Zambia-born, Sydney-based rapper, poet and singer-songwriter Sampa The Great‘s second album Birds And The BEE9 shows great promise and moments of brilliance. But in an unhurried approach, it ultimately lacks the energy and intrigue of her impressive 2015 debut The Great Mixtape.
Opening tracks are often used to build suspense, anticipation, or to start things off with a bang. “Healing” does none of this, seemingly going nowhere, relying on heavy breathing sounds to fill the void. That all changes abruptly with “Flowers”, a track which showcases Sampa’s silky smooth vocals, along with a saxophone performance reminiscent of Paul Desmond. A laid-back guest vocal appearance from REMI, lasting only about a minute in length, strikes as unexpected and inspired. “Black Girl Magik” featuring Nicole Gumbe, with its catchy, well-constructed melody and free-flowing rap, stands out as an obvious choice for a single release.
Spacey keyboards and interesting jazz-soaked world music sonic palettes feature heavily across the downtempo tracks. The formula holds firm, yet does becomes a little repetitive as the album progresses. This works very well as background music, but at times does not demand your attention, until variation in the instrumentation via an upbeat, lo-fi rhythmic drumming pattern on “The Truth” kicks in at track 11 of 13.
In frank conclusion, after repeat listens, we’re still not entirely sure what to make of this album.