Sampa The Great is a poet, a singer, a writer, and a rapper. The young artist has been catapulted on to the scene after the release of her debut offering, The Great Mixtape. Her music flows seamlessly through a sea of experimental beats, jazz inflections, and powerful rhymes; she aims to inspire—to listen is to learn.
When did you first start falling in love with music?
Oh man, I think that would be the age of nine, when I realised I could write. I brought home a song I wrote because my parents had left me at school. I sent it to my cousin and he said, “You didn’t write that!” and I was like, “Yes I did.” Because I had to defend it I felt that something special happened. And from then on I just started writing and singing and speaking—plus discovering Tupac was like ‘this is a whole new world and I want to be a part of it’. And that’s when I started loving music. Because then it didn’t matter if I got left at school, I was like “it’s cool I’ve got my notebook.” If anything went down or something happened … I had my notebook, and then I could create my world.
How did that progress into hip-hop and rap?
Even if I wrote a song first, I started off writing as if I was writing in a diary. So I’d just speak whatever I had written down and that became the spoken world element. But it turned into rap shortly after I was introduced to Tupac. And then I witnessed this boy band at school do hip-hop. They were rapping and I thought that that was amazing because I’d just been introduced to something and then seen it in reality. I was like, okay, this is real and people I know are doing it. But then they told me I couldn’t do it because I’m a girl. Then I discovered Lauryn Hill and I was like, yes I can. It all happened really fast.
What was it like moving from Botswana to Australia and having your career blow up so quickly?
My sister was planning to move to Australia to finish her studies and I just felt inspired by that, so I went to Sydney to finish my studies as well. It was another two years of me finishing everything off and then on the side making the mixtape; then the mixtape started getting all this attention—it’s been fast but it’s been beautiful.
Has your family always been supportive?
My parents really did want this to be my plan B. But they came recently and saw that it’s real, it’s work, it’s not just me talking—they realised I was serious. Now, more than ever, they’ve said I can do whatever I put my mind to … it’s a whole weight off my shoulders. They understand now that I’m both learning and doing—so they’re really supportive.
You explore some really important political and social issues, why are they important to you?
I guess I’m slowly coming to the realisation that not a lot of people think or look at things in that way. And just analysing that I grew up in a place where some of those things, they were just the reality; it wasn’t anyone searching for these things, they were just there. To bring to life that these things are happening, to say it’s not out of our reach to express that we don’t like what’s happening and it needs to change, I don’t know, I guess it’s a mixture of things. It’s never been my plan to rap this way, it’s just what I’ve been around so I vocalise that. All my inspirations were also quite political, and being a passionate artist, how can you not react with empathy to some of these things? You know … we’re living in it so what else can we do?
How did you get involved with your producer, Dave Rodriguez?
We met at a jazz and hip-hop night that happened every Friday on Harris Street. And it was improv so you just had to jump on stage and show what you got. I remember going the first night, dragging my sister and my friend with me, seeing all this talent and saying “okay I think next week is when I’m going to go on stage, definitely.” And my sister just wasn’t having it. She forced me up on stage and it went really well, I remember thinking, “I can do this.” Dave was there; we met and agreed that we should work together. That was the beginning.
And you recently opened for Kendrick Lamar.
I think it’s the only show I don’t have an answer for yet because I’m still not sure if it was actually me or not. I still can’t get my head around it. It was one of the most inspiring moments I’ve ever had—to be on that stage and witness him being on that stage as well. And to see my set list next to his just made me feel like I can do something like that, I can make it.
What was the crowd like?
Oh they were awesome! I almost wanted to say, “Oh no Kendrick’s not coming on. It’s just me right now.” They really gave us a chance to just show them what we were about, even if we weren’t a part of Kendrick’s crew. I really loved that we got that chance; it was really beautiful
Is there anything you’re excited about at the moment?
We’ve been doing a bunch of recording, and if we’re happy with it we may release something in November. There’s a lot of stuff that’s been written down; there’s a lot of inspiration that has come at this time. We’ll definitely be releasing something by the end of this year.