“You need to know you’re witnessing greatness,” declares Little Simz, halfway through her sold-out show at London’s Alexandra Palace. “I don’t say that with arrogance, I say it with confidence.” It’s a reflection of the competitive streak that runs through all of the UK’s most talented rappers, and on the crowning night of her ‘NO THANK YOU’ tour, it’s a testament to the progress Simbi Ajikawo has made in recent years.
Following the release of promising yet unpolished early projects like ‘A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons’ and ‘Stillness in Wonderland’, Simz has embarked on a phenomenal three-album run that’s cemented her place as one of the world’s finest rappers. She followed breakthrough 2019 record ‘GREY Area’ (voted NME’s Best British Album in 2020) with 2021’s deeply personal, hugely ambitious feat of storytelling ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’. Then, she unleashed surprise fifth studio album ‘NO THANK YOU’ (a fierce outpouring of emotion inspired by a struggle with a manager who was curtailing her artistic freedom) last December — thereby avoiding media hype, eschewing end of the year lists and encapsulating her strongly independent outlook.
Throughout 2023, Simz has been killing shows all over the planet. Her schedule has included a headline spot at Love Supreme Festival, appearances at Parklife and NASS Festival, and the launching of the worldwide ‘NO THANK YOU’ tour this Autumn, supported on the UK leg by longtime collaborator OTG and Hak Baker, the ‘G-folk’ wordsmith whose debut album ‘World’s End FM’ received a four-star review from NME earlier this year. Tonight’s show is a more elaborate version of the set she’s been delivering to fans across the world throughout this period, with ramped up visuals and playful chat throughout.
She kicks off with ‘Silhouette’, the backstage visuals supporting the song’s theme by displaying the silhouetted figures of the gospel choir whose vocals help structure the track, swaying and dancing to the smooth hip-hop beat as it builds behind Simz’s clean, measured verses: “When the drums speak to me, I just breathe through it / Cool with a little flair, how does she do it?”
At the close of ‘Two Worlds Apart’, the crowd sings back the track’s extended hook (“And I love you”), sampled from Smokey Robinson’s ‘The Agony and The Ecstasy’, to which Simz replies “I love you too, London!” After a fiery rendition of ‘Venom’, her slim black Prada shades are off, and with a serious tone, the north London rapper addresses the audience. “The world is a bleak place right now. I want to take a moment to pray for world peace.” Her next track, ‘Introvert’, feels particularly apt in light of her subtle reference to the suffering of the Palestinian people. Lyrics like “There’s a war outside / I hear battle cries” are given further pertinence, and she changes the final word of the lyric: “I’m not into politics / But I know it’s dark times / Parts of the world still living in apartheid” to “genocide”, getting a huge roar of approval from the crowd.
Best known for her ability on the mic, Simbi Ajikawo also demonstrates her instrumental skills on multiple occasions. For the second half of the set she’s joined by regular bandmembers Nate (bass and keys) and Jordan (guitar and bass), and with their backing she pulls out a white Fender and plucks away a rhythmic lick throughout ‘Fear No Man’, before shuffling behind a Roland Gaia to play keys for ‘Protect My Energy’. The whole time, she’s dressed in the oversized shirt and tie combo she’s been donning all year (a number of fans turn up similarly dapper, which Simz notes: “I’m so grateful to everyone that put on a shirt and tie, and everyone that just made the effort to buy a ticket”).
“This week has been treacherous,” Simz admits toward the show’s climax, detailing her recent struggles with illness before insisting tonight’s gig has perked her up. The importance of mental health is also addressed, with the Tottenham rapper delivering a heartfelt message to anyone struggling in her introduction to ‘Broken’, a poignant documentation of individual hardship built on lyrics like “I’ve been hitting some lows and never telling a soul / You can have everything and nothing, still nobody knows.”
There’s true appreciation for the London crowd throughout the evening. Almost the entire first verse of ‘NO THANK YOU’ hit ‘Gorilla’ is rapped back word for word, a capella. At one point, Simz hops offstage to take a series of Polaroids, before signing them and distributing them to fans. When Cleo Sol — a fellow Londoner and longtime collaborator who features heavily on both ‘NO THANK YOU’ and ‘S.I.M.B.I’ — comes onstage to sing her honeyed hook for ‘Woman’, the place erupts. “You lot are spoilt, you know,” says Simz, after Cleo heads backstage. “Nowhere else, just home.” Simz was always likely to save something special for her hometown crowd.
Little Simz played:
‘Two Worlds Apart’
‘I Love You, I Hate You’
‘Heart On Fire’
‘Might bang, might not’
‘Point and Kill’
‘Fear No Man’
‘Protect My Energy’
‘Who Even Cares’
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