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My 2023 Album of the Year: Lahai by Sampha

by Harry Guo



Sampha follows up on his 2017 Mercury Prize-winning Process with the most hallucinating and stunning work in his catalog so far: Lahai.


Remembered for his unforgettable features on songs by Drake, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and others, the 35-year-old English singer-songwriter has already had an illustrious career before this album, and it’s easy to say he’s a star-studded guest for other discographies. However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that his solo work is anything short of successful. 


Process, Sampha’s debut LP, was a transcendent project that reinvented the alternative R&B genre by successfully mixing anxiety-inducing beats with angelic vocals, creating a beautiful cacophony of juxtaposing musicality. After this release, Sampha’s career would become quiet, and besides a few features, the amount of attention on his work would evaporate until the announcement of his new album, Lahai.


With a six-year break, it raised many questions: Can this be as good as Process? Will this album live up to its hype? Does Sampha have anything else to offer? But the description of the album following in this article would be better than direct answers to these questions.


“Spirit 2.0”, the lead single, encompasses the artistic vision of the entire album despite its short four-minute run-time. Sampha establishes the release’s patterns within the chorus of this single, where he sings, “Waves will catch you. Love will catch you. Faith will catch you. Time will catch you.” The extended metaphor is that time is of the essence, and it should not be wasted. 


He combines his messages of time with elements of spiritualism by creating vivid imagery of flying and learning the true potential of his “wings” within all of the tracks, especially on “Jonathan L. Seagull”, my favorite track, where he directly references Richard Bach’s novella of the same name. This song shows how it can be both scary and comforting to think about the limits you can reach.


Sonically, it’s an astonishing and euphoric experience. Although the production is quite simplistic on its own, the project shows moments of jittery and diverse sound palettes similar to his more adventurous works early in his career. While the album explores many different styles, it’s still cohesive and interesting throughout the 41-minute runtime.


With all that being said, Lahai is Sampha’s best project yet. From start to finish, Sampha creates and answers cryptic messages about time, dives into topics of spirituality by painting vivid pictures of flying, and transcends listeners to a different dimension. He explores many topics personal to him, and I’m in awe of his ethereal vocals and soft yet simplistic production. Although Sampha leaves behind the electronic soundscapes of his previous works, he still creates a project that is the album of the year for 2023.

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