He's worked with all the big names. Now he's becoming one himself. Chris Schulz meets Sampha, the year's break out star.

The line is bad. Woeful, in fact.

It crackles and fizzles like we're trying to have a conversation from opposite ends of The Matrix using tin cans and a piece of string.

But then that voice, soft and silky, but bold and fully present, cuts through the fuzz.

"How you doing?" asks Sampha. He's talking to TimeOut from the back of a London cab.

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"Things are going well actually, yeah," he says, when I ask him the same question.

"I'm feeling kind of good."

That's exactly how he should be feeling. South London's Sampha Sisay is, after all, having a moment.

It's fair to say that 2017 is his year. But it's been a long time coming.

For years, he's toiled away in the shadows, working with all the big names - Beyonce, Drake, Kanye, Solange and Frank Ocean - as the go-to guy for those wanting more emotion in their music.

Finally, this year, we got an actual, proper full-length Sampha album, and it's a stunner, full of bleak R&B and moody blues. His songs have been described as exquisite portraits of pain, and Sampha admits there's real hurt behind those hits.

"They're definitely over-magnified versions of particular emotions," he says. "It's like someone who paints a picture or writes a film, some of those feelings are definitely things I've gone through personally," he says.

Process

is so good, the question has to be asked: Why'd it take him so long?

"I wasn't ready to make one and release it and do everything that comes along with making an album," he calmly explains. "The promotion of it and playing live ... I felt like I wasn't ready."

It was a confidence thing. But what the 28-year-old learned from people like Drake and Beyonce is that "I don't have to record every single moment myself, that doesn't dilute my authenticity ... You can spread out the workload and it doesn't necessarily have to detract from you as an artist".

But Process started as a solo venture, the songs formed during writing sessions as he sat alone in cafes on the London Underground. He loved the crowds. "There's something quite meditative about movement," he says. "I'll patch together a story and think of a narrative, see what kind of imagery comes to my mind and I'll paint more of a picture."

But he struggles to do that now. He's getting too familiar. "The frequency of me being recognised is going up," he admits. Sampha fades out, and the line drops dead.

When he returns, he tells me about his upcoming Auckland show. It's him and a band, "live, no laptops involved". But he won't have his favoured instrument, the piano. "I haven't managed to reach that level yet," he jokes about affording the travel fees for taking one on tour.

Finally, I ask him about all those accolades, those predicting a Mercury Music Prize win, others suggesting Process is an album of the year contender. Is it going to his head? Does it mean anything? Does he care?

Suddenly, for the first time, Sampha loses his composure, almost like he's embarrassed by the question.

"I have seen that ..." he stammers. "It's not really ... I try not to ... I don't think, 'Oh my god,' I don't even expect ... I try not to have those expectations really and let things become ... I take things ..."

He trails off. Then the phone cuts out one last time. There's just static. That voice is gone.

LOWDOWN
Who: Sampha
Where and when: The Studio, May 24
Also: Debut album Process, out now