Sampa The Great – Birds and the BEE9 (2017 LP)

On Birds And The BEE9 Sampa the Great continues her artistic journey with a musically rich and thoughtful update to the sound established with 2015’s debut, The Great Mixtape. It’s interesting that once again she has chosen to label these 13 tracks as a mixtape, as given the quality on show here, one can only imagine what’s in store once she decides to drop an ‘album’.

This release is reflective in nature, with barely an ounce of hip hop bombast, drawing upon African rhythms and chanting, down-tempo jazz and a fair amount of singing.

Lyrically, these songs see Sampa reflecting on her own life, identity and worldview with a level of poetic skill only hinted at previously. Opening and closing with two parts of the same song, ‘Healing’ and ‘Healer’, which Sampa’s liner notes describe as ‘the listener is walking into my wound’, it’s clear that she is holding nothing back.

‘Protect Your Queen’ is a standout track, with Sampa flexing her lyrical dexterity over a head-nod beat laced with vibes, organ and jazzy keys. Moving easily between rapping, singing and spoken word, Sampa explores the different ways she can use her vocals effectively in a three and a half minute song, ensuring that the lyrics are always at the forefront of the listener’s attention.

The record is executive produced by Melbourne beatmaker and DJ Sensible J (REMI) and it’s a magnificently natural pairing, with J, real name Justin Smith, credited as a writer/producer on many of the songs. Smith’s productions, which feature live instruments, and acoustic, percussive elements, work really well when placed alongside the songs with UK beatmaker Kwes Darko, who handles four of the productions here. His tracks utilise more obvious drum programming, atmospheric synth sounds and hip hop bass lines, which place Sampa’s vocals in a somewhat more ethereal and electronic setting.

The third producer on board is Alejandro Abapo, aka Silent Jay, known for his work with Jace XL and Hiatus Kaiyote, who manages to accomplish both the dark electro-hip hop vibe of ‘Karma the Villain’, and the jazzy neo soul of the very catchy ‘Bye River’. Despite the generally laid back vibe there are still plenty of opportunities for Sampa to showcase her razor sharp flow. Tracks like ‘Inner Voice’ deftly balance the jazzy flourishes of the production and mesmerising singing and chanting with moments that are pure hip hop.

This is a rich and rewarding record that continues to reveal itself over repeat listens. Basically put, Sampa is a true artist – fearless, complex and great.

Written for Beat Magazine.

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