How far can one singer go on just word and mouth and some features on other artists’ songs? In pop music, it seems like you can go pretty far before you release your own LP. Even to the point where people don’t realize that same someone’s music isn’t good. There’s just so much hype surrounding the album that we feel like we’re supposed to like it or suffer the price of uncoolness.
Every now and then, however, there IS a release that lives up to the hype. Sampha’s Process is one of those exceptions. Released six years after his first feature on a Jessie Ware single called Valentine, Process is Sampha’s debut album on the Young Turks label. With a features resume that includes Drake, Kanye West, Frank Ocean and FKA twigs along with being a contributor to SBTRKT, the media had no choice but to put the pressure on England’s newest pop musician. Being a fan of the above mentioned artists, I was excited to see what Sampha came up with for his first solo release and I’ll admit, it’s pretty good.
But is it good because Sampha’s good or is it because I trust the tastemakers who put him on a pedestal? At the end of the day, that’s an impossible question to answer because Sampha’s rap sheet will always be there. Another way one could look at it is that perhaps it’s not the artists like Drake or Kanye who have made us like Sampha but Sampha, himself, that’s made us like Drake and Kanye. Many artists bring in younger musicians to keep their sound relevant; it’s not an argument worth ruling out.
Besides the existential drama, Process IS a good album. Following in the footsteps of UK minimalists like James Blake or Burial, and taking cues from America’s hip hop scene, Sampha sets the bar for pop music yet to come this year.The album unfolds sonically like a white canvas presented to a painter. Sampha knows that 2016 had a lot of unsatisfactory music attached to it so he starts from the ground up and creates his own landscape instead of adding to the status quo.
At very few points, Process feel like a ‘full-sounding’ album. By that, I mean that there’s a lot of free space to move around in for the listener. A professor of jazz music once told me that, in music, it’s not the notes that the musician plays that count, but the notes they’re NOT playing. Sampha is comfortable in the empty space between his organic synthesizers and programmed drums where he sits and delivers his soulful vocals.
Between the classically cool vibes on Process, Sampha is approaching a theme on his first album which is where he stands apart from the other pop artists who are just coming out. Tracks like (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano, or Timmy’s Prayer have a biographical feel which stir up feeling sympathetic emotions towards Sampha. “I should visit my brother, but I haven’t been there in months, I’ve lost connection, signal, to how we were” He sings on the final track What Shouldn’t I Be?. It’s clear that on his solo releases, Sampha will tell his own story instead of indulging pop fans to another song that commands us to “just have fun” or “forget about tomorrow”. Process is the first chapter in what will be a yarn of a career for the South London singer.
So while some artists may stumble after having the training wheels taken off, Sampha is riding on his own talent easily without relying on his famous friends. Process is the breath of fresh air that pop culture has yearned for and is gladly welcomed by the music snobs as much as it is to the everyday top 40 listener. Congratulations to Sampha on the hard work so far and good luck on your promising future releases.
Click here to hear Timmy’s Prayer
– By Mike Metcalf