Sampa The Great’s new album The Return allows listeners to understand her worldview. The LP brings together her unique ideas and experiences in a digestible format, showcasing her perspective as a Zambian native who’s carved out a rap career in Australia.
But Sampa has plenty more to say and did so in her conversation with HipHopDX, elaborating on many of the themes present on her album.
In the second half of her two-part interview with DX, the Ninja Tune artist talks about making pro-Black music that’s still entertaining and details her approach as a lyricist. She also opens up about the landscape of the Australian Hip Hop scene, which has some unusual dynamics when viewed from an American perspective.
HipHopDX: One of my favorite tracks on this was “Final Form.” I think there’s often a misconception where people feel like a pro-Black song can’t be fun and entertaining. Have you ever dealt with this perception or experienced pushback while striking that balance?
Sampa: I did see comments and certain things being like, “Well, if this was white power it would be [distasteful]. And that’s not really my concern. The objective of the song was not for it to be this or that. The objective of the song was to say me in my most assured self, in my final form, will be a glory for my future self to see because that’s where my ultimate goal is and I just happen to be Black. And with that comes everything else political with it. I know nothing needs to be said for it to be political. It needs to be a true understanding of the history of Blackness and Africans and that saying Black Power is not detrimental to anybody else or putting anyone else down.
It’s just giving power to people who have been, for a long time, the minority. People will take that however they want to. There has been a history of people not taking themes like this well, but for me, I didn’t come out of that song being like, “Well, I hope people don’t!” That was not my main concern. For me it was like, I hope they like the intro because that’s a strong, powerful intro. That’s not even something that’s in my thought pattern because that’s a lived experience that just comes up in that expression. It’s not something that is really thought about, you know?
HipHopDX: Yeah. I’ve had discussions with other artists about that and it’s almost like people forgot something such as Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” was an anthem that all types of people loved. But somewhere along the line, there became a notion that this message can’t be in a “fun” song and only can be delivered in a certain way.
Sampa: Art for me imitates life and everything that will happen in life — socially, politically and in each and every way — will be expressed in my music. And with that still will come dope beats and stuff that you can head bob to. The two worlds will always collide. So, I hope people are privy to songs that teach you something but also are songs that you can enjoy.
HipHopDX: Beyond just the sound, your lyricism really stood out on this album. Going into a project like this, what are you trying to accomplish as a writer? Are you looking to challenge yourself with certain rhyme schemes or are you just letting the music guide you and figuring out the right patterns that work?
Sampa: It varies. It often depends on the song or the instrumental. With “Final Form,” as soon as I heard it, I said, “This needs something to be said on this track!” And often it’s instrumentals like that, I’m sitting down and saying, “I’m going to challenge myself to maybe do a rhyme scheme I’ve never done before or tell a story in different ways that I’ve never done.” It’s always songs like that challenging you to do something different than what you’ve done.
And then there are songs that need you to express the most honest and pure way you can. And sometimes, that’s not too many words or too many lyrics in a bar. It varies. It really depends on how the song is being created at the time and what is needed to express. I never want my lyrics or my chanting or singing and my poetry to overpower the music that is surrounding it. They’ve always worked together and always been yin and yang and helped express each other fully. I always want them to be companions in expression rather than fighting over each other.
HipHopDX: One more song I did want to touch on was “Any Day.” You have a line in there where you mentioned the music industry looking more like you. What kind of shifts have you seen during your career?
Sampa: For that song, it was particularly [directed] to the Australian music industry. If you know this Australian music industry, a majority of the Hip Hop industry has been very white and male and not really reflective of the people of Australia or the community surrounding Australia and their stories, which are also valid. So for me, “Any Day,” as much as “Time’s Up” was a call out, it was also a nod to seeing the change but knowing that’s the first step.
We don’t want representation or being seen to be a trend. We want it to be the first step in getting to equity, really. Because what’s the use of all of this and being on covers of magazines if you know we are not going to own the magazines and tell those stories in it and give people jobs who don’t have jobs who look like me? So, it’s a nod to the change but also a spark of the conversation beyond just representation.
HipHopDX: You’ve got a unique perspective on this that I think’s interesting for Americans like myself. Here, the idea of Hip Hop not being predominantly Black is sort of a foreign concept. What’s it like to see that difference in Australia, especially considering Hip Hop’s origins?
Sampa: The origin of Hip Hop is Black and something that has to be acknowledged because it’s the truth. The same with jazz or blues and so on. And it doesn’t mean that it’s limited. It just means as an acknowledgment that’s there. And oftentimes Black people are not acknowledged for their work. So, that’s something that’s very important. With Australian music, obviously, the majority is white, but I think when Black voices are limited is where the problem comes.
When we’re not given avenues or allowed to walk into spaces like our peers is what we are talking about. [It’s] not really who’s rapping or not. It doesn’t take nine ARIA Awards, which is the equivalent of Grammy’s, of just all white males to know that that’s not the only people rapping in Melbourne. And what we are talking about is really what we’re shown is representative of what’s around us. That’s really what we’re talking about there.
HipHopDX: Gotcha. Well, I hope to see that change continue. And I definitely hope Hip Hop fans on my side of the world start paying attention to you because your album’s really dope. Is there anything you’ve got planned for after this LP or something you want people to make sure readers know before we wrap up?
Sampa: I hope people will take this story into account of their own identity and what they call home now. For Australians, is the place you call home built on someone else’s home? Or, there are people who can’t go home. Be open to go whatever direction that story takes you. For me, it was definitely a journey within to see if home was something I can create within myself as well. So, that’s what I want people to take.
October 9, 2019 | 7:00 AM
by Justin Ivey