Sampa the Great is a poet, songwriter, and visual artist whose introspective, socially conscious music strives to uplift, empower, and inspire positive change. Her delivery flows between aggressive, confident rapping, smooth soul-jazz singing, and poetic reflections, and her music is a similarly eclectic brew of abstract hip-hop beats, African influences, spiritual neo-soul, and other styles. Following her Australian Music Prize-winning 2017 mixtape Birds and the BEE9, she released her soul-searching debut album, The Return, in 2019. As Above, So Below, influenced by the music Sampa heard as a child as well as modern styles like Afrobeats and amapiano, appeared in 2022.
Born Sampa Tembo in Zambia, she was raised in Botswana and fell in love with hip-hop after hearing 2Pac’s “Changes” as a child. She soon began rapping, and after moving to Australia as a young adult, she established herself in Sydney’s hip-hop scene. The Great Mixtape (produced by Godriguez) was released by Wondercore Island in 2015 and quickly built up a major buzz. The 2016 singles “Blue Boss” and “Black Dignity” received airplay on BBC Radio 1 and Australia’s Triple J, and Sampa guested on songs by Urthboy and Remi. As her fan base grew, she shared stages with artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Hiatus Kaiyote, Ibeyi, and Little Simz, and appeared at festivals like WOMAD and Sugar Mountain. In 2017, Sampa collaborated with British R&B icon Estelle on a three-song EP titled HERoes Act 2. Later in the year, Sampa signed to Ninja Tune’s Big Dada imprint and released the single “Rhymes to the East.” This preceded her second mixtape, Birds and the BEE9, which was subsequently awarded the prestigious Australian Music Prize. She also guested on Tokorats, the second full-length from psych-pop songwriter Jonti.
Sampa’s proper debut album, The Return, was issued by Ninja Tune in 2019. Featuring collaborations with Ecca Vandal and London jazz collective Steam Down, as well as production by Kwes Darko (aka Blue Daisy) and Clever Austin (of Hiatus Kaiyote), the sprawling, celebratory album’s songs address themes of identity and heritage. Sampa guested on tracks by the Avalanches, Quakers, and Tony Allen, and she released “Free & Equal,” a collaboration with Angélique Kidjo, in 2021. As Above, So Below, her second album, was released by Loma Vista in 2022. Including guest appearances by Denzel Curry, Kojey Radical, Joey Bada$$, and Kidjo, the album featured production by Mag44 and Sampa herself. ~ Paul Simpson