Little Simz is sick of hearing that she’s “underrated”. In September 2021, she bluntly addressed the tag by asking her Twitter followers: “Why don’t you stop being sheep and change the narrative?” It was a curious yet revealing moment: seldom do our current crop of musicians take stock, or at least speak publicly, about their place in the scene. That’s without even mentioning how Simz is currently enjoying widespread praise and bagging numerous accolades along the way, most recently nabbing the Mercury Prize back in October for her fourth album ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’.
‘NO THANK YOU’ arrives as a pleasing coda to this particular purple patch. Announced just a week before its release with minimal fanfare, the stories she details over its 10 tracks seek to demonstrate that, amid the critical acclaim, there have been moments of anguish, frustration and betrayal, too. Some of these have already been made public: due to the spiralling cost of touring, Simz was forced to cancel a run of US dates earlier this year (a common story for independent acts like herself), while there were reports in October of a split with her longtime manager, a situation both parties are yet to comment on.
Regardless, Simz has a bone to pick: with the discourse, the industry hangers-on and those trying to exploit her name for their own gain. On ‘Angel’, she’s candid about the issues at hand: “Why did I give you the keys to authorise shit on my behalf? / Now I’m scarred and mortified,” she calmly reveals. Later on in the track, she speaks about how her success is benefitting everyone around her except herself: “I refuse to be on a slave ship / Give me all my masters and lower your wages.” ‘No Merci’ is equally blunt: “Everybody here getting money off my name / Irony is, I’m the only one not getting paid.”
In lesser hands, this subject could stray into self-pity. But Simz’s storytelling is deft and full of range, gliding between generational trauma (‘Broken’) and faith and the grind (‘Who Even Cares’) with ease. The album’s sonic palette, meanwhile, takes on a mellower and less grandiose tone, with Inflo – the producer behind her last two records and the mysterious musical project Sault – and collaborator Cleo Sol bringing a warm, homely base for Simz to nestle in. There’s still ostentatious string sections to be found on ‘Heart On Fire’ and ‘Broken’, but ‘Gorilla’s twanging bassline brings a playful pace, as does the warped pop of ‘Who Even Cares’.
‘NO THANK YOU’s quiet, understated release provides parallels to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Untitled Unmastered’ release from 2016, a series of leftovers from his ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ sessions. That too had a certain looseness and freedom to the tracks, and, much like Lamar, a clear-headed Simz has something to say urgently. The case for Simz to be recognised as a true modern great has only been strengthened with this release.
- Release date: December 12, 2022
- Record label: Forever Living Originals/AWAL