“London, I used to go ice skating here as a kid,” the 29-year-old British rapper Little Simz tells the crowd at Alexandra Palace. “In 2019, I opened up for Jungle here. And now I’ve sold out two nights. What?!” Tonight, Simz is quite literally at home; we’re about a 15-minute drive from where she grew up in Islington.
Simz – full name Simbiatu Abisola Abiola Ajikawo – commands the stage with a certain militancy. She spits in her inimitable dextrous flow during “X”, one of several songs she performs tonight off her excellent 2022 album No Thank You. Dozens of soldier-like silhouettes march in formation on a screen behind her. There’s a theme here. Simz is dressed like an undercover agent, wearing an oversized white shirt, a neat black tie, matching leather gloves, and a pair of blacked-out Prada shades. On closer inspection of the crowd, she is the kingpin of a stylish army: her most devoted fans are in matching attire – there’s a fleet of dapper fans here to see her tonight.
This tour, which has taken Simz to North America, Australia and now back home, is a big deal for the musician. Simz was 16 when she released her first mixtape in 2010 but it wasn’t until her 2019 album Grey Area – written from the foggy headspace of a quarter-life crisis – that she gained widespread recognition for her work. Still, though, labels like “newcomer” and “one to watch” often preceded her name. It took her 2021 album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert winning the Mercury Prize to cement her position as an artist – so when Simz was named Best New Artist at the Brit Awards a year later, despite being 12 years and four studio albums into her career, it felt like a snub. Still, taking to the stage to accept her prize, she smiled and said: “Thank you.” Now, Simz is finally in a position to say No Thank You – the title of her latest album and also this tour – to an industry that overlooked her for so long.
Simz’s star power is unmistakable tonight. During “I Love You, I Hate You”, which tackles her feelings towards her estranged father, she cruises across the stage to the bouncy baseline. The room heats up as she delivers “Heart on Fire”, backdropped by a projection of an orchestra in a blaze. She coolly laments her disillusionment with the music industry as she vents: “You don’t even recognise who it is that you’re becoming/ They don’t give a s***, long as the gravy train running.”
Other chapters of Simz’s discography swarm tonight’s setlist, too. The explosive track “Venom” from Grey Area sees Simz backlit by a slime-green wash. Her flow is slick across the feminist anthem, spitting: “Never givin’ credit where it’s due ‘cause you don’t like pussy in power.” Later, “101 FM”, a widely treasured Simz track from 2019, sends the crowd into a head-nodding frenzy before they groove to “Point and Kill”, an electric, percussive anthem featuring Nigerian artist Obongjayar.
Simz becomes more vulnerable as the evening unfolds. That secret agent armour is gradually stripped away: her leather gloves, bomber jacket, and sunglasses all removed. There’s a palpable roar when Simz takes off her aviators, showing the crowd her eyes for the first time, and she cracks a huge smile. Simz is letting us in. “I’ve been going through it,” she tells the crowd. “If you’re going through something, I want you to stay strong,” she says before launching into “Broken”, a gospel-inflected song inspired by her mental health struggles. Still, she peels her layers back further. “The world is in a very bleak place right now,” she says, asking the audience to take a minute of silence for the lives lost in the Israel-Hamas war. “Pray for world peace,” she says. “God knows we need it.”
While performing “Woman”, an ethereal, soul-inflected love letter to the versatility of womanhood, Simz brings out west London R&B soul singer, Cleo Sol. The pair cast the crowd into a giddy state before Simz closes the show with “Gorilla” – a sharp, percussive, plucked-bass banger. “Name one time I didn’t deliver,” she teases. That line is more than fitting tonight.