He was the one who would discover that if you played all the black notes with a bit of rhythm that it could sound a bit like a song, in whose hands that piano would find a new life, to whom the piano would become something else entirely.
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I first heard of Sampha in late 2013 when Drake released Nothing Was the Same.” As I progressed through the highly-anticipated Drake release for the first time, I remember feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Sampha continued to make appearance on high-profile artists records. His uncredited vocals feature in the middle of Beyoncé’s 2013 Drake collaboration ” Mine ” and three years later Sampha popped up on discs by Kanye West (” Saint Pablo “), Frank Ocean (“Endless”) and Solange (” Don’t Touch My Hair “).
Process swells with the impassioned, melodic expressions of South London’s Sampha Sisay. Despite not releasing a full-length solo album until now, Sampha has enjoyed mainstream recognition primarily as a featured artist. In 2016, he seemed to thrust out of a relatively quiet period, appearing on the albums of Kanye, Frank Ocean and Solange.
The suggestion on that record, one of this site’s favorites of the year so far , was of a soul-searcher who, despite the likes of starry collaborators Solange, Drake, Frank Ocean and Kanye West bringing him to the brink of A-lister status, had not quite been able to shake certain demons, a weight very much fixed on his shoulders.
London-based musician Sampha has unveiled a new song for the Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet-starring film Beautiful Boy, out today. Treasure” doesn’t stray too far from Sampha’s usual work, focused around piano and Sampha’s angelic falsetto. Last year, he released the Mercury Prize-winning album Process and, since then, has shared a cover of Solange’s Cranes In the Sky” and appeared on an Everything Is Recorded track.
Just ask the sterling list of recent collaborators: Drake, Kanye West, Frank Ocean and Solange, among others. Their songs have all been elevated by the presence of this rising 28-year-old R&B singer-songwriter from South London. Naturally, he has learned from them as well.
There is one song on this track that completely breaks away from this electronic barrier: No One Knows Me (Like the Piano).” This piece is simply a naked piano melody accompanied by Sampha’s raw and passionate voice. It channels his longing for familial comfort and brings back a sense of nostalgia to a time in which he possessed a sense of safety and bliss as a child.
In February 2017, it was time for Sampha to tell his own story with the release of his debut album Process. The album—an achingly beautiful, emotionally raw and musically adventurous body of work—is the culmination of years of work and was one of the year’s most acclaimed albums, culminating in Sampha winning the prestigious Mercury Music Prize. Sampha’s live performances are equally emotive, leading to sold-out shows around the world that have been met with widespread acclaim.
It’s quite, like, an intimate song,” Sampha said the day after it was released online, and the day before he performed it live, alone against a burnt-orange-and-red backdrop, on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Though he had largely come to terms with sharing parts of himself, putting that song into the world stirred unexpected feelings.
With Process, it was time for Sampha to tell his own story. The album would go on to become one of 2017’s most acclaimed records culminating in Sampha winning the world-renowned Mercury Music Prize. The year would also see Sampha collaborating on a range of visual projects. These included his ‘Shy Light’ zine with London-based designer Grace Wales Bonner and LA-based photographic duo Durimel, and a film, also titled Process, with acclaimed director Kahlil Joseph (famed for his work with Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce among others) that served as a visual accompaniment to the album, shot between Morden and Sampha’s ancestral home of Freetown, Sierra Leone.
The only times I would go and make music was when she was in the hospital for the day,” Sampha said. As a caregiver, you can become a little bit numb because you have to be very functional,” he said. But songwriting, which he tends to do improvisationally at the piano, helped to sort of realize the gravitas of things and helped me reconnect and empathize with my mom,” he said.
Sampha dwells on the importance of his mother as well as his own mortality in this track that at once perfectly contains the grander thematic considerations of the album and has a musical identity that is entirely its own.
