Sampha has been lingering on the bubble for the past three or so years, notching impressive collaborations with Drake (most notably “Too Much” off of Nothing Was The Same) and SBTRKT along the way. In 2016, the South London producer / singer appeared on three of the biggest albums of the year: Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo (on last-second addition to “Saint Pablo”), Frank Ocean’s Endless (on the brief, but stellar “Alabama”) and Solange’s A Seat at the Table (on the standout cut, “Don’t Touch My Hair”).
After several years of supporting other artists, Sampha has finally set off on his own to release his debut LP, Process. The album was preceded by three singles – “Timmy’s Prayer,” “Blood on Me” and the breathtaking “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano.” All three of these songs have a different flavor from the slow-driving hip-hop drums of “Timmy’s Prayer,” to the dancy “Blood on Me,” to the stripped-down ballad of “Like The Piano.” He can operate well in all three of these lanes, but can he pull it off over the course of an entire album?
Like we did with Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love!” and Syd’s Fin, we’re going to take a stab at reviewing Sampha’s long-awaited debut on a single listen.
The album opens with dreamy guitars and Sampha’s unique vocals. “Plastic 100ºC” slowly builds until the drums crash at the 2-minute mark and has a nice chorus: “It’s so hot I’ve been melting out here, I’m made out of plastic out here.” With a clip of someone talking on the phone, warning him to not stare directly into the sun, I feel like this track is about the pressure he feels in the music industry. The last minute of the song gets stripped back, as he sings “I’m melting from the light, one drip at a time.” This doesn’t immediately grab me but is a solid opening cut.
Blood On Me
Those who’ve been following Sampha already know the deal with the second track on Process. Originally released as the record’s second single back in September, “Blood On Me” serves as a great follow up to “Plastic 100ºC” and sounds even better in the context of the album. It features sharp drum programming and some piano stabs that is similar to his work with SBTRKT. This chorus is a straight banger, if not slightly paranoid: “I swear they smell the blood on me, the way they’re coming for me.” It’s upbeat and frantic, and Sampha is singing like he’s surrounded by sharks. There’s a cool little piano solo / break at around the three-minute mark that I didn’t notice when I first heard this as a single.
“Kora Sings” with some Middle Eastern-sounding strings (possibly a sitar). This has an interesting vibe and is unlike anything I’ve heard from Sampha previously. At the 1:15 mark, there’s a cool drop and all of a sudden this is a dance song. The melody isn’t the most memorable, but musically this track is very strong. All kinds of different drum sounds; definitely something to nod your head to.
(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano
Even before hearing this full record, I had “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano” earmarked as my favorite song of 2017. It’s only been a month, and this year has been relentlessly terrible. In a Donald Trump presidency, songs like this are more important than ever. If you’ve been following the news over the past few weeks, you’re probably growing more and more terrified of what’s happening in our country. Hearing the tenderness of Sampha’s voice over these keys, while he pours his heart out to his mother’s piano, gives me a little peace. I just want to curl up in a ball and listen to this song forever.