Sampha Sisay takes a break from helping out Drake, Solange and Frank Ocean to create a world all of his own
Sampha Sisay is a huge talent. That’s a fact acknowledged by Drake, Solange and Frank Ocean, all of whom have signed up the 27-year-old to help them with production and vocals over the past few years. In fact, the young man from Morden in south London has been so busy contributing to the groundbreaking R&B albums of others that he’s been delayed in releasing his own.
Is ‘Process’ worth the three-and-a-half-year wait since his last EP? Yes – absolutely. It’s a finely crafted and devastating take on the loss of his mother to cancer, as well as his inner turmoil at how success has dragged him away from his roots. The ‘process’ of the title refers to that of grieving as much as it does making music. Not that there’s much distinction shown in these 10 therapeutic songs about love, remorse and ambition. ‘(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano’ is the saddest of the lot – a stripped-back eulogy to his mother, played on a piano as beaten up and full of feeling as any Tom Waits ever sat down at.
Elsewhere, there are plenty of masterful production touches. The timeless, lurching groove of ‘Timmy’s Prayer’, for example, or the lush orchestration and crisp drum break of ‘Blood On Me’ – an emotional opus to rival Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’. More often the music is subtle, however. It’s simply an accompaniment to Sampha’s main instrument: his voice. So that when he croons to his departed mother, “In my chest you knew me best / You know I’ll be back home” on ‘…Like The Piano’, there’s not a heartstring that remains unplucked. ‘Process’ might not be as bold or as inventive or as life-changing as some of the other records Sampha’s had a hand in during his career, but it does have a quiet, dignified impact that suits its maker. He hasn’t stepped out of his shadowy, background world; instead, he’s invited us to join him there.