Soul food. A discourse between the tangible and intangible. Releasing six years after its predecessor, Lahai shows the result of intersecting human ingenuity with unwavering faith. London singer-songwriter Sampha euro-steps the pressures of modern music-making. He takes his time. Additionally, he takes his chances against hype culture. His art represents his heart. In his world, it seems, the two are never separate. Although it took me a handful of listens to fully grasp Process, his stunning debut studio effort, tracks from it still pop into my head to this day. I say this often. A little bit of craftsmanship goes a long way. Sampha doubles down, however, and offers everything his soul contains. His curiosity for the unanswerable questions of life ultimately becomes a solution. Through a transparent creative process, his spirit casts a large and love-filled shadow.
From the jump, Lahai pulls the listener into a dream state. The album cover makes more sense with each new listen. No big-name features here. Just a man overcome with joy and gratitude. These expressions highlight what is most important to him at this current juncture. He’s a dad now. Priorities shift, and time appears to somehow slow down and speed up simultaneously. Here he embraces uncertainty whilst attempting to understand why he feels the way he does. A sumptuous atmosphere envelops every corner of this album. I felt as if I had been transported to an eternal sky server room configuring the matrix via smooth R&B. With Lahai, Sampha uses music for its healing properties rather than for purchasing property. Despite a more nuanced, subtle approach, his artistry breathes dynamism into an otherwise dull R&B landscape.
There’s only one thing anybody could hold against him. And that’s his somewhat limited range, as his voice partially flattens out at higher registers. Yet Sampha exudes vast levels of self-awareness. Within “Suspended,” one of many standout tracks, he garnishes small sections of belting with digital chops. This both adds a splash of uniqueness to the song while also polishing over the rougher edges of his voice. He is not afraid to belt, though. This is the mere track wherein he implements such a tool. Minute touches uncover an artist’s intentionality.
Success for a vocalist does not mean they must sound as emphatic as the late, great Whitney Houston. It’s not fair to demand that from every artist. Sampha utilizes what gifts he’s been given to make sense of the world around him. He remains unconcerned with trends or any brand of conformity. An endeavor such as Lahai proves he belongs among the most compelling recording artists in the world. That’s why he’s been clocked next to music giants such as Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and the dude formerly known as Kanye Omari West. Listen to “Jonathan L. Seagull,” “Only,” or “Evidence” and let your mind and heart run free. Sure, if you aren’t in love this record might not resonate with you fully. Nevertheless, well-made art speaks for itself, making my job a helluva lot easier. Thank you, bruv.