The twin forces of a changing record industry and a new media landscape have especially rewarded artists who are shrewd in marketing themselves and dead set on pursuing whatever path might lead to maximum visibility. Sampha is almost frustratingly resistant to this attitude. He is somewhat uncomfortable “being the guy that the music is about.” While reticence might scan as a clever marketing ploy to build mystique in the hands of someone else, Sampha is guileless about it. He’s just a quiet, understated person.
The soulful singer-songwriter from South London boasts such an impressive and varied history of collaborations that Pitchfork dubbed him a musicians’ musician.” Sampha (last name: Sisay) played the family piano as a child and briefly attended music production courses in his teens. He dropped out when he landed the collaboration with SBTRKT; his hypnotic vocals grace nearly half of the self-titled 2011 album. Next, he lent his talents to Drake for the 2013 song Too Much,” and last year he was featured on the closing track of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo” and on Frank Ocean’s visual album Endless.” He managed all of this while taking time to hone his own unique sound, which can be heard developing on the abstract, mellow slow jams he’s released across two EPs.
Process may be Sampha’s debut album, but he’s no newcomer. His name first cropped up at the start of the decade as part of a small, London-based music scene centred around artists like The xx and Jessie Ware , and record labels like Young Turks At this time, he was best recognised for providing guest vocals on UK garage-inflected tracks by club producer SBTRKT (who Sampha also toured with as a live singer), but it was his 2013 solo EP, Dual, that marked him out as a uniquely gifted talent in his own right. With its delicate, piano-driven compositions, torn vocals, and poetic musings on themes of loss and doubt, the EP was met with universal acclaim. Later that year he featured on two songs Drake, the Canadian superstar recognising his talents not just as a singer but as a producer, too, with Sampha working behind the boards on The Motion”.
For Sampha, that someone is often the piano he first gravitated toward at the age of three and still plays to this day. That connection inspired the song, “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”, becoming abundantly clear when Sampha performed the song in The Current’s studio.
Most music fan’s first introduction to Sampha, whether they knew it or not, was on Drake’s 2013 song Too Much.” The airy vocal sample that comprises the hook of the song is pulled directly from a Sampha song of the same name, also released in 2013. Sampha was later featured on Kanye West’s 2016 song Saint PabloÛ, a late addition to The Life of Pablo, exposing him to an even larger audience in advance of the release of his debut album Process in the February 2017. Process was released to widespread critical acclaim, winning the 2017 Mercury Prize for best album by a British artist.
Sampha does, after all, come from a dance music background, and as much as the piano is the backbone of his music, there’s another side to him that is resolutely digital. He first connected with SBTRKT (who, not to belabor this point, is a dance producer) and the team at Young Turks’ parent label XL through MySpace, and it’s undoubtedly because of the internet that his music has spread so far through so little promotion of his own. As a kid, he got into making tracks on the Windows sound recorder program using a webcam microphone. It was a process that also offered hints of work habits to come: He would go to his brother’s apartment, where there were stacks of CD-Rs, and burn each one-minute draft of a song onto its own 80-minute CD. He’d make changes, burn a new copy, and repeat, sometimes leaving with ten versions of the same song at the end of the day.
Sampha’s highly anticipated debut album, Process, was released on February 3rd 2017 on Young Turks to rave reviews. It went on to win the most prestigious award for British music, The Mercury Prize, in September 2017.
In a quiet Italian restaurant near his home in Cricklewood, north London, an even quieter Sampha Sisay, voice muffled by his own hands, is describing a convoluted career. In the past seven years, the 28-year-old singer and beat-maker has become the go-to guy for authentic emotion. His honeyed, mournful vocals have appeared on some of the most personal songs by the biggest names in US hip-hop and R&B: Beyoncé’s Mine , Kanye West’s Saint Pablo, Drake’s Too Much and Solange’s Don’t Touch My Hair. Much like Pharrell is hired for his cosmic production, Sampha is parachuted into writing sessions armed with depth and soul. So it is ironic that, as the prospect of his own debut solo album, Process, looms on the horizon, it’s the fear of feeling nothing at all that worries him most.
