Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

Sampa The Great – Final Form

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William John:How you supposed to be Black down under?” mused Sampa the Great in 2017, before relenting to an undulant groove. It’s not a question I can answer, but in a nation built on the genocide of Indigenous people and with a Home Affairs minister and his prejudiced lackeys hell-bent on characterising all African refugees as violent gang members, it’s likely to be something close to: “with great difficulty.” All the more reason, then, to celebrate this moment of fearlessness from an African-Australian artist (well — she’s as much American as Australian, but we do have a habit of claiming foreign high achievers as our own). A majestic, honking beat, built around the Sylvers’ “Stay Away From Me,” wouldn’t require much work from any vocalist to mould into a slapper for the ages. But Sampa takes no chances, contrasting an assonant, almost restrained chorus with verses heavy on braggadocio. “Young veteran; new classic,” she spits, beatifying herself and rewriting the unfortunate, Snow White antipodean rap canon herself with a single breath.
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Ian Mathers: It takes a bold performance to not just stand up to, but dominate over those strong Sylvers horns, and Sampa is up for it. “Young veteran, new classic” is the kind of line that plenty of new performers essay, and sometimes it sees charming at best (or foolishly presumptive at worst), but with “Final Form” if anything it seems like Sampa is confident enough to underplay her case.
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Edward Okulicz: Her final form emerges over a sample that makes it sound like the opening credits of a kick-ass action film, and it’s a thrilling moment. If anything though, the endless horizon of those horns blares a little too much and drowns Sampa out. But she’s got enough presence to always be in charge of her own look-at-me-I’m-awesome track, and when she says “Last name Tembo, first name Eve,” I’m not sure if she means she’s the first, or if she fancies herself as the next Eve. Either seems fine to me. Releasing this in the thick of Melbourne’s winter is perverse, though.
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Alfred Soto: From the Sylvers sample to the first-recorded use of “melanin” in a hook, “Final Form” has buoyancy that’s unreal. I’m not sure it’s a classic yet, but I wanna hear it again. And again.
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Joshua Minsoo Kim: Silentjay’s anthemic production and slick sample-flipping are strong enough to warrant a completely instrumental version, and the existence of the extended intro indicates that everyone involved was aware of this. It finds a strong partner in Sampa, her voice overflowing with the confidence needed to sell both the music and lyrics here. Still, it’s all rather tired and unexciting in 2019, and the slickness of Sampa’s delivery — something more evocative on a track like “Energy” — is absent here, overtaken by a need to create something a bit more declaratory.
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Will Adams: The track’s admittedly a bit stationary, but Sampa’s urgent delivery sells it. And then it inexplicably, frustratingly ends on a fade out. A mission statement this forceful deserves punctuation, not a trail-off into nothing.
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Vikram Joseph: Sampa’s flow spits and crackles effortlessly over bombastic, peacocking brass, and the segue between the first and second verse is exquisite, the two linked by a tantalisingly brief soul sample which, unfortunately, is barely seen again. It’s a shame that the chorus feels like such a lull; at the very least, each iteration of it is twice as long as it needs to be, sapping momentum from a song that relies upon it.
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Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Silentjay’s production job here is near-flawless — both the sample flip and the original synth bits. It’s the platonic ideal of a soul-sampling beat, mixing in The Sylvers both vocally and instrumentally until the lost love of the original track is completely denatured and turning it into something triumphant. And yet, the production here is completely overshadowed by Sampa Tempo herself, who truly lives up to her chosen moniker. Her command of her choppy, playful flow is so skillful that she bends the beat to her will instead of the other way around, and her lyrics, which literally stride the globe in their ambitions, match her skill. It’s a full barrage of a song, an unrelenting display of talent for three-and-a-half minutes.
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