By Trent Warner
Sampha has just barely skirted the public eye for six years, but it’s safe to say he’s your favourite pop star’s favourite pop star. Having worked in varying capacities with the likes of SBTRKT, FKA Twigs, Beyoncé, Solange, Frank Ocean, Drake, and Kanye West, it’s dumbfounding that his full-length debut Process is only now upon us. For an artist who has previously spent his time on the sidelines, it’s been well worth the wait: Process is earnest, vulnerable, and deeply personal.
Throughout the album, Sampha moves through a full range of human emotion like the scales on his piano. He’s gratified on “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano,” nostalgic on “Kora Sings,” and vindictive on “Under.” None of the emotions he’s conveying are beyond reason – it’s not a concept album, but each song has a meditative quality that evoke the album’s title: Process. He’s processing every single thing he’s feeling for the listener as he works it out for himself. His voice, like hot stone, conjures pleasure and pain through its placement.
“Blood On Me,” the album’s second single, sees the artist at his most frantic as he awakens from a nightmare all too real. “I wake up and the sky is blood red / I’m still heavy breathin’ / felt so much more than dreamin’,” he manages to utter through the breathlessness of jolting out of a dream, attempting to discern reality. Midway through the song, the harrowing percussion breaks away as he coos over his protector, the piano. It’s a moment of respite amidst a sea of personal demons and a song that’s otherwise unrelenting.
On “Under,” Sampha is most unlike himself. Of his repertoire, it relates most closely to his alt-R&B contemporaries, and shies away from the slow, piano-driven ballads that precede it. “Timmy’s Prayer” furthers the sentiment of Sampha’s adaptability, as his voice gracefully glides over the rattling electronic music beneath.
With a song at the core of the album titled “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” it’s clear where his comfort and background lie. However, wide-range early influences like Brian Eno or West African Wassoulou music help shake up the production and offer instrumentation you might expect on a Bjork record. This prevents the few strictly piano songs from feeling too hokey.
The album’s credits are almost exclusively between Sampha and co-producer Rodaidh McDonald. Process leaves the artist’s star-studded CV behind, proving that sometimes, working things out for one’s self is the best form of healing. If the past six years were Sampha’s process, the performance to come should be superlative—and tender.Process, Sampha