The Return - Sampa the Great (Album Review)
Updated: Oct 12, 2019
Released: 13 September 2019
Album Rating: 4/5
Live Potential: 5/5
Diversity in Songs: 4/5
Favourite Songs: ‘Freedom’ (track 2), ‘Final Form’ (track 10), ‘Leading Us Home’ (track 13)
Zambian-born Melbourne-based artist Sampa the Great has released her debut album, The Return, through Ninja Tune. The Return is her debut album, yet it is the rappers third project and follows on from Sampa’s critically acclaimed mixtape Birds and the BEE9. Similarly to Birds and the BEE9, The Return sees Sampa the Great merge elements of hip-hop, neo-soul and southern African musical idioms to act as the foundation to create her utterly unique and fresh sound. With The Return, Sampa the Great has created an honest and powerful record which is openly meditative and philosophical throughout.
For The Return, Sampa has called upon a selection of respected collaborators to add additional seasoning to her music, with production by Silentjay, Slowtahi-producer Kwes Darko, Clever Austin, UK group Blue Lab Beats and Syreniscreamy. The record also features collaborations with London jazz collective Steam Down, thando and Ecca Vandal amongst others.
As the title suggests, The Return tells the story of Sampa’s exploration of herself through contemplative thinking and reaching back to her cultural connections. Marking the rise of her career, Sampa pensively touches on the difficulties of feeling excluded as a black woman within the music industry, her struggle in coping with creative integrity and the strain of the industry on her mental wellbeing. She further recounts other experiences on her musical journey including themes of equality, race, exploitation and loss. The lyricism of this content is eloquent and touching, revealing her soul-searching mission and her deep emotional maturity, quite remarkable for someone still so young.
The Return opens with ‘Mwana’, which translates as “child” in Bemba, a reference to Sampa’s Bantu heritage which begins as the spiritual basis of her introspective journey. This leads to one of the highpoints of the album ‘Freedom’. The third single of the album, the song discusses the balance of dealing with musical integrity, in trying to make a living but not hindering creative freedom. The production for this subject, provided by Silentyjay and Syreniscreamy, is flawless. The production bed is ethereal, airy and celestial, particularly as it is paired with beautiful vocals by Ecca Vandal, Thando, Suburnt Soul Choir and the King Whosane, as Sampa rhythmically drives her message across. The next few tracks continue along this thematic line, with ‘Time’s Up’ (track 4) and ‘Grass is Greener’ (track 5), addressing the lack of diversity within the music industry and the strain that chasing a musical career has on mental health.
We sweep through a selection of fine tracks, like the rhythmically intricate ‘Dare to Fly’ (track 5), the hypnotic ‘OMG’ (track 8) and the low-key “smokers” song ‘Light it Up’ (track 9), until we reach another masterpiece of the record ‘Final Form’ (track 10). Another Silentjay produced track, ‘Final Form’ is punchy, fiery and explosive, underpinned by a 70’s vibe as Sampa establishes a proud and creative flow.
The second part of the record begins with the airy ‘Heaven’ (track 11) and the groovy ‘Diamond in the Ruff’ (track 12) which brings us to ‘Leading Us Home’ (track 13), another superb track on the album. Beginning with beautiful vocals by Mwanje Tembo (Sampa’s little sister), this funky number references Sampa’s realisation of her self-worth; “Oh oh I feel it / Home home / I’m back to my own own / you’re leading me home”. The last significant song as part of Sampa’s journey is the title track ‘The Return’ (track 17). The bluesy and somewhat psychedelic song, featuring Thando, Alien and Jace XL, ends with the Somalian words “Everyone will go back to their homes / No one should forget their home”, the undeniable declaration by Sampa of her roots, self-realisation and spiritual fulfilment.
The Return is an insightful and creative debut record, which covers so much ground across 19 tracks. Comparing the two halves of the album, the first part is perhaps a little more engaging than the second. This is not to discredit the second part, which is softer and more spiritual, but rather that the first half is superb and would be near-impossible to maintain this pace throughout. The Return allows Sampa the Great to lucidly express herself and all that she has gone through during her musical career. Sampa’s enunciated rhythmic chic and flow matches well with all the guests and friends she has amassed on one record. The Return is bold, beautiful and sincere, a fantastic debut album from a female rapper who is tackling institutional issues head-on.
You can purchase & listen to The Return here:
You can keep up-to-date with Sampa here:
UK Tour Autumn 2019 dates:
November 15th - Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds
November 17th - Yes, Manchester
November 18th - Rough Trade, Bristol
November 20th - OXYO, London