Music Review: Sampha’s Process Delivers As Must Listen Debut Album


Photo by Pitchfork

Sampha’s Process delivers as a cohesive debut album, thrusting the singer into the spotlight.

Jacob Chagoya, Web Editor

For years, Sampha Sisay has been featured by prominent artists, such as Drake, Kanye West, Solange, and Frank Ocean. While he has released two EPs, Sundanza and Dual, he has stayed mostly away from the public eye.  Originally beginning his career as a producer, Sampha never expected to sing over his tracks. Yet, Sampha’s soothing, mesmerizing vocals are too electric to be withheld. Despite releasing only his debut album, Process, Sampha establishes himself as a someone who knows his strengths, and utilizes them to create one of the best albums in recent memory.

Apple Music categorizes Process as Electronic music, but it also works as an R&B project. However, it isn’t the traditional upbeat party music associated with R&B. Sampha’s life has been filled with hardships, especially when it comes to his family. In 1998, he lost his father due to lung cancer. His brother suffered a stroke, leaving him physically disabled. In 2015, again cancer took a loved one as he dealt with the pain of losing his mother. “You’ve been with me since the cradle/ You’ve been with me, you’re my angel/Please don’t you disappear” he laments on “Kora Sings.” This loss hits heavy throughout the album, and this melancholy tone is an integral theme in the overarching concept of Process, in which Sampha attempts to rediscover himself and make amends with his past.  Through all the heartbreak, he eventually finds himself. In the album closer “What Shouldn’t I Be?” he recognizes that “I needed to grow,” while also promising that “you can always come home.” Thus, Process is a fitting title, as Sampha comes to terms with his past.

From the first track “Plastic 100°C” Sampha establishes a distinct sound on the album, an electric album that blends with traditional instrumentation. The production throughout is incredible, balancing gorgeous piano playing, the occasional heavy drums,  and hip hop influenced beats with electric music that sets the tension filled tone throughout the album. On “Reverse Faults” the song builds up in anticipation, as Sampha sings about falling apart. Then, the beat drops, a climatic experience that perfectly goes alongside the lyrics “Took the brake pads out the car/ And I flew.” On other songs however, Sampha uses a simple melody on the piano that does just as much for the songs as the ones that have complex instrumentation. “(No One Knows Me) Like Piano” doesn’t do much in terms of instrumentation, however the simple piano playing intertwines beautifully with the vocals.

As great as the production on the album is, Sampha is the one that makes this album great. His vocals overpower every song, captivating the listener. His story telling and tone leaves you in his shoes, experiencing the heartbreak, despair, and hope that he feels. This may be his first album, but the album does not feel like a first attempt. It has a distinct, cohesive sound. Yet, every song sounds different and leaves you with a different emotion. Sampha delivered what is sure to be one of the best albums of the year.