From the outside looking in, the past few years have been pretty special for Sampha. He’s toured the world with his longtime collaborator SBTRKT, featured on Drake’s 2013 album ‘Nothing Was the Same’ and most recently appeared on Kanye’s ‘The Life of Pablo’. Those are just some of the highlights of what’s been a whirlwind couple of years for the Londoner.
On the outside though, looks can be deceiving. and in reality the last few years have been difficult for Sampha. While his career may have blossomed, his personal life has been filled with trauma. His mother sadly passed away after a long battle with cancer back in 2015, something he’s been coping with ever since. It’s only natural then that it would seep into his debut album ‘Process’, a stirring reflection on love, loss and regret.
After spending the last few years primarily as a producer, Sampha has slowly been putting the pieces together on his debut album. Instead of it feeling like it’s overflowing with ideas, it’s an incredibly concise record that’s devoid of filler. Even the sprawling opener Plastic 100°C feels like a fully formed song rather than a half-baked idea. Everything has a purpose – even the strange sound effects near the end of some of the earlier songs act as a way to transition between moods.
Stylistically, Sampha leans more towards the sound of his EPs rather than some of his more recent collaborations. Kora Sings is a breath of fresh air and points to a new direction for him. It’s a wonderfully crafted track that’s equal parts acoustic and electronic . The song is centred around a tantalising hook that worms its way around the accompaniment. Things are fairly measured to begin with, but eventually it becomes chaotic as the song bursts into life with a barrage of offbeat drums and percussion. While most of the album is quite restrained this is a chance for Sampha to let loose and he certainly makes the most of it.
‘Process’ is an album that is tinged with grief, not encumbered by it. The moving ballad (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano is a perfect example of this as on the surface it traces Sampha’s musical origins to the piano in his mother’s home. The second verse reveals the true nature of the song, however, as he sings “An angel by her side all the times I knew we couldn’t cope/ They said that it’s her time, no tears in sight, I kept the feelings close/ And you took hold of me and never, never, never let me go.” It’s moments like this that show us he’s coming to terms with what has happened in his own way.
There have been plenty of albums that have dealt with grief, but few deal with it in such a nuanced and delicate way as ‘Process’. There are times when that grief turns into remorse, like on the solemn number Timmy’s Prayer. Sampha pleads for forgiveness as he sings, “If ever you’re listening, if heavens a prison, then I am your prisoner, I am your prisoner”. If the opening is a quiet prayer then the ending is an exclamation as Sampha bellows over the souped-up production. Incomplete Kisses follows a similar thread, but instead revels in moments of imperfection.
As a debut album it feels as though it’s been in the works for a while. Instead of rushing out a record to please his fans, Sampha took his time to create something that is truly original. The results speak for themselves as he’s produced a remarkably distinguished debut that puts him on par with his contemporaries, if not above them. He has finally taken centre stage and it’s only now that we are getting to see who Sampha truly is.