A colored image of Sampa sitting on the porch in a dress beside a man in tribal clothing.

Sampa the Great: The Return Album Review

By John Galindo
Music Journalist

Artist: Sampa the Great

Album: The Return

Release Date: Sept. 13th, 2019

Record Label: Ninja Tune

Inspired by her own experiences chasing stardom, the Zambia native tackles new challenges and revisitis what it is like to crave of tranquility and a place to call home.

With the release of her debut album, The Return, Sampa is projecting everything she has experienced while juggling music, fame and her personal life. The 19 track release fleshes out some of the bigger issues Sampa faces like being true to herself, feeling like an outlier, and reminiscing on moments of the past. The production behind the album is nothing but complementary with jazz inspired hip-hop beats and ‘90s R&B callbacks blended with Afrobeat influences; it all sounds unified.

The Return is a project with a wide scope of musical influences, making for something sonically appealing for music enthusiasts interested in something refreshing and out of the ordinary. There is a gamut of moving parts on this album, notably the 13 musical unknowns (Mwanje Tembo, Krown, Ecca Vandal, SilentJay etc.) helping to cement this album.

The interludes help keep the album running smoothly and make for great transitions for the upcoming tracks. The rhythmic flows between songs can feel sudden and loud, but it helps fortify the direction of the album. Sampa’s lyricism swells throughout the entire 80-minute project, her talent here is undeniable. To get the most out of this album commands your undivided attention. However, I promise it’s worth the listen.

Throughout the album Sampa uses her platform to address her thoughts on the music industry. Sampa raps on her Freedom track, “ We used to think the industry was five stars, define stars/ And now itchin’ just to find stars, define stars…/But they was schemin when they find us”.

Sampa wrestles with what she once thought the industry was, only to find herself skeptical of everything. Her perspective is a product from the rift she has felt since embarking on her musical career. Sampa wants the recognition for her ideas and work, rapping “ Black Republic/ Times up/ Want all my work republished” in “Times Up”.

Sampa also discusses the complexities of defining what is a home after living thousands of miles from her birth country. During “Mwana” Sampa raps, “I guess I found my fortune/ I don’t need home to feel important/ But I need a feeling of peace..”. Sampa indicates that at moments struggles to find peace in her new environment, even after her musical successes. Sampa feels out of tune, living in a space that seems unfamiliar from her upbringing and ideals.

The Return is a great benchmark for Sampa’s career, representing a pivotal moment in her musical career. Yet, this is not the first defining moment in her lifetime. In 2017, Sampa won the prestigious Australian Music Prize in 2017, sharing nominations with Tame Impala, Jordan Rakei, and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Although her music failed to gain any notoriety in the U.S., with this new debut album it is possible for her to gain some airtime this 2019 and build a new fanbase in the United States. I am excited to see what she accomplishes by the end of the year.

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