18th November | Rough Trade
Photos: Lee Ramsey
Sampa The Great has more than proven worthy of her title at this stage, thanks to a pair of stunning mixtapes and her excellent debut album, The Return. If anything, her show at Rough Trade only reinforces how worthy she is of it.
The sold-out venue fills up early, as Silent Jay plays a short but smooth set, featuring a mix of originals and classics, including a great Stevie Wonder cover. Having served as one of the producers on The Return – also handling keyboard duties in Sampa’s live band – Silent Jay is a fitting choice for warming up the crowd. However, as soon as Sampa arrives on stage, things definitely seem to dial up a few notches. She manages to exude a sense of swagger while at the same time remaining down-to-earth and eager to connect with the audience.
The set opens with ‘Freedom’, which boasts a classic soul vibe. The gentle percussion and bright keys act as the perfect accompaniment to Sampa’s flowing bars. The three backing singers also help draw out the song’s serene mood, lulling the crowd into feeling as though they’re swaying in one big collective hammock.
Lyrically, ‘Freedom’ acts as a mission statement for The Return, as well as the show tonight; it’s about finding peace and learning to love yourself. It’s a theme that runs through many of the songs Sampa and her band play, including the gorgeous ‘Black Girl Magik’ and the laidback ‘Diamond in the Ruff’.
There’s a sense of ease to the way the band juggle the different moods of the songs. While the show is filled with plenty of other gentle songs, like the serene ‘Brand New’, which features a duet between Sampa and Silent Jay, there are heavier moments as well. ‘OMG’, The Return’s biggest straight-up banger, hits hard and sees Sampa riling the crowd into a frenzy, before jumping from the stage into it. ‘Energy’ is similarly a huge moment; the version performed tonight is almost unrecognisable compared to its studio counterpart, with the band giving the song an extra kick of, well, energy.
“Thank you so much for coming out tonight,” says Sampa part-way through the set. “Your support has been pivotal.” The love that the audience have for Sampa is palpable. Throughout every song, the crowd are swaying along to the music and at each break, they seize the chance to shout and cheer the rapper’s name.
In a night filled with bright spots, ‘Leading Us Home’ is one of the brightest. “I said I’d never write a love song,” says Sampa, introducing it. “And then I wrote a love song.” Among The Return’s more high-concept and philosophical songs, there’s a sweet simplicity to the soul-infused track. While Sampa’s rapping can frequently be fierce, here it’s almost sensual.
After thanking her band and the audience one last time, Sampa closes out the show with the swaggering ‘Final Form’. “Only four years, fantastic, young veteran, new classic,” Sampa raps on it, a reminder of just how far she’s come in such a short space of time. If she hasn’t reached her final form yet, I can’t wait to see what comes next.
See the video for ‘OMG’ here: