It’s tempting to view the numerous accolades garnered by Sampha Sisay’s debut album as inevitable—the wholly predictable capstone to the south London-raised singer and producer’s frictionless 2010s emergence as a favored feature artist among hip-hop and R&B’s creative elite (a group that includes Drake, Solange, and Frank Ocean). But Process, released in 2017, was born amid the existential threat of all manner of personal obstacles. And if the album draws its heft, drama, and mournful magic from anywhere, it’s from the fact you can not only hear this tension—you can feel it. Shaped by familial grief, health worries, and enforced deliberation, Process is the sound of an artist leaning into the skid of personal tumult, and finding lasting beauty amid the chaos. This is most obviously evident in Sampha’s voice: A husked, glittering marvel that cracks at its uppermost register, whether it’s anchoring a piece of bustling, piano-driven soul (“Blood On Me”) or a sketched chamber piece (“Take Me Inside”). Then there’s “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” the emotional highlight of Process, and a song that distills the loss of both his parents into a spare, pulse-slowing meditation about bereavement, family, and the life-altering, secondhand upright piano that Sampha’s dad brought home when the singer was three years old. But while Process spotlights the mercurial, distinctive capabilities of That Voice, the album is also a showcase for the musicianship and production-savvy that marked Sampha’s early days, back when he was uploading post-grime instrumentals to his MySpace account. “Kora Sings” swerves from glitchy electronica to intricate, West African polyrhythms. “Plastic 100°C”—inspired by Sampha’s struggle with a rare condition that left him with a literal lump in the throat—duels intimate plucked strings with the momentousness of the moon landings (via radar bleeps and Neil Armstrong samples). And “Timmy’s Prayer” is a garment-rending plea for romantic absolution, built upon swaying organ and glinting, hard-edged drums. Process is the sound of everyday pain transmuted into music—of the process of life being rendered with cinematic flair, nerveless honesty, and impossibly high stakes. “I’d like to dedicate this award to my parents,” Sampha said while accepting his 2017 Mercury Prize. Process is the perfect tribute, testament, and thank-you.

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