Little Simz has won the 2022 Mercury prize for her fourth album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. The 28-year-old north London rapper and actor was the only second-time nominee in a field of artists otherwise up for their first Mercury; she was previously nominated for her third album, Grey Area, in 2019.
Accepting the award at London’s Eventim Apollo on Tuesday night, Simz, born Simbiatu Ajikawo, initially stood speechless. “Wow. I’m very very overwhelmed, I’m very grateful,” she said. “Glory to God – God thank you so much; to my family over here, my loved ones right here. I wanna say a huge thank you to the Mercury for this incredible, incredible prize. I wanna say a thank you to my brother and close collaborator [producer] Inflo – Flo [has] known me since I was so young, he’s stuck by me, we created this album together. There was times in the studio I didn’t know if I was gonna finish this record, I was going through all the emotions … he stuck by me.”
She also celebrated her fellow nominees. “All of you guys are incredible, we all made incredible albums, we all change people’s lives with our music and that’s the most important thing, so this is for us really, you know what I’m saying?”
The award, given to the best British or Irish album of the year, comes with a cash prize of £25,000. This year’s ceremony was rescheduled from 8 September after it coincided with the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Simz performed her song How Did I Get Here on the night.
“The album that we have chosen deals with themes both personal and political; the music is as sophisticated as it is varied. This is a truly exceptional album,” said DJ Jamz Supernova as she presented Simz with the prize.
Simz is a staunchly DIY artist, self-releasing each of her albums on her own label, Age 101, and steadily establishing herself as a major UK act over the past decade. The prize may come as a vindication: on the release of Sometimes…, she tweeted to anyone who continued to characterise her as an underdog: “Instead of sayin ‘simz is underrated’ why don’t you stop being sheep and change the narrative?”
Described by Mercury prize host Lauren Laverne as “her most intimate record to date”, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert rode high in many of 2021’s albums of the year lists, topping the BBC 6 Music poll and coming third in the Guardian’s list. “Simbiatu Ajikawo demonstrates that she has no shortage of bold, cinematic vision,” wrote critic Jenessa Williams. “A narrative journey in the truest sense, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is upfront about the sharp sense of self-doubt that so often chases the sweet intoxication of success.”
Those successes have continued into 2022. The Mercury marks Simz’s second major prize this year after she won best new artist at the Brit awards in February, albeit to the confusion of some fans. Simz released her debut mixtape in 2010, but Sometimes… was her first release to place in the UK albums chart – reaching No 4 – and hence the first time she was eligible for the Brit awards.
Nevertheless, critical success as a DIY artist can only go so far: in April, Simz cancelled her upcoming US tour citing financial unviability. “Being an independent artist, I pay for everything encompassing my live performances out of my own pocket and touring the US for a month would leave me in a huge deficit,” she said at the time. “As much as this pains me to not see you at this time, I’m just not able to put myself through that mental stress.”
Simz’s win also marks a victory for producer – and her childhood friend – Inflo, who co-produced 2020’s Mercury-winning album, Michael Kiwanuka’s Kiwanuka, alongside Danger Mouse. He was named producer of the year at this year’s Brit awards, having also worked on Adele’s 2021 album, 30.
Aside from Simz, this year’s Mercury nominees included former One Direction megastar Harry Styles, chart-topping Isle of Wight indie duo Wet Leg, Geordie singer-songwriter Sam Fender, Oscar-nominated actor Jessie Buckley for her collaborative album with Suede’s Bernard Butler (who won the prize in 1993 as part of Suede), and grime star Kojey Radical. Four of the albums nominated – those by Wet Leg, Kojey Radical, R&B singer Joy Crookes and post-punk band Yard Act – were debut records.
Other than Styles and, to a lesser extent, Fender, there were few pop A-listers to be found on this year’s shortlist. Instead, the list highlighted lesser-known artists, such as Scottish jazz pianist Fergus McCreadie, Cornish-language synth-pop artist Gwenno, punk duo Nova Twins and alt-pop singer Self Esteem, whose nominated album Prioritise Pleasure the Guardian named the best of 2021.
The judging panel for this year’s Mercury included artists Anna Calvi, Jamie Cullum and Loyle Carner, as well as broadcasters, DJs, writers and industry figures. “Getting down to 12 albums this year was not easy, simply because there were so many remarkable ones to choose from,” the panel said of the shortlist. “That serves as proof that British and Irish music thrives during unsettled periods in history … We feel that these 12 amazing albums each have something to say artistically and socially, all in their own unique, enriching ways.”
Last year’s Mercury prize was won by Arlo Parks, who was lauded by the judging panel as “an artist with a singular voice who uses lyrics of remarkable beauty to confront complex themes of mental health and sexuality”. Parks won for her debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams, which reached No 3 on the UK charts and was nominated for the Grammy award for best alternative music album.