While SBTRKT’s seminal self-titled debut LP was graced by other guest vocalists, it was Sampha’s multiple appearances that added a lasting effect on listeners. There’s a layer of intimacy added to the producer’s beats when the British singer’s smoky, restrained falsetto registered on each of the songs he was featured on – a quieter presage of the r’n’b renaissance that came post-Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. Perhaps SBTRKT was cognisant of this, Sampha became an official member of his tour lineup following the success of the album.
That, as it turned out, marked the beginnings of Sampha’s unassuming rise as a solo artiste. The experience led to the creation of his Dual EP released mid last year – a record that displayed his dual role as both singer and producer. Dub an ‘electronic acoustic singer-songwriter’ by then, comparisons to James Blake was immediate, but that label was more a reflection of the UK’s current pop landscape than an accurate assessment of who he is as a musician – the electronic singer-songwriter type is already a subgenre unto itself at the time.
While the 2 are similar in the stark emotionality of their vocals and lyrical content – and the minimalist approach to production – Sampha’s execution is never as bereft, he exposes his feelings without coming off overwrought. To borrow The Guardian’s assessment, Sampha is more 21st century Elton John, often time his music is heavy without ever being too dark. It’s more melancholy than elegiac, a corollary that can be attributed to his stellar production. On par with SBTRKT, his deft hand at music production was a surprise to many, but this was a man who first made grime beats for UK rappers using a VST on his brother’s computer. Sampha had always been a part of the bedroom producer boom that began with MySpace and continued on to Soundcloud.
Yet as incredible as the EP was, his recent releases are so unembellished by electronics, as it is with ‘Happens’ and the original version of Drake’s ‘Too Much’, that the Spartan approach to composition is antithetical to the electronic scene he belongs to. Sampha went decidedly un-post dubstep James Blake – opting for acoustic, he bares his soul just a bit further. Watching video interviews of Sampha is a bit like extrapolating his place in the pop world, his soft-spokenness and emotional honesty are reflective of the inconspicuous limelight put on him. Can Sampha’s cathartic confessionals have a bigger audience? Well, he was on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, that’s one talk show away from America’s Mainstream.
Validated by both hipster queen Solange and commercial cool Drake – not to mention UK’s Jessie Ware – Sampha is ripe for either some sort of crossover success or further indie cred. More likely though, he could just have the duality he’s always had and gain both.
Check out Sampha at sampha.com.