Album Review: Sampa The Great – As Above, So Below

The Zambian rapper has returned from Australia to deliver a celebration of her heritage, her identity, and the path she’s on

Sampa doesn’t seem to be missing Australia. “Who did music, made that sh*t language/African branded? We did,” she raps on ‘Never Forget’, in her element alongside three other prolific Zambian musicians – Chef 187, Tio Nason, and her sister and frequent collaborator, Mwanje.

Under her Australian label, Sampa has always paid tribute to Zambia in her sound, but As Above, So Below is not peppered with nods to the rapper’s homeland so much as it is an explosive, unstoppable outpouring of love for it. Safe to say she won’t be heading back to Australia anytime soon.

Sampa The Great - Never Forget ft. Chef 187, Tio Nason, Mwanjé (Official Music Video)

Maximalism is the word here. Every track is jam-packed – always brilliantly, never chaotically – with homespun details, from a Chichewa monologue in opening track ‘Shadows’ to a collaboration with legendary Zamrock band W.I.T.C.H. Titled ‘Can I Live?’, it sees Sampa unpack her frustrations with fame, public reception and the Australian music industry. “I ain’t even started and I hate this sh*t,” she growls, throaty and gritty, giving way to a gospel-influenced chorus. “The way you love me/It’s all murder.” The message is clear – Sampa will not be pandering.

Instead she is embracing her identity, all parts of it, and shrugging off those who won’t join her. In ‘IDGAF’, she teams up with Kojey Radical to deliver a playful, grime-tinged message to her naysayers. “I think it’s beneath me now/I ain’t even tripping.” Her grin is almost audible as she delivers the line.

‘Lo Rain’, a self-love anthem beautified further by Mwanje’s vocals, turns that same energy into something almost spiritual. Sampa’s new alter ego, Eve, appears throughout the record without direct acknowledgement. She represents divine femininity, supreme confidence, and a deep connection to one’s own self and story – a manifestation of Sampa’s growth. “I can be hard/I can be soft/I can be everything under the stars,” she says in ‘Shadows’.

Sampa The Great - Lane ft. Denzel Curry (Official Music Video)

A wide range of collaborators allows her to diversify the sound across the record, but alongside each one Sampa shines. With Joey Bada$$, she delivers ‘Mask On’, a dive into what it means to be black in the Western music industry that samples a Zambian nursery rhyme. With James Sakala, a silk-throated Zambian singer, she unpacks ‘Imposter Syndrome’ with delicacy and drive. Lead single ‘Lane’ sees her team up with Denzel Curry for her own spin on a mainstream hip-hop track. “You were stayin’ in your lane,” she raps. “You were thinkin’ I had one.”

Her collaboration with the hugely decorated Beninese powerhouse Angelique Kidjo, ‘Let Me Be Great’, is something special. The two meet over horns, polyrhythmic percussion and gorgeous harmonies to speak on legacy and self-confidence. In this company, as in all, Sampa holds her own. “I’m Sampa, I’m great,” she shrugs. Hard to argue.

As Above, So Below is out now to buy and stream. Sampa The Great is playing dates in Manchester and London in October, with tickets available here.