sampha steps out on his own to deliver a defiant debut album
Known best for his work with the music industry's most prolific artists, Sampha releases something unique and personal with 'Process.'
How do you become one of the music industry's most in-demand collaborators before you've even released a debut album? Ask Sampha Sisay. The south London-native has produced and remixed a slate of the most innovative and progressive music this side of 2010, and lent his distinct, sweet but sonorous voice to the work of Kanye, Frank, Beyoncé, Solange, and Drake. But while his features might read like a who's who of the music industry's finest, his own output has been comparatively small.
Releasing two EPs and one single via Young Turks in the last six years, Sampha has played the long game. Unsurprisingly, given its name, Process certainly sounds like it's been a few years in the making. Out today, the album delivers what devoted fans might have expected, but not what everyone will have wanted. Ten tracks, no guest features, and no big surprises.
But for what Process lacks in glitz and glamour, it makes up for in its pure, unaffected vision. Sampha plays on themes of loss, estrangement, fear and death — understandable for someone who has ascended to fame and lost his mother in recent times. "I'm on this road now. I'm so alone now, swerving out of control now" he sings on "Blood on Me." "Take cover, waves come crashing over and I go under," on "Under."
Tying together the earlier elements of his career, Sampha's more dance-inflected SBTRKT and Lil Silva work circa 2010 can be felt on "Kora Sings," and the sparse, delicate "What Shouldn't I Be?" sounds a little reminiscent of "Valentine" with Jessie Ware. "And I should visit my brother," he sing on the latter, "but I haven't been there in months/I've lost connection signal/to how we were." Certainly Sampha's life no longer resembles the one he led when these earlier tracks were released.
It's towards the middle of the record that Sampha feels his most natural, most assured, "(No One Know Me) Like the Piano" and "Take Me Inside," two stripped-back songs that showcase the talent of his lyricism as much as his vocals and piano playing ability. The tracks are also a reminder that, for all shrewd, considered collaborations, magazines covers, Wales Bonner show soundtracks, Sampha is simply a talented musician, with a unique voice, deserved of the acclaim he's achieved.
Text Ryan White