Sampa the Great: “Time’s Up” – challenging industry norms and racism through self empowerment

Sampa The Great serves as a prominent example of a female African hip hop artist that gained traction and success as a member of the African diaspora, while maintaining her roots and using her art as a vehicle for social and political commentary. Born in Zambia and raised between there and Botswana, the majority of her career accomplishments as an artist, MC, and poet have occurred during her time living in Australia, where she has had a fair amount of success, winning numerous ARIA awards, including “Best Hip Hop Single” and “Best Female Artist”. Her album “The Return” released in 2019 hit number 12 on the ARIA albums chart, and was focused on the concept of her bringing back her music to Zambia, after a realization that she was very much part of the diaspora, and feared she was beginning to be thought of as an Australian artist, as opposed to a Zambian one just living in Australia. She mentioned in an interview with the Guardian about her anxiety surrounding the response of Zambians as she was to perform for the first time in her home country, stating her greatest fear was to be “A person coming out of Africa and playing globally while still being themselves and pushing for their own culture – to go home and not be understood.”. Understandably, the album explores themes of heritage, home, displacement, and freedom, and can be considered a commentary of her own identity, cementing her as an African artist.

One of her more recent releases, “Time’s Up” Feat. Crown, focuses more on her issues with the Australian music industry. As seen in the official music video below, lyrically it is a scathing indictment of the systematic racism she feels exists in the Hip Hop field, yet the assertive lines take a very explicit stance of empowerment, demanding change versus asking for it.

Particularly powerful, is the lyric “F**k the ARIAs”, where she calls out the fact that despite being one of the first women of colour to take home the awards she had won, she and Kaiit (another woman of colour) were not included in the main broadcast, and were instead handed their awards during a commercial break. As such, she is a particularly unique artist to be watching out for, and one who is striking a balance between ensuring her music embraces her Zambian heritage, while using her position as an increasingly prominent figure in the hip hop world to challenge industry norms and engage in social commentary.

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