Published Feb 01, 2017Whether you know it or not, you've probably heard Sampha's voice — on the chorus of Drake's "Too Much," maybe; haunting Beyoncé's "Mine"; on Kanye West's "Saint Pablo"; or, more recently, backing up Solange on "Don't Touch My Hair." Point is, the UK singer, songwriter and producer has been ubiquitous for the last few years among his peers; his debut LP Process should make him ubiquitous, period.
Though he was touted mainly as a producer when he dropped his Sundanza EP in 2010, Sampha made a name for himself as a singer and writer when he lent his distinct, buttery baritone to SBTRKT's self-titled LP in 2011. Since then, he's kept listeners rapt with a series of EPs and singles, but the long-awaited Process is what listeners have been waiting for: a full, striking portrait of the songwriter that does each aspect of his artistry justice.
Sampha balances his electronic, producerly tendencies and soul songwriting perfectly here, starting on ticking, tense opener "Plastic 100°C" and continuing into urgent early highlight "Blood On Me," a song he says was "inspired by Nina Simone, about running away from yourself." It's rare that an artist is equally adept at producing and writing, but Sampha proves it constantly throughout Process; "Reverse Faults" is one of his more impressive balancing acts, and closer "What Shouldn't I Be?" is equal parts deep, aquatic ambience and gently captivating melody.
On top of it all is his rich, passionate croon, which infuses every song here with emotional depth. "Take Me Here" is a particularly sparkling example of how sweet his falsetto can sound (especially during the song's pulsing climax), but it's on centrepiece "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano," an early but easy song of the year contender, that Sampha perfects his craft. Over a delicate piano phrase, he sings about the role the piano at his mother's house played in helping him process the grief of losing her to cancer in 2015; it's a masterpiece of catharsis, raw with emotion despite his pristine vocals and warm, glowing production.
Process was a long time coming, but the wait has resulted in one of the most assured debut albums in recent memory. Even if it should take Sampha another six years to follow it up, the wait, I expect, will be worth it. (Young Turks)