London rapper Little Simz has won the Mercury Prize, for the best British or Irish album of the last 12 months.
The 28-year-old took the £25,000 award for her fourth album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, a hip-hop coming-of-age tale delivered with a cinematic sweep.
She told the ceremony in London on Tuesday she was “very overwhelmed and grateful” to receive the honour.
And the star paid tribute to the other nominees, who included Self Esteem, Wet Leg, Harry Styles and Sam Fender.
“We all made incredible albums,” she said on stage. “We all changed people’s lives with our music, and that’s the most important thing.”
Little Simz adds the Mercury to the Brit Award she won earlier this year. That was for best newcomer, despite the fact she released her debut album seven years ago.
But she has grown in stature and acclaim with every release, and was also nominated for the Mercury for her last LP, Grey Area, in 2019.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert reached number four in the UK album chart when it was released a year ago, and topped a BBC News “poll of polls”, which combined the results of 30 critics’ end-of-year lists for 2021.
Her appearances at the Reading and Leeds festivals over the summer also cemented her status as a crowd-pleasing main stage performer.
She is the 31st winner of the Mercury Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in music. Singer-songwriter Arlo Parks won last year, while other recent holders include Michael Kiwanuka, Dave and Wolf Alice.
Contrary to the title, Little Simz is bursting with confidence on her fourth album, which takes you on a journey through her family background and artistic struggles over a funky, orchestral brand of hip-hop.
On Little Q, she raps from the perspective of her cousin, who was stabbed in the chest in south London. The moving I Love You / I Hate You, meanwhile, is addressed to the father who abandoned her when she was 11. “Never thought my parent would give me my first heartbreak,” she observes.
The star’s laid-back delivery balances the sadness with empathy and understanding, and the music pulses with an unstoppable life force.
As well as rapping about her family, it is a deeply personal album on which Little Simz, real name Simbiatu Ajikawo, confronts her own inner self plus themes of race, womanhood and community.
She told BBC News after the ceremony: “I just pray I can do what I can and contribute what I can to the landscape of music and society in whatever way, shape or form, and just try and speak for those that don’t have a voice and use my platform and my gift for the greater good.”
In her acceptance speech, she paid tribute to her family and her co-writer and producer Inflo.
“There was times in the studio when I didn’t know if I was going to finish this record,” she told the audience at the Hammersmith Apollo. “I was feeling all the emotions and really going through it. He stuck by me and pushed me to deliver this album for you guys.”
The Mercury Prize judges said: “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.”
Tuesday’s ceremony, which featured performances from 11 of the 12 nominated acts, took place almost six weeks later than planned, after it was postponed at the last minute due to the death of the Queen.
On 8 September, several of the artists had already arrived and rehearsed for the show when news broke of the Queen’s death.
The full list of Mercury Prize nominated albums:
- Jessie Buckley & Bernard Butler – For All Our Days That Tear The Heart
- Joy Crookes – Skin
- Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under
- Gwenno – Tresor
- Kojey Radical – Reason To Smile
- Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
- Fergus McCreadie – Forest Floor
- Nova Twins – Supernova
- Self Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure
- Harry Styles – Harry’s House
- Wet Leg – Wet Leg
- Yard Act – The Overload