Album Reviews

Album Review: Sampa the Great – The Return (Ninja Tune)

Sam Smith
Sampa The Great - OMG

After impressing with her 2017 mixtape Birds And The BEE9, Zambian-born Australian rapper Sampa the Great has made good on the promising signs she showed two years ago with an excellent debut album aptly titled The Return.

Drawing on an array of guest vocalists and instrumentalists, The Return is a vibrant and colourful album that is anchored in her African roots but simultaneously harks back to the glory days of neo-soul in the late 90s. Think D’Angelo, think Erykah Badu, think Lauryn Hill. Her raspy deep vocal style and flow which is similar to fellow contemporaries Little Simz and Rapsody dominates throughout the record which she combines to great effect with the African sounds she so clearly was raised on.

African rhythms, chanting, and vocal harmonies are a prominent feature throughout, especially on songs like the opener Mwana which features the wonderful Sunburnt Soul Choir and Dare to Fly which features fellow Australian singer Ecca Vandal.

Although her African musical roots are a common theme, she does also mix things up at times offering up plenty of variety stylistically across the nineteen tracks. There’s the soulful rap of Freedom, the neo-R&B of Heaven, and the uptempo horn-infused funk of Final Form, a song which in itself is one of the singles of the year.

One criticism of the record I would have is that nineteen tracks are probably too long. She could equally not have compromised on quality by making an album with say twelve tracks. Often less is more and there would certainly be no drop off with some trimming here and there. This is a minor critique however and can be excused when the music on display is this diverse and interesting.

In an age where trap and mumble rap rules the chart roost in hip hop often in the process locking out artists with more substance to their rap game, Sampa the Great has proved on The Return that often the best stuff in hip hop is the stuff that does not always share in the limelight. However, if one does go digging there are real gems to be found, gems like this record.

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Catch Sampa the Great in Wellington and Auckland when she tours New Zealand!

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Released: 13 Sep 2019

Written By: Sam Smith When he is not writing for Radio 13 Sam works in media and journalism at 95bFM radio and the University of Auckland. He also has is own personal music blog Nowhere Bros.