The economics of bringing a 10-piece, lavishly-robed band and two dancers to a small venue like this would cause many artists to compromise. For Sampa, as she declared in this night’s Philadelphia soul-flecked opener, it’s Freedom or nothing.
Taking her sound way beyond hip hop’s two-turntables-and-a-microphone conventions may no longer be that radical, in a genre forever changed by Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly , the jazz-infused 2015 album that was clearly a touchstone here.
What did feel revolutionary was Sampa’s rapping. In her distinctive high-pitched, yet honey-cured voice she spat verses containing no materialism, no sex (bar the breathy Leading Us Home) and hardly even any bragging.
Instead of these mainstays we got smart, beautifully arranged songs of ancestry, identity, and the diaspora’s search for home. Beckoning constantly as the rhymes flowed, Sampa’s music seemed to reach out to anybody who feels out of place – even when a few of the words got lost in a busy mix.
The universally-minded approach really shone on third tune Dare To Fly, where highlife guitar segued into a thumping R&B drum rhythm, accentuated by blasts of saxophone, trumpet and trombone, as the star and her three backing singers chanted “I will reside in myself”.
There were superb statements of visibility in Black Girl Magik, the star’s booty-shaking feeling celebratory rather than cynical, and Diamonds In The Ruff, with soaring guest vocals from Zimbabwe-born Thando.
An epic, Funkadelic guitar solo in Brand New nearly attained the perfection sought by Sampa in the song’s verses, while there were thrilling statements of intent in Final Form (with its headrush of a horn part) and the urgent Afrobeat of OMG .
“They don’t know me, they can’t hold me”, Sampa rasped, and the dancefloor whooped in elated agreement.