Arriving two years after Birds and the BEE9, a mixtape strong enough to win the Australian Music Prize, The Return is the long-awaited debut album by rapper, songwriter, and poet Sampa the Great. The vast, ambitious full-length reflects several years of constant, intense soul-searching, and its songs and interludes revolve around themes of identity, homecoming, and self-empowerment. Sampa was born in Zambia and raised in Botswana before settling in Australia, and her African heritage shapes the sound of the album, which is filled with lush, polyrhythmic instrumental arrangements and spirited vocal chants.
The term "World Music" is painful. A clumsy, outdated, catch-all phrase for artists that don't fit into the Western ideal of pop. It's easy to see how Sampa The Great might have one become pegged into this slightly bizarre genre black hole. Her influences are vast. Her sphere is global. It would be ….
Near the beginning of Sampa The Great's debut album The Return, we hear a voicemail from a concerned friend. She implores the rapper to realize what she's up against as a black woman in the music industry: "I don't think you have time for all this 'finding yourself' spiritual shit." But that's just what The Return is about. Sampa--who was born in Zambia, raised in Botswana, and now lives in Melbourne--is trying to find a sense of place in a world where she'll always be ticked as "other." Accordingly, The Return is a dense and sometimes-challenging record, with beats that pull in bits of jazz alongside '90s R&B and hip-hop.
Every so often an important and distinctive new voice arrives in rap music, shifting the goalposts and planting a marker of intent. It is one of the quickest moving genres of music around, yet still seems to have so much more room for discovery. Sampa The Great is one of those new kids on the block ….