Words by: Dwayne Wilks
Having realised the potential of his D.I.Y approach, North West London artist S.A.M is aiming to set a new precedent.
The first thing that is evident about S.A.M is his passion for his music. We’d barely found our seats in the Camden studio where we had arranged to meet, and he was off. Without much prompting from me he was almost immediately in full flow – talking about where he is in his career and how he’s arrived here, the business acumen he’s picked up on his journey as an independent artist, and more.
2019 marks the point where S.A.M started taking music really seriously. Since then, he’s only got more and more entrenched in his career progression – “Every year it seems to be the case [that he’s more obsessed with music] though. It always feels like “Ah yeah, I’ve been taking it even more seriously in the last 6 months” cos I’ll look back and see the step up I’ve taken in that time.”
Having built a following on IG by posting freestyles that have cumulatively amassed 6 figure numbers, the lockdown of 2020 proved to be a blessing in disguise for S.A.M. It gave him the time and space to work on his craft, at his pace. “It wasn’t until last year when I started recording at home, that was when I was like “this is my sound, this is how I want to sit on each type of track”,” he tells me.
2021 saw his realisation come to fruition with him releasing an R&B EP named Take 2 that racked up strong numbers, driven by summer-ready single “365” which debuted at #1 on iTunes R&B chart. The collaborative project features fellow South Asian artist, Pritt, and explores the chronology of a toxic relationship from the perspectives of both parties. A collaborative R&B project isn’t something S.A.M foresaw as a milestone in his path, but it’s the route that his evolution as an artist has taken him.
He’s worked his way to being a jack of all trades and is well on his way to mastering them all. “The labels hate it,” he responds when I ask him about his cross-genre approach. “If you do bare genres, they’re like “but what’s your sound”? So, there was a point when I was thinking “should I streamline my sound” but now I’m at the stage where I feel like – the sound is S.A.M. I just dropped an R&B project bro. I never saw myself singing like that but look at how well it was received.”
The Take 2 EP proved to be a big learning curve, in more ways than one. Its success ramped up the ever-present queries about his position in music as one of a few Sri Lankan artists with his level of visibility. “The thing I hear a lot from A&R’s is “you could be the NAV of the UK!” But you can’t blame them for their lack of understanding cos they only know what they’ve seen before. The blueprint is the blueprint, but I’m just trying to leave my own mark.”
If there is one position that S.A.M doesn’t want to take, it’s being in a box as many seemingly want to put him in. “There aren’t any Brown people in the conversation with the likes of Adele, Stormzy, Sam Smith, Dave. But once you’ve got someone that’s done it things will change. For me, if I could make a mission statement, it would be to be a British homegrown artist that happens to be Brown.”
As we near the end of our talk, I ask S.A.M about his next drop. “The next release is very symbolic”, he says. “It features my boy who’s Jamaican. It’s a Dancehall track with a Tamil/Sri Lankan sample and I feel like this track is me, like based off my influences and stuff. Growing up I was so indulged in Caribbean and African culture through my closest mates. That clash of cultures is the only reason I’m able to make my sound now.” He proceeds to connect his laptop to the studio speakers and lets me hear “It’s Me Not You”, ahead of its August 5th release.
As it blares out, all he’s been saying comes together in the form of a punchy Dancehall riddim. Uptempo and infectious, I’m caught straight away by how it’s made for you to move along to – whether it be your foot, your head or your waistline – and subsequently, how ready-made it is for the clubs. “This is like a statement piece”, S.A.M says after the song has finished pulsating around the room. “It’s how I think these sounds and cultures should be infused.”
From our talk, one thing is clear: S.A.M has the potential to go as far as he likes. At length, he speaks of all he’s learned on the marketing and business side of things and mentions his economics degree almost as an afterthought. He talks of being a pianist, a skill that is at the core of his artistry. More important than all of that, after our conversation I could see for certain that S.A.M can go as far as he wants with whatever he does.