As one of the UK’s most enigmatic young artists, Sampha has spent years generously dividing his time between solo and collaborative work, lending his talents to a whole range of standout releases, from homegrown UK contemporaries such as SBTRKT, FKA twigs, Lil Silva and Jessie Ware to world-renowned superstars like Drake, Beyonce, Kanye West, Solange and Frank Ocean.
Sampha Sisay’s glitchy, futuristic grooves and devastating soul vocals make him one of the most distinctive talents shortlisted for the BBC Sound of 2014 award. The 25-year-old was handpicked by Canadian rap star Drake to appear on his album earlier this year, and a future collaboration with Beyonce’s little sister Solange is hotly anticipated.
Yeah. I didn’t have a high-life ear for ages. My parents used to play it. I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, because it was like, Ah they’re playing this again”. I was listening to a lot during this record because I love the chord structure. It’s very sort of major and euphoric sounding, because of the harmonic language. Now I have more of an appreciation for the rhythm. I guess the things that did draw me in were listening to Malian folk music. People like Oumou Sangaré and her rhythms, language, her voice, everything just hit me so deep. I didn’t even know what she was talking about, but I could just feel the pain from the get go. Then I found out she’s a feminist, and she’s very much against polygamy, and arranged marriage, and she’s political. I really felt all of that, and something about that hit me very spiritually. I felt very deeply connected to the pain she was experiencing through the sound of her voice and something that kind of inspired me in my music.
Process brings an artistic, mournful and heartfelt twist to the electronic genre. Not all of Sampha’s songs are necessarily upbeat or joyous, but they demonstrate a deeper analysis of his own feelings, actions and character.
The key to creating “Process,” Sampha said, was “trying to strike that balance of not compromising my integrity but at the same time, not letting my ego get in the way of me moving forward.” He learned to trust engineers and other behind-the-scenes players, while still maintaining his creative authority. Years of collaborations made finding that equilibrium easier, he said.
In 2009, Sampha’s mother was diagnosed with cancer in her stomach lining, and, just as his music career was beginning to show some potential, he was compelled to be with her. She eventually went into remission for a few years, during which time Sampha was able to travel the world and make connections and share his excitement with her that Drake wanted to use his beats. But the cancer returned around the end of 2014, at which point Sampha returned to his childhood home to care for her. He plays down the pain as less than what some people have to deal with, but it seems titanic nonetheless to have lost both your parents to separate cancers by the age of 27, and the grief of that naturally colors his music, too.
His approach now doesn’t seem very conceptually removed: He compared recording Process to sculpture, explaining that he “would record big passages of piano and synth and recording drum machines or whatever,” and then spend time “just like slowly clawing away” at the compositions. The product, aided by the similarly exacting production vision of Rodaidh Mcdonald, XL’s in-house engineer, is both meticulously detailed and cinematic in scope. On album opener “Plastic 100° C,” radio transmissions and washes of synthetic noise give an otherwise spare piano ballad the scale of an interplanetary odyssey, the stakes of a movie about a man stranded in the desert, the significance of a long phone call.
The vulnerability on his debut, Process, isn’t hard to dissect, but can be downright agonizing to digest; his immediate family has been riddled with disease and ailments, with both his parents succumbing to cancer. Process finds Sampha interpreting this complicated emotional prism — and confronting his own mortality through it.
Frequent Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar collaborator Stephen Bruner steps into the spotlight with his debut album, which packs 23 songs into 50 minutes. Thundercat’s bass chops are impressive, but it’s his inventive playing style, oddball arrangements, and unique sense of melody and harmony that make this album so special.
The realization took time, as Sampha’s path took an unlikely route. Via Myspace, he met a London producer named Kwes in 2007, which led to more opened doors and eventually the release of “Sundanza,” Sampha’s 2010 EP of instrumentals for the discerning U.K. label Young Turks. Soon he was producing tracks for blog-friendly British artists like SBTRKT and Jessie Ware.
