I first heard of Sampha in 2013 when Drake had him featured on “Too Much.” Since then, his collaborative efforts with juggernauts like Drake such as Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and Solange Knowles, have really given popular music listeners no choice but to have heard Sampha‘s raw and powerful voice. After 2 EPs in 2010 and 2013 respectively, it’s about time Sampha contributed to the immense music scene with a full-length album if his own.
When he dropped this tweet, I felt that we’re only seeing Sampha just getting started.
Welllll my first album drops at midnight wherever you are…Heart thumping 😱 pic.twitter.com/K6JLVb88n0
— Sampha (@sampha) February 2, 2017
When Sampha was three years old, his family bought a piano. He says this was probably done as an attempt to distract him from the gang culture of South London and concentrate his efforts on becoming a creative. This piano has become the symbol of his artistic birth. A constant in his life, it’s only appropriate that the fourth track of Process is a ballad to that instrument which changed his life and shaped his career. He simply states ‘No one knows me like the piano in my mother’s home.’ That is quite possibly true. If that piano is the reason for his musical genius, I thank both the piano and Sampha‘s family for that inspired purchase.
Let’s talk about the beginning of this album. I wasn’t entirely sure what a Sampha album would sound like, what vibes it would predominantly give us and how he would arrange his debut LP to look. “Plastic 100 Degrees” kicks this album off and it’s the exact kind of intro I knew he was capable of making: a grand, cloudy, five-minute bombshell. The intricacy of the string section and the way he places his sombre vocals over the top is a great demonstration of his excellent writing abilities. ‘It’s so hot I been melting out here’ he sings, a strong message to start off this intense listening experience. As an artist perhaps most commonly known for his backing vocals for other artists, to hear him take centre stage is a wonderful thing.
Process honestly feels like a project where he discovers who HE is. His personal health problems have been a hindrance to him, but he feels free and ready to experiment again. I get strong James Blake vibes from songs like the opener, “Kora Sings” and “Reverse Faults,” which undoubtedly contribute to why they’re in the top tier of this album. Rodaidh McDonald co-produced the project and made songs like Under. Which, whilst it has a more trap-influenced instrumental, really gives the album a well-rounded sound. It’s like John Legend meets James Blake. I usually try and refrain from comparing artists, but Sampha‘s music really does sound like a masterful blend.
A standout track is “Blood On Me,” a bit more pop than the others but serves as more proof that Sampha can make standalone tunes by himself. He talks about moving past trauma, ‘I’m on this road now, I’m so alone now, swerving out of control now’. His confident and overpowering voice is somehow also calming. Producing range and depth, I admire the skill set he possesses. The second reason I love this song is because of the concept of having blood on you and the double entendre involved. The phrase can mean you’re guilty of something hideous, but also that people are hunting you. Why Sampha is being chased, that’s a little harder to work out.
“Timmy’s Prayer” is a melancholic and hard-hitting song, co-written by Kanye West. ‘If heaven’s a prison, then I am your prisoner’ sings Sampha, as he discusses the relationship he wished for. If having Yeezy co-write a single on your debut album isn’t a sign of immense things to come, there aren’t many other signs you can give. Besides, Kanye is returning the favour. Sampha’s feature in Saint Pablo on Ye’s album last year was eery and glistening, so we can all see why Kanye chose to keep him in his lengthy and star-studded contacts list.
This album is 40 minutes long. I could see why someone would feel as if it’s only 20 minutes long OR if they felt it was 2 hours long. The more solid and standout tracks here are made more so by tracks like “Take Me Inside” and “Incomplete Kisses,” which feel more like interludes, despite being almost as long as the main songs. And that’s not to suggest they lack quality – they distort the project time-wise, leaving an unbalanced beauty left to manifest in a track list with no obvious flaws. They tie this project together smoothly and complete a 10-track ensemble with dashes of imaginative piano-based love songs and bolder, pop electronic hits.
The simplistic cover art to Sampha’s debut, Process
I’m a big fan of how Sampha manages to elevate his talents into the form of a fully conceptualised body of work. The beats are actually a tad unexpected in some ways, mainly because they’re ambitious in their minimalism. The final song on Process is really weird to me but I love it. “What Shouldn’t I Be?” is a title which immediately provokes thought, at a time in the album that you’d view as a resting point. His haunting, soulful voice is an appetiser for the expert lyricism, a recipe suggesting Sampha might’ve been detached from himself for some time. ‘I should visit my brother, but I haven’t been there in months’. These thoughts are intrusive and help paint the glossy and emotional picture in his head.
His thoughts and feelings are the premise to Process as the title suggests; this project is severely interesting to digest and decode. Layered production, an improved vocal ability and the nature of this music all spearhead to complete a fuse of simple complexity.
Process, for me, is an 8/10 album at the bare minimum and with the benefit of hindsight, I’d possibly consider giving it a 9. I was expecting a good project because Sampha is a talented man but I’m surprised with just how good it is. It’s deeper than I was anticipating and it’s one of the best debut albums I can think of from the last 12 months.
Favourites: Plastic 100 Degrees, Blood On Me, No One Knows Me Like the Piano, Reverse Faults, Under
Least Favourites: Incomplete Kisses (I guess)
Process Album Review by GK; Follow him on Twitter @gk_enndy
Check out his other work for EVRYDY, below: