New Music to Know: Drake Collaborator Sampha Brings His British Soul Across the Pond

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(Courtesy Beggars Music)

(Courtesy Beggars Music)

When Drake debuted his song “Too Much” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, it also acted as an introduction to Sampha – the emerging British alt-R&B singer playing alongside the Toronto rapper.

Sampha’s rich vocals provide the song’s hook, which sets the mood for Drake’s confessional rhymes about inter-family turmoil. The performance was so impactful that many fans still prefer it to the version that appears on Drake’s latest album, Nothing Was the Same. Sampha would later release a solo version of the song, alongside new track, “Happens.”

“It was quite surreal, really,” Sampha said of the performance during a telephone interview with from his native South London. “I don’t think my brain quite took it in. I guess I almost like built a small little fort, just so I could keep sane and do what I had to do. Everyone around me was really nice and understanding and comforting. Drake was really inclusive of me in terms of wanting me to be comfortable in the performance.”

Drake’s “Too Much” is an apt representation of Sampha’s style, which blends R&B with electronic production, not wildly dissimilar to fellow Brit James Blake, whose similarly plugged-in and soulful approach earned him a Best New Artist GRAMMY nomination this year.

Fans enthralled with Sampha’s sound can get an even more robust sampling with Dual, his heartfelt six-song EP released earlier this year on Young Turks, an indie label that is also home to the xx and Glasser. The record is anchored by the dreamy and atmospheric percussive workout “Without,” which harkens back to the highly regarded minimal techno he crafted with Aaron Jerome for his band SBTRKT‘s self-titled debut. In contrast, “Indecision” strips away the thick electronic sheen to allow Sampha’s voice and piano to take center stage.

“Right now, I’m working on some releases for next year that will come before an album,” Sampha revealed. “Just trying to show a little bit more of myself and my direction musically, and after that hone in on an album. I’ve just been really trying to get into the swing of creating and finishing things and really getting into my stride. That’s where I’m at right now.”

Sampha has been big on collaborating with other artists, ranging from Jessie Ware to Solange, who included his Dual track “Beneath the Tree” on her recently released compilation album, Saint Heron. She’s such a fan that she invited Sampha, along with a select group of musicians that included Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors and Adam Bainbridge of Kindness, to accompany her on a trip to Ghana while making her upcoming album.

“I’ve worked with her previously, so we’ve already built up a rapport,” he said. “Going to Ghana was really nice. I guess we went there to soak up the sun and the culture and just try to vibe out together. It was really cool working with Dave and Adam and all these producers. It felt like something was really forming out there.”

While many artists in Sampha’s position would rush to get an album out, he’s content to take as much time as necessary to work on his full-length debut. Industry buzz be damned.

“If my music is good enough now, hopefully it will have the same effect in a year or two,” he explained. “I’d rather just make music that I’m really in love with. I mean, you don’t have to do anything as an artist. I could just release an album and that’s it,” he continued, seeming to struggle to find the right words to get his point across.

“There are so many things that come with releasing an album. I never intended to be like a vocal artist,” Sampha said. “I started off as a producer, and that’s how the Young Turks label came across me first. It’s all still a journey with me becoming comfortable being out there as Sampha, especially since it’s my real name. Writing lyrics has really opened up a lot of myself to the world, and I’m still getting comfortable with that at my own pace.”

As such, the artist’s next release is as one half of freshly minted duo Short Stories (with Welsh producer Koreless), whose debut single “On the Way” b/w “Let It Go” is due on January 28.

Sampha also said that there are no firm plans for solo concerts in America quite yet, as his stage show “is still in its infancy, so when I’ve done a couple of shows and see how they go, hopefully I’ll get to play across the pond.” He added that he’s looking to start off with “small, intimate shows” before taking on the festival circuit.

He laughed when reminded of The Guardian profile, which pegged him as “more Elton John than James Blake,” saying he wasn’t sure what to think of that comparison.

“They’re both tremendous artists, but that’s why I’ve been working so hard to find my own sound before I come out with an album,” he said. “So I can define myself.”

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