I used to be called Kid Nova. I was on Myspace, that’s how Young Turks first got me. Kid Nova was a Marvel comic, which was my Myspace background at the time. Nova were like these galactic, police- type people and Kid Nova was a police comic. I’ve made grime. I used to try and give beats to people but I just didn’t leave enough room for anyone to rap over my beats, they were just so full of piano, and synths, so it wasn’t really a vehicle for lyricists.
I feel like a certain weight is no longer on my shoulders,” says Sampha, breaking into a chuckle, and I laugh with him, relieved. It’s an uncharacteristically hot day in the XL star’s native London, as the calendar nears six months since the release of Process, his intensely personal debut album. Anyone who’s spent those months, like me, returning time after time to its balm of piano, honeyed vocals and detailed production will know why I say relieved: for every moment of tranquility on that record , there’s a paranoid tale of blood-lusty eyes trained on him from a dark distance.
Kora Sings” also marks the conclusion of the project’s opening trilogy, initiated by Plastic 100°C” and sustained by Process’ lead single Blood On Me,” which delve into the depths of the artist’s heartache and fear. These culminate in the cathartic (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” which feels like a deep breath letting go of the tension built up in the previous three tracks.
Sampha’s debut album, Process, is due, after several delays, early next year on the label Young Turks, home to acts like the xx and FKA twigs. To a certain set of obsessive music fans, it has been a long time coming. Sampha first appeared publicly as a singer in 2010 on a couple of songs with the masked producer SBTRKT, with whom he toured as a live unmasked vocalist in 2011. He released another song in 2011 with Jessie Ware called “Valentine,” as well as a collaborative project with the producer Koreless under the name Short Stories. He cropped up on two 2013 Drake songs, “The Motion” and “Too Much,” before releasing a debut EP, Dual. He’s received laudatory, high-profile press for all of it, although frankly his voice—warm but plaintive, like a cheat code for serious emotional depth—is all the resume he needs.
Such is the case with the South London singer, songwriter and producer Sampha. His originality lies in delivery and tone, which is why he’s been summoned by some of hip-hop and R&B’s biggest names years before the release of his first album. (Kanye’s “Saint Pablo” and Drake’s “Too Much,” for example, could have lacked emotional value without Sampha’s contributions.) Sampha’s music is more feel everything than feel good, which is why his fans hold him so close to their hearts.
S: Now, my ears are very much more attuned to things. But I don’t necessarily think I’ve become a better songwriter. I feel like music is a documentation of where you are at the tie. So if I listen to something that I wrote when I was 14, I think, That’s great. That was really good.” And I might not be able to ever go back to that time and place, but I feel like some things drop off and some things get better. Your understanding of sound grows, but you might not have the same energy as when you were 21 or younger. You mature and maybe your sound…I wouldn’t say dulls, but maybe it’s not as hyperactive as it used to be.
Last night, the south London singer-songwriter, full name Sampha Sisay, scooped the prestigious Hyundai Mercury prize for his debut album, Process. After her death, Sampha travelled to his mother’s home country, Sierra Leone, to bury her, before retreating to a remote Norwegian island to finish the album.
With lustrous production and a harrowing emotional background, it’s a shame how easily this can be filed away under middle of the road” – a record that doesn’t bring something particularly new to the table. For his remarkable voice, Sampha’s debut album shows him far less at ease with his own story than with that of others.
Since releasing his beautiful 2017 album Process , British soul singer Sampha has stayed fairly quiet, sharing the odd Solange cover and popping up on songs from his XL label head Richard Russell’s Everything Is Recorded project. But today, as The Fader reports, he’s shared a brand new song, written and recorded for the new film Beautiful Boy.
But even by Sampha’s description, 2017 has been special in its own right. His first full-length album dropped at the beginning of the year, and its title, Process, summarizes both the LP’s years-long construction as well as its rollout over a series of interviews and festival appearances-the trappings of newfound fame that might not come easily to the introspective-bordering-on-reticent Sampha. The nerves might abate incrementally with each new performance, but as he’ll admit, there’s still something daunting about staking his claim in the ever-crowding alternative R&B genre.