Sam I Am Montolla’s Debut EP Is Neo-Soul With R&B Roots

Jasmine Sealy

Though the history of R&B can be traced back to the 1940s, most fans speak of the 1990s and 2000s as the heyday of contemporary R&B. During this time, R&B artists began to enjoy huge mainstream success.
Whitney Houston’s The BKRP_Samantha_Hinds-3odyguard Soundtrack became the bestselling album of all time. Soon, R&B began to incorporate elements of hip-hop, and a new genre Mary J Blige called “hip hop soul.”
R&B songs of the 90s and 2000s were rich in texture and depth of sound. The lyrics were moody and dramatic. Songs were known for the narrative arcs and over-the-top music videos. Now, R&B is once again undergoing a sound evolution. More and more elements of electronic music are being incorporated for a futuristic sound. Artists like The Weekend, FKA Twigs and Frank Ocean are popularizing a mellower R&B with echoey, haunting melodies and subtle, allusive lyrics.
“Made Her,” Sam I Am’s soulful debut EP, brings just the right amount of this modern sound, blending it with powerful vocals and bright, storytelling lyrics that are dripping nostalgia.
Just like the archetypical R&B vocalists she is inspired by, Sam I Am’s vocals slice through a beat in a way that is impossible to ignore. Just as when Mary J. Blige begged for no more drama and Blu Cantrell advised you to hit em up style, when Sam I Am sings “oh the joy of being a woman, it’s a curse” in the hook of the irresistibly catchy fifth song on the album, the honesty permeates.
Honesty and authenticity are intrinsic to Sam I Am’s artistic style. She says that freestyle performing helped her to find her true sound by putting her on the spot and requiring her to be in the moment. It was this honesty that first made the thought of embarking on a singing career daunting for the long-time performer. Despite experience in school choirs and having been on stage as a dancer for several years, Sam I Am knew that songwriting would require a new level of openness and intimacy with her audience. She dove in headfirst, with no idea what to expect, and over the course of four years, “Made Her” was created. An aptly titled debut, the EP was for Sam I Am a self-affirmation of her talent and abilities as an artist. Always an emotional performer, recording the album forced her to become more consistent in her vocals and to be more aware of the aesthetics of her sound.
Sam I Am is heavily influenced by classic Black American music like gospel. She also cites Mary J Blige as one of her biggest influences and it shows. But that’s not to say that “Made Her” is purely a throwback EP, rather it is an eclectic and diverse debut that is a unique find in the contemporary R&B landscape. The beats, which were produced by Montreal artist and Fool’s Gold signee Shash’u, are masterfully dance-worthy.
Show Ya Light, the music video, which is creatively and colorfully choreographed, is backed by an afro-funk rhythm that is impossible not to move to. Her background in dance has influenced her sound in more ways than one. It developed her love and ear for diverse types of music from hip-hop and soul to funk. In addition, it surrounded her with a team of creative individuals with a love of music and a passion for collaborating on new and interesting projects. In fact, it was back in 2005 when Sam I Am met Shash’u through the Montreal dance scene and their friendship led to their eventual collaboration on “Made Her.”
Writing her own lyrics, Sam I Am is a genuine talent whose debut album leaves both old school R&B aficionados and contemporary listeners hopeful for more. Luckily, there is more to come as Sam I Am is working on a new single to be released this year. She can also be seen performing alongside Montreal hip-hop artist Jai Nital Lotus at the Montreal Jazz Fest on June 28th, and at the Taste of The Caribbean on June 27th.
Her debut EP “Made Her” is available for purchase on bandcamp and you can like her on Facebook at IamSamHinds.