In the music world, Sampha may be an unfamiliar name to most, but you’ve probably heard his voice before. Any Drake fan has likely heard Sampha’s voice in the song “Too Much,” but may not know that the song was originally Sampha’s own solo track.
The 27-year-old London-based singer/songwriter has spent the majority of his career appearing as a guest vocalist for several artists including Kanye West, Solange, SBTRKT and Jessie Ware. Sampha’s music style is a seamless blend of R&B, soul, electronic, and dance, and his highly-anticipated debut album, Process, proves that he can incorporate each one of those styles flawlessly.
Process is definitely worth the three-and-a-half year wait since Sampha’s last EP. The album includes 10 songs with themes ranging from grief and anxiety to inner turmoil and distance. Although those may seem like dark topics, Sampha manages to eloquently express his pain through songs that are uniquely melodic and beautiful.
Every album is driven by some sort of inspiration, and in Sampha’s case, he’s been hit with several life experiences leading up to the birth of Process. He lost his mother to cancer, and faces battles with inner demons like anxiety and the turmoil of how success can detract him from his roots.
The opening track “Plastic 100 Degrees Celsius” builds up the album. In an interview with The FADER, Sampha talked about his experience with globus pharyngis, the psychological sensation of having a lump in your throat, thought to be caused by anxiety or stress. In the song, Sampha sings, “sleeping with my worries, yeah / I didn’t really know what that lump was.”
In “Blood on Me,” Sampha dives straight into the theme of vulnerability. When he sings, “I swear they smell the blood on me / I hear them coming for me,” he speaks of the feeling of the sudden trap of a panic attack, a feeling that runs up on you and feels like being chased by a wild animal.
In “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” Sampha slows things down. The song is a eulogy to his mother. The sound is calming, beautiful, and stripped-down to just his voice and the accompaniment of a piano. The song has a profound rawness about it, with lyrics like, “An angel by her side, oh, 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 / And you took hold of me and never, never let me go.”
The song “Reverse Faults,” is a unique change of pace for the album. The song starts off in a fragmented mood, but two minutes in, bass kicks in and the song starts to have an electronic beat. In the track, Sampha talks about being in a relationship where he hurts someone by blaming them for his own faults, with lyrics like “This anger’s taking me apart / Explosive truths / Except this time I went too far / And I hurt you / I wish I could take it back right now.”
When looking at the big picture of the album, the collection of songs fit together as something like a remedy for an anxious mind. The songs encompass the push and pull of Sampha working through his own struggles, and depict the complexity of anxiety.
When speaking to The FADER, he said, “For me personally, dealing with anxiety is about making a constant effort to achieve some kind of balance. It’s about seeing thoughts and feelings come toward me like tennis balls, and actively figuring out which to catch, and which ones I have to let sail past.” Each song in Process personifies the shifts Sampha faces in achieving that balance.