Rap Song of the Week: Sampa the Great Strikes Out for Herself on “Let Me Be Great”

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Rap Song of the Week runs down all the hip-hop tracks you need to hear every Friday. Check out the full playlist here. This week, Sampa the Great shines on “Let Me Be Great,” a standout track from her sophomore album, AS ABOVE, SO BELOW.

Like many people, Zambian-born poet and rapper Sampa the Great sought refuge at home during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Returning to her place of birth unexpectedly helped free Sampa of some of the heavy expectations she was carrying after the success of her debut album, The Return.

“A beautiful thing happened where I got to relocate back home,” she told GRAMMY.com. “As uncertain and scary as it was, I got to work with artists I saw growing up. Then, I got to journey back to the young Sampa, who dreamed of being an artist, and revert to the reasons why I wanted to be an artist in the first place.”

One of those artists was Beninese trailblazer Angélique Kidjo, who contributes transcendent vocals to “Let Me Be Great,” the closing track on Sampa’s new album, AS ABOVE, SO BELOW. Reflecting Sampa’s commitment to telling the story of her rejuvenation through the lens of African history, the standout cut features exhilarating production giving way to her self-assured delivery.

“A queen named Lauryn said you can conquer any Hill,” Sampa raps. “That’s how I feel/ My vision, I’m impeccable/ Every strength gained, every stage detectable.” Those certainly sound like the words of an artist whose expectations as a worldwide ambassador were lifted after connecting with her younger self.

Billed as the first project “created in Zambia with a Zambian Executive Producer, African visual team, and majority African producers and artists,” AS ABOVE, SO BELOW is ambitious enough to allow Sampa to live up to the second half of her moniker.

Honorable Mentions:

TOBi feat. Mikky Ekko – “Before We Panic”

Nigerian-Canadia rapper TOBi feels like humanity isn’t too far gone yet, challenging listeners of his new song to take a beat “Before We Panic” and step away from the algorithms and echo chambers. With a sense of optimism in a post-truth era, he suggests refocusing on the facts could be the solution with lyrics like, “Ain’t we all God’s children? but the Devil working overtime/ Isms sow division/ Leaders lacking the vision, potential trapped in the prison.”

EST Gee feat. Future – “Shoot It Myself”

Louisville’s EST Gee broke out in 2021 thanks to his stoic street raps and gruff delivery belying vivid tales of violence. It’s that sense of detachment that makes Future such a good fit for “Shoot It Myself,” a hypnotic track in which the rappers stare down death by preparing for the worst. Though Gee is “paranoid as ever,” at least he’s ready for anyone who comes knocking on his door with ill intentions.

Sleepy Hallow – “2 Mins of Pain”

Back in 2020, Brooklyn’s Sleepy Hallow set himself apart in the drill scene by sampling Fousheé’s fluttering vocals on “Deep End Freestyle.” Now that sample drill has become a genre of its own, he’s back with a reggae flip on the unrelenting “2 Mins of Pain.” As the title suggests, Sleepy Hallow is stuck in a cycle of trauma: “I can’t lie, I be stuck in the mix/ PTS’ got me clutchin’ a stick.”

Yeat feat. Lil Uzi Vert – “Flawless”

“Flawless” is an apt description of both Yeat and Lil Uzi Vert’s musical chemistry and the lifestyles they purport to lead. On the Lyfë cut, the duo go off over a gothic, trunk-rattling beat in which Uzi Vert delights in wordplay referencing Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Mickey Mouse. It’s sure to have fans of the unconventional rappers clamoring for a teased joint mixtape.

Roddy Ricch feat. G Herbo & Doe Boy – “Ghetto Superstar”

On “Ghetto Superstar,” Mustard and Southside lace Roddy Ricch with a hard-hitting beat that takes the Compton rapper back to his mixtape days. With the assistance of menacing verses from G Herbo and Doe Boy, Roddy puts his whole chest into his verse with lyrics like “My young n****s seals, they popping off, hightail and drop ’em off/ Internet, they tough as hell, outside, they cotton soft.”

Best Rap Songs Playlist:

Rap Song of the Week: Sampa the Great Strikes Out for Herself on “Let Me Be Great”
Eddie Fu

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