Here's Our First-Take Listen To Sampha's 'Process' Album
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.
Take Me Inside
Track five starts off with more piano. “Take Me Inside” is short but sweet. Feels like a reprise of “Like The Piano” for the first minute and a half. At the 1:35 mark this song builds with some synthesizers and abruptly cuts off with him singing: “Maybe we’re in too deep, maybe this is all a dream.”
Great transition into “Reverse Faults,” which has some more electronic sounds going on. This has a cool groove going on here with the reverse synth sounds and sparse drumming. There’s a nice drop at 1:55, as he sings: “I took the break pads out the car, as I flew.” The production is phenomenal on this one.
“Under” starts with his vocals chopped up and looped, followed by boom-bap drums drop with some synth stabs. There’s a muted bassline added to the second verse that gives this track a really nice groove. “I wonder, sit and watch you wonder. I see you manipulate your lover. Take cover, waves crashing over us. I go under,” he sings. I like the writing and imagery on this song.
Here’s another previously released single. “Timmy’s Prayer,” like the track before it, has a head-nodding boom-bap beat. Except this joint has fucking bagpipes (shoutout out to The Roots’ Do You Want More?!!!??!). “My brother always said I’m a dreamer, dreamer. Better watch out where this life will lead ya,” Sampha sings with his British accent. This is another early favorite.
The penultimate song on Process starts off with nice R&B feel. “Those incomplete kisses, wait too long you’ll miss it,” he sings on the hook. This is one of the few tracks on this album that grab me within seconds. “Incomplete Kisses” closes out with a piano solo. This is definitely something you should pop on your Valentine’s playlist.
What Shouldn’t I Be?
“What Shouldn’t I Be?” opens with atmospheric strings and the lyrics: “You can always, you can always come home. I know you’ve been out there, out there on your own.” For some reason this song reminds me of something off of Radiohead’s Kid A album, particularly “Treefingers.” While many songs on this record thrive from danceable drum beats and rhythm, this track is very still. Other than “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano,” this is the most vulnerable Sampha gets on Process. A perfect closer.
It’s been more than three years since I first took note of Sampha after seeing his moving performance with Drake on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. After a single spin, it’s clear that Process is worth the wait. The production from start to finish is consistently great and boundary-pushing. He effortlessly changes styles throughout, with his distinctive voice tying these 10 songs into a cohesive piece of music. The one qualm I have with this record is there isn’t much that jumps out at the listener right away. Process feels like a slow-burner that will grow on you with more listens. But after playing this once, I just want to go back and listen to it again. I think this is the best album I’ve heard in a very young, yet tumultuous 2017.
Zach Gase is a freelance writer for Okayplayer + an avid music lover. Follow him (and us!) on Twitter @GooseOhio.