that hint at chaos but never introduce it, Simz raps, “There’s a reason why the doves will never fly with the crows / Chapters eventually close, your friends will turn into foes / Everybody’s so obsessed with the CEO / She probably got the most troubles that she’ll never disclose.” Simz’ ability to not only show differing perspectives but imbue them with equal urgency is a talent that makes her stand apart from virtually anyone else in the game.
On both Sometimes I Might Be Introvert and NO THANK YOU, Little Simz surfs between joy and pain, trauma and triumph, isolation and community. On the former, she posited these feelings we perceive as negative as a bad thing to qualify. On NO THANK YOU, she owns each moment she encounters, finding positivity when she can, and refusing to apologize when she’s left needing more.