Elliot Baker revels in Sampha’s Hyundai Mercury Prize triumph by revisiting the South London singer’s debut album, Process.

I thought it would be Tempest. I really did. After a Glastonbury set that apparently moved people to tears and having missed out on the prize narrowly in 2014, I felt the stage was set for her proverbial “Hollywood ending”.

That’s where I was wrong. Because the Hyundai Mercury Prize isn’t Hollywood.

Hollywood is Taylor and Drake and Justin. Hollywood is whitened teeth, tailored gowns and dollar bills. Hollywood is on another planet, one most of us will only ever get to see through the lens of our telescopic TV screens.

Ironically, it is Mercury that feels like it is down here on Earth.

This year, Mercury is Sampha.

I’ve been listening to Process for a few months now. I, like many others, first became familiar with him through his collaborations with Solange, SBTRKT and Kanye – the latter of whom co-wrote the lead single from Process, Timmy’s Prayer.

As varied as his collaborators are, so is Process as a whole. It is a rich tapestry of musical endeavour.

From the sampled radio transmissions on Plastic 100°c to the seductive horn arrangement of Under, we start to get a sense of where Sampha’s success lies. In distinct contrast to the unorthodox and convoluted path his career has taken – it is in how simple everything sounds.

I must be sure to make the distinction between “simplistic” and “simple”. The former would be indicative of a lower-brow of musical intelligence. The latter is a reference to how succinct Sampha is. He tells his story, he tells it in a way we understand, and then he leaves. He shrouds nothing in mystery, but rather leaves it all out on the table for us to dissect and marvel at.

There is no fat on Process. Everything in the album is there for a reason. No track epitomises this more than Like The Piano. For a man who is one of the greatest producers in the industry – at only 28 already a master of dance and house – it shows immense musical nous to rid any sort of theatricality from the track and lay bare a simple story of a boy’s relationship with his mother.


It is this song’s triumph on Thursday that shows us how important the Hyundai Mercury Prize is. You don’t need bells and whistles to win. You don’t need a choreographed dance routine to win. You certainly don’t need a “squad”.

All you need is a story, and a willingness to let us in. Sampha is letting us in. You’d be a fool to not come inside.