20 Best R&B Albums of 2017

Sharon Jones, Khalid, SZA, Miguel and more

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Sampha, 'Process'
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7. Sampha, 'Process'7/20

7. Sampha, 'Process'

A treasured contributor to R&B's inner circle (Beyoncé, Drake, Solange, Kanye West), singer-producer Sampha Sisay emerges as their peer on this ethereal debut album. Buoyed by his breathless delivery, Process has a weightless, hypnotic quality for an album born of such profound introspection over the costs of death and the vagaries of grief. A health scare of his own drives Sampha to open the album gripped by anxiety: "Sleeping with my worries," he relates on "Plastic 100°," "I didn't really know what that lump was." But it's the death of Sampha's mother (from lung cancer) that both haunts and inspires Process' deep emotional recesses. Anguish and loss converge in a miasma of samples and harmonies on the dark, desperate fantasies "Blood on Me" and "Under"; but perhaps the album's most affecting songs ("Timmy's Prayer," "[No One Knows Me] Like the Piano") are its most spare, with Sampha's voice a steadying presence, even while he's crying out in despair. M.O.

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