• Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

The artistic genius of Mercury Prize winner Little Simz

BySasha White

Nov 8, 2022

On October 18th, Simbiatu Abisola Abiola Ajikawo aka Little Simz won the prestigious Mercury Prize for her critically acclaimed 2021 album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. 

After winning the Brit Award for Best New Artist earlier in the year, many were quick to point out that Little Simz is by no means a ‘new’ artist. She has been consistently releasing thought-provoking music of the highest quality for the better part of twelve years. In fact, what many don’t realise is that she is one of the few two time nominees for the Mercury Prize which is a reflection of the fact that she has been at the top of her game for a long time. It is only now that she is being showered with (long overdue) praise and accolades. Whilst music prizes are certainly not signifiers of real or true artistry – many remarkable musicians may never win an award in their life – this Mercury Prize win is symbolic of much more. What we are seeing is the mainstream media centering, honouring, and uplifting a Black female rapper and recognising her singular talent within a traditionally male dominated field. Simz was quick to squash the misconception that she is an ‘underdog’ on Twitter upon the release of SIMBI, stating that “instead of sayin ‘simz is underrated’ why don’t you stop being sheep and change the narrative”. Simz makes a valid point, if we keep using ‘overrated’ and ‘underrated’ as barometers for artistic success, what does that say about us as a society? Simz staunchly rejects comparison or categorization and continues to establish herself as an inimitable voice. 

As she gave her acceptance speech, Simz was quick to deflect gratitude onto her fellow nominees and the people who helped her in the process of making the album: a true marker of her authenticity and self-effacing nature. With her signature grace, she highlighted the importance of her longtime producer Inflo who “stuck by” her when she didn’t know if she was going to finish the record. 

Simz is a tenacious artist dedicated to her craft, self-releasing each of her albums on her own label, Age 101, and establishing herself as one of the most talented artists of her generation. The Mercury Prize judges reflected on the genius of her process, remarking that “This accomplished and complex yet entirely accessible album is the work of someone striving constantly to push herself. It deals with themes both personal and political while putting them against music that is as sophisticated as it is varied. The Mercury Prize is all about shining a light on albums of lasting value and real artistry. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert has both.” 

The irony in the album’s title is revealed from the outset as her voice bursts with conviction and self-assurance despite tackling heavy themes. Simz describes the album as her “finding power within [my] introversion. People associate it with being really shy and quiet but I’m also very confident. I’ve never felt the need to be the loudest person in the room. I know my presence holds weight”. On ‘Little Q’, she assumes her cousin’s point of view, who was stabbed in the chest in South London. Meanwhile, she expresses her conflicted and complicated relationship with her father who abandoned her when she was 11 on ‘I Love You / I Hate You’: “Never thought my parent would give me my first heartbreak”. As well as rapping about her family and upbringing, it is a profoundly personal album on which Simz confronts her inner self whilst meditating on themes of race, womanhood, and community. A fan favourite ‘Woman’ sees her collaborating with fellow Brit Cleo Sol to deliver a gorgeously captivating ode to women and female solidarity which also serves as a prime example of her astute lyricism: “He was getting bitter while she was getting better / Diamonds are forever”. 

It is crucial to mention that despite being a beacon of hope for independent artists, Simz has been forced to cancel her upcoming US tour highlighting the financial unviability of touring for many independent artists during the cost of living crisis.  Simz’s situation is a stark reminder that the road is never straightforward for independent artists. It serves as a call to arms to support independent musicians in their struggle to stay afloat during the current economic climate. 

All in all, Little Simz is an unstoppable force who demands to be heard. Her music is both timely and timeless, honest, and vulnerable. It evokes anger, sadness, hope, empathy and understanding in equal measure. Simz sums herself up best in an interview from last summer, saying “I’ve always felt that I had something else to offer. I’m in my own lane and I have been for a very long time. I plan to continue doing that”. 

Illustration ‘Little Simz wins Mercury Prize’ by Ola Jackiewicz