There isn’t an emcee from the continent of Africa with the level of creative respect within the streaming era as Sampa The Great. The Zambian-born and Botswana-raised rapper was already well known in international alt-Hip Hop circles around the time she released the Australian Music prize-winning Birds and the Bee9 mixtape in 2017. Her profile would rise even higher with 2019’s full-length debut album The Return featuring the commercial placement-ready single “Final Form.”
Early last month, Sampa dropped the follow-up project So Above, So Below which is more rooted in the classic sounds of her homeland of Zambia as opposed to the time she spent building her name in Australia.
“For me, The Return was a beautiful letter in itself but I hadn't yet returned home,” said Sampa to BET.com. “I had done a show but I was still based in Australia. And I feel I call this the real return and the real full circle moment because I was able to actually live at home for a consecutive amount of time. I also got to put my input into an industry I've wanted to come back to in a long time. I had no idea that you know, my career would take off in Australia and people would support my music. I just happened to be based there.”
Related: Get To Know Sampa The Great
One of the big narratives around As Above, So Below is the incorporation of Zamrock throughout the album. The genre emerged out of Zambia during the 1970s and fuses traditional African sounds with various aspects of rock including psychedelic and garage among others. With her huge platform, Sampa also hopes to be a spark within Zambia’s diverse music scene by being her true artistic self.
“You just need someone who has had the opportunity to get out of Zambia to think in a different way for inspiration like that,” Sampa explained. “To be able to bring that knowledge, those resources and those ideas, because, there's a very small belief in doing something global just because Zambians haven't been given the platform or the opportunity. I wasn't fearing sharing my identity. This is full on the embrace of my identity and then expanding what we can do.”
There isn’t a better example than the polyrhythmic funk sounds of the single “Never Forget” featuring Zambian rapper Chef 187 alongside Mwané, and Tio Nason. Released near the end of last June, the single received an extra boost of notoriety this week when it was featured in the recent trailer for the highly anticipated Marvel film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
On Twitter, Sampa instantly went to Twitter by tweeting “Can you imagine! Me … A Non billboard charting ass, No huge awards having ass, non Viral video ass, No Sold out Arena tour having ass Independent artist.” During the creation of As Above, So Below, Sampa mentioned with her main collaborator on the project Magnus "mag 44" Mando was already thinking in terms of cinema and how they would bring people into their world musically with all of the different themes and genres they were inspired by. Having their single be used in a trailer for a superhero film based around a fictional African country couldn’t have been more perfect.
“I'm still trying to come to terms with it,” Sampa said. “Just even that “Never Forget” is a Zamrock tribute is within itself amazing. So it feels like a huge relief. It also feels like a small hint that a change is in the game. An artist like me can be able to get a placement like this, this is wow. This means a lot of independent artists like me, and it makes us all excited for what opportunities await.”
As Above, So Below also features a pretty meaty amount of guest features representing various aspects of the African diaspora. This includes iconic Benin singer Angelique Kidjo on album closer “Let Me Be Great.” According to Sampa, Kidjo became a fan of hers after seeing her NPR Tiny Desk and sent her a DM showing appreciation. This eventually led to the singer asking the rapper to join her performance. From Sampa’s perspective, this is what generational joy and hope look like.
“I think it’s so fulfilling to have a legend who embraces you like Angelique,” explained Sampa. “Someone who guides and, like our history, was able to pass down gems from what she’s been through and the doors she’s opened. She’s generous enough to lead us and guide not only me but all these young African artists that she’s put on her albums along the way.”
When it comes to stateside collaborations, Sampa recruited Denzel Curry on the “Lane” track in addition to Joey Bada$$ through “Mask On.” On her musical journey that begins with a musical take on a genre made outside of where she’s from, she wanted to pay homage but display how Hip Hop inspired her.
“This is a way I appreciate what artists like them have inspired me to do,” Sampa said. “I think one of my first big tours that I had in the states was Joey. And I was just happy that we were able to connect on this song to be honest, and just exchanged Diaspora stories. Denzel, we met a while ago. His energy was so beautiful. And I think, like me, he’s inspired to try everything and is not limited by this idea of what a Hip Hop artist is supposed to sound like.”
As she celebrates the wins and the hard work fought as an indie artist, Sampa is planning to spend some time at her parent’s farm in Lusaka in Zambia. She even mentioned rescheduling her European tour on her social media accounts recently. Enjoying nature and clocking off mentally and physically, it’s her way to decompress.
“I'm diving into how important it is as artists to not exhaust ourselves,” Sampa said. “We fight for our work, we push for work, but you know, we should live forward to versus having to constantly die for work. So I'm hoping to have this break and really decompress from the work we've been having this year and also actually celebrate the wins because we kind of don't get to do that.”