I first heard of Sampha in late 2013 when Drake released “Nothing Was the Same.” As I progressed through the highly-anticipated Drake release for the first time, I remember feeling somewhat underwhelmed. That was, until I got to the penultimate track, “Too Much.” The first 45 seconds of the track feature dreamy piano keys and an angelic, unnamed voice. His ethereal falsetto peaks with the line “This is more than just a new lust for you,” just as Drake’s first verse breaks and the a cappella ballad melts into a more familiar trap beat. I replayed the intro at least a dozen times. I had to know who was behind the voice. As I would later find out, his name is Sampha Sisay.
Sampha, as he is referred to, was not some vocalist that Drake, from his regal position in the music industry, plucked out of obscurity to be suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Sampha is an artist in his own right. Make no mistake, this was not an Usher-Bieber relationship. Sampha was a bona fide talent whose work commanded respect, and Drake admired that. He established himself through his collaboration with the SBTRKT collective. Working with SBTRKT head Aaron Jerome, the duo produced three hit singles between 2010 and 2013. These early works had a more industrial, bare-bones feel, a style which, by today’s standards, sounds rather amateurish and desolate. However, he has adapted with the evolving sound of industrial electronic music in the seven-or-so years since their release.
This transition is likely influenced by his work with other major artists like Drake, Kanye West, Jessie Ware and Solange. All these influences culminate in his first and only full-length album entitled “Process.” Released in 2017, it was the work fans had been waiting for. Critics had questioned his ability to put together a comprehensive and cohesive album as he regularly appeared as a featured artists and only occasionally putting out singles.
“Process” was a chance to prove himself, and that he did. The end result is a remarkable, meditative “process” of self-discovery battling intense, ruminating thoughts of doubt and despair.
“(It) feels like a concept album on which Sampha rediscovers himself,” said Marcus J. Moore of Pitchfork in his apt description of “Process.”
The second track on the album “Blood on me” is emblematic of everything listeners love about Sampha’s debut work. The bridge “Ay, oh, I am” is more than just a catchy ad lib. In an interview with Genius, Sampha explains how the repetitive nature of this line relates to the theme of the song; namely, feeling trapped and running from the haunting guilt of your past, always on the verge of being exposed. He took this concept quite literally as he would literally run around the studio to make himself out of breath before recording.
“I would run and try to really get into the mood of the song. I was really out of breath, trying to make myself feel angry. I tried to put that passion into recording the hook.”
“(No Ones Knows Me) Like the Piano” is a lucid, pining tribute to his mother and her support as a child growing up in Morden, London. Sampha’s mother, Binty, was the most important person in his life after his father passed away when he was 10 years old. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and would continue to battle the disease for seven years with her son by her side until she too passed. In this track, Sampha longs for the comfort of their modest home in suburban London where he could spend hours at the family’s piano, a gift from his father in the hopes that it would be “a productive alternative to watching TV.” Thankfully, Sampha took to the piano or the world might not have known the genius he possessed.
Mitchell Clark is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.