Just months after her Mercury Prize win for Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, Simbiatu Ajikawo goes from strength to strength as one of rap’s essential voices
Prestigious as it is, winning the Mercury Prize has become a poisoned chalice for several artists since its ’90s inception. The pressure mounts: how will the artist grow and develop after this ringing endorsement from the British music industry? In the case of Little Simz the answer has come remarkably quickly, and she is sticking to familiar aesthetics but going from strength to strength on the unexpected and decidedly un-Christmassy No Thank You.
Nigh on every verse has stand-out lines about empowerment, creative independence and inner contentment, whether it’s the fiery kiss-off to corporates on No Merci (“you ain’t in the studio with me, but want commission / and if I wanna release my art, I need permission”) or Simz’s powerful testimony on mental health that characterises Broken. Accompanying this is stellar production from Inflo, which fuses rootsy percussion and warm chords with lavish orchestral flourishes. The latter is very helpful for the album’s overall flow, as even classic rap records can suffer from ‘letting the beat ride’ aimlessly – No Thank You is blessed instead with some show-stopping codas.
Removed from British rap’s mainstream of nocturnal synth loops and laser-precise rhythms, plenty of inspiration is drawn from old-school American hip-hop, particularly with the smooth Ramsey Lewis sample on Gorilla. Simz is firmly in flexing mode, some name-drops to legends and choice words for gossipers, and her delivery alone is enough to make it a highlight of the record. By contrast, brief cut Sideways is abrasive, with blasts of distorted chipmunk soul cutting in like some obscure Madlib vignette, while the verses have a looser, impromptu quality to them.
Silhouette delves into some interpersonal problems a la Lauryn Hill’s Lost Ones, and Who Even Cares delivers a second-person narrative about Simz’s come-up in the form of auto-tuned earworms (“whеn you stopped going to college / they told you you need the knowledge but the work didn’t better you / so you live your life modest / in reality’s promise that your dreams ain’t coming true”). After this Control wraps up the album, and if the track’s romantic focus is out of kilter with the rest of the record it just feels that bit more intimate as a result.
No Thank You could be forgiven for resembling a victory lap, but it is a triumph in its own right, cementing Little Simz’s position as one of rap’s essential voices.