Sampha’s debut commercial release gives us a somber and personal account of his innermost struggles, whilst showing off the beautiful technicality he has for songwriting and production.
One of my favourite projects from last year was Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, and I remember being so blown away the final track, Saint Pablo, which featured a very unique soft and melodic hook that I couldn’t help but adore. It contrasted the rapper’s bars beautifully and added a real sense of humanity to the track. I immediately looked up the feature list and found out that the voice belonged to Sampha, a singer, song-writer and producer from South London, who had been featured on tracks by other big name artists like Drake. Unfortunately for me Sampha didn’t have much solo material that I could listen to, however fast-forward one year and we have his first solo commercial release, Process, an album that was well worth waiting for.
The opening track, Plastic 100C, begins with a sample from astronaut Neil Armstrong who, as he is making his first steps on the moon, states that he’ll “make his way over to the sunlight…without looking directly into it”. This sample is a perfect way to kick of the album as it shows us that while Sampha is excited at the prospect of his first solo project and the opportunities that are to come, he foreshadows that he is still very anxious about it, a theme that is peppered throughout the whole album. From the singles released prior to this album I found it clear that Sampha is not a cocky or arrogant person and Process really emphasises this. He uses the album to explore his innermost struggles, his humanity and his anxieties rather than to brag about the women or money in his life. He is humble, and it makes for really engaging listening.
Sampha uses the second track on the album, Blood on Me, to really explore his overwhelming anxiety by comparing it to a severe case of sleep paralysis. He is at his most vulnerable on this track, as he confronts his deepest demons that have formed due to an overbearing guilt that he feels. In my opinion this is by and large the best song on the album, with excellent production and instrumentals. Seamlessly interwoven between each line of the opening verse we can hear Sampha attempting to catch his breath, as if he is running from something, while a simple piano, drum beat and cow-bell paired with some layered vocals from Sampha himself act as the instrumental. This builds up into a massive crescendo as the chorus kicks in, with the addition of some horns and Sampha’s vocals increasing in tempo and sound.
Another stand-out from the album is (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano, a beautifully somber ode to his mother who passed away recently. This song, much like many others on the album, gets its strength from its simplicity. Sampha is at his best when it is just him and his piano, and his production is so good because less is definitely more in all of his tracks. Sampha uses his unique vocal delivery to carry the whole project on his back, using his voice not just for the lyrics but also for the production. The fact that there isn’t a feature in sight on this product is a testament to that, and if a voice other than Sampha’s was heard on the album I feel it wouldn’t be nearly as impactful.
Process is a fantastic first venture by the English singer and I’m so excited to see whats to come from Sampha.