Photo Credit: Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns
Following up on an album like Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is an unenviable task by anyone’s standard. Little Simz Mercury Prize-winning fourth album was an orchestral, genre-mashing masterpiece filled with expert story-telling – upon release, it was widely compared to the likes of Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Simz’ surprise-released follow-up, NO THANK YOU, functions both as a reset and as a sort of prelude to SIMBI. It strips Simz’ sound down to its very core elements and largely does away with its predecessor’s luxurious embellishments.
Occasionally this leads to songs that feel skeletal. Simz is as technically proficient as ever on the six-minute opener “Angel,” but the song keeps roughly the same BPM of 100 throughout its run-time, as Simz confidently but slowly tells her lines. With little else but Simz’ voice and a minimalist beat, the song threatens to collapse in on itself by its final moments.
Without the grand narrative arcs or singular mission of SIMBI, NO THANK YOU is an album that necessarily equals the sum of its parts. This is why it’s relieving that most of the songs on Simz’ fifth album are good to great. Opening with a triumphant, but brief, horn section, “Gorilla” is a deserved victory lap that sees Simz’ luxuriating in the space she’s carved out for herself as she boasts: “Name one time where I didn’t deliver.”
“Heart on Fire,” meanwhile, is Simz doing what Simz does best – a deeply compelling personal tale of overcoming adversity, that’s equal parts somber, hopeful and self-aware. The song finds her exhausted by the world’s many corrupting forces and disillusioned with the trappings of fame (“‘who you wearing’, they so enchanted by attire” she spits with a barely disguised level of disgust in the first verse). The song gets to the heart of Simz’ boundless appeal – the way she cuts through and dismisses the trivial pursuits and ego-stroking that preoccupies many of her hip-hop peers. It’s a reminder that Simz can always be relied on to take the road less traveled – which is precisely why she’s so consistently compelling, even when she’s not persistently reaching the highs we know she is capable of.
The best song on NO THANK YOU is “Broken” – a seven-and-a-half minute masterpiece whose ambition mirrors that of the songs from SIMBI, but is too purposely unwieldy to fit neatly on that LP. It’s a rich character study filled with some of the album’s most relatable sentiments (“‘man, this week has been tough’, been saying that for a year // How do I disappear? Can I hide from fears?”) and an overarching message about all the personal wounds fame and success fail to alleviate (and can often aggravate). It contains some of the most direct and disarming analyses of oppression and generational trauma that Simz has penned to date. Directly calling out her home country of Britain in the third verse, it gives voice to the way systems of oppression crush their subjects into submission (“Didn’t know how to break the mold and now you’re raising a clone”). In the LP’s most disarming moment, Simz spits the lines, “Like they’re just waiting to hear a f*cking crack in your bones.” It’s the closest that the effortlessly smooth rapper comes to losing her cool – her anger palpable through the microphone and her power as an MC more indisputable than ever.