After spending much of his time in the shadows of other artists to craft his sound, Sampha Sisay has finally broken out into his own with a fantastic debut album.
Sampha entered mainstream rap and R&B as a featured and collaborative artist, working with the likes of Drake on Nothing Was the Same, Kanye West on The Life of Pablo and even Solange on A Seat at the Table. Beyond his features, Sampha released two EPs on Young Turks, a label that sponsors some of the best artists in alternative including FKA Twigs, The xx and SBTRKT. To say his new debut album Process was anticipated would be an understatement, and luckily Sampha rises to the occasion, taking on neo-soul and alternative R&B to add to the already blossoming genre.
Sampha’s voice is the keystone of his latest project. It’s airy like Frank Ocean, but also quite warm and welcoming. Songs like “Plastic 100°C” place his vocals at the front of the often minimal mixes, allowing the listener to focus on exactly what Sampha has to say.
And that is where the power of this LP lies. The main message to take from Process is that Sampha is a human reveling in his success and wallowing in his failures. He expresses the aches and pains of mourning, and the importance of recovery when discussing the devastating loss of his mother to cancer. It pairs perfectly with his music’s calming nature, turning the album into a wholesome experience rather than a collection of indistinguishable songs. It’s hard not to become emotional at moments, especially on “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” when Sampha sings, “An angel by her side, all the times I knew we couldn’t cope, they said that it’s her time, no tears in sight, I kept the feelings close.”
Although each song’s arrangement plays second fiddle to Sampha’s vocals, the variety is surprising. From the sharp synths on “Incomplete Kisses” to an intriguing interpolation of The Chi-Lites’ “The Coldest Days of My Life” on “Timmy’s Prayer,” Sampha is clearly trying to see exactly what fits where, even if it might not be the most commercial or common choice.
The shortcoming of this LP is one song – “Reverse Faults.” As the sixth selection on the album it already struggles to distinguish itself. It tries to break out, but after several listens it blends in, feeling like a mashup of every other track around it rather than something that can stand on its own.
What’s so impressive about Sampha’s debut is that he doesn’t flaunt his influences like so many new artists do. Process features a uniquely individualistic approach to crafting an album, with Sampha writing eight of the 10 tracks on this LP on his own. This contributes even more to his project’s cohesion and helps bolster lesser tracks that might traditionally hamper a listen.
After one listen to Process, it’s obvious Sampha’s story, and unified vision, is one to respect and cherish. The instrumentation and production add their own flairs as well, carrying this LP to impressive heights. Although he has room to build and develop as an artist, Sampha has already matched the clout of many of his peers, marking this as possibly the most impressive debut of this year.