WVAU’s #9 SOTY: (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano by Sampha


Sean McCarthy

Photo from Sampha

Most music fan‰’s first introduction to Sampha, whether they knew it or not, was on Drake‰’s 2013 song “Too Much.” The airy vocal sample that comprises the hook of the song is pulled directly from a Sampha song of the same name, also released in 2013. Sampha was later featured on Kanye West‰’s 2016 song “Saint Pablo‰Û, a late addition to The Life of Pablo, exposing him to an even larger audience in advance of the release of his debut album Process in the February 2017. Process was released to widespread critical acclaim, winning the 2017 Mercury Prize for best album by a British artist.

The centerpiece of Process is the heart-wrenching piano ballad “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano.‰” Debuted on The Jimmy Fallon Show, the song is dedicated to his late mother, who Sampha delayed the creation of the album to care for during her battle with cancer. The song begins with the lyrics that give the song it’s title, a reference to the piano where he first learned to play, but also where he composed the song and many others while living with his mother the previous year. In multiple interviews following the songs release he discussed the importance of this particular piano and it’s presence during the most formative periods of his life.

In many ways “Like the Piano‰” is the simplest song on Process. It contains only 12 lines of lyrics, which are stretched about across the songs three and a half minute run time. Sampha‰’s voice is accompanied by only a piano and a single, distant snare sound, leaving the song bare of the intricate percussion that characterizes the album‰’s other tracks. It is in this simplicity that the song succeeds. No song this longing and morose could be as effective without the space for each lyric and piano note to linger. A song with similar lyrics and tone could easily come across as melodramatic in a different setting.

The first time I heard “Like the Piano‰” I was struck by how timeless the song felt even on the day after its release. It’s one of those songs that isn‰’t stuck in a certain time or place. The lyrics are specific enough to evoke a certain emotion but vague enough to allow each listener their own interpretation, and Sampha‰’s voice carries the song‰’s emotional weight perfectly. People have turned to music that inspires powerful emotions, whether they good or bad, for generations, and “Like the Piano‰” captures the emotions of loss and sadness as well as any song in recent memory. Additionally, one of the most powerful parts of the song is lost on many listeners. In the last minute of the song the tone of the piano changes to a much rougher sound, which at first is slightly off putting. However, after learning that this change in sound is a result of him playing the actual piano that inspired the song, it gives the track an even more powerful conclusion.