Front + Center is Rated R&B’s artist discovery series, putting new and emerging R&B singers at the center of your attention.
The business of divinity runs in Samm Henshaw’s family. As the son of a reverend, people naturally spoke life into Henshaw following his father’s footsteps. He never saw himself becoming a pastor, but when it came to guiding a following with their gifts, creating music with unifying messages was more his ministry.
From writing worship songs, at age 15, to channeling his foundation into tracks like his signature 2019 single “Church,” incorporating his faith and gospel music into his sound is second nature.
“It’s so much a part of who I am and my being,” Henshaw shares with Rated R&B. “Down to morals, down to the way that I perceive life, and the way that I handle things, it comes down to that. It would be impossible not to incorporate those things in there.
Growing up in the church at a young age, a lot of the chords that I learned on keys were gospel chords. So, to even try and come away from some of that stuff sometimes, it would be like having to unlearn a lot of those things. It’s just natural to me. It’s fun to learn new things, but again, it’s my core.”
His debut album Untidy Soul, released in January, holds true to the musical standings he’s known for: bright and upbeat melodies, hilariously relatable lyrical stylings, and warmly impaling vocals. His reinvigorated approach to soul music proves that the classically impelling genre is still a vital refuge in modern times.
“It Won’t Change” is a shining example of the British artist’s musical perspective. Wafting guitar riffs lead the euphonically optimistic production as Henshaw’s textured voice relays a sense of comfort. Akin to the likes of Bobby Womack and Bill Withers, his voice is a narrative instrument that’s equally as important as the lines being performed.
Henshaw bridges the old and the new by incorporating vintage aspects of album components that have been sorely missed. Case in point: His interludes fuse the seamlessly cinematic listening experience, yet they can stand alone outside the sequence. He credits Kanye West and Lauryn Hill for the refreshingly enjoyable moments between tracks.
“Two of my favorite albums are Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Kanye [West’s] Late Registration,” Henshaw recalls. “Beyond them having great songs, I remember the interludes always stuck out to me.
When it came to [my album], no matter how long it’s been that I’ve been thinking about creating this project, I’ve always been like, ‘I don’t give a crap, my projects have to have interludes.’ They have to have moments that can take you out, but also just be a contribution to the body of work.”
The vividly pictorial energy embodied on the album is meticulously depicted in the project’s visuals. Each single serves as a video episode, further developing the universe in which the music lives. With 26 different versions, the most untidy song to create and put together was the second single, “Grow.”
As a prelude to “Still Broke,” the second episode goes back in time to glimpse at the relationship his character was in before he became unhappily rich and successful. He wistfully croons about staying the course during a rough patch in the relationship.
The golden strings and beaming adlibs perpetuate the optimism he has in making things worth it. Co-written and co-executive produced by Henshaw, he brings the songs to life to tell the story in an engaging manner that helped drum up more anticipation for the LP.
The name Untidy Soul resulted from the ever-taxing request to describe his genre of music. The concept clicked after coming up with an off-the-cuff response from a subsequent interview that posed the same question. His keen interest in incorporating numerous elements to create his auditory environment spawned the album title and, additionally, the characterization of his sound.
“After that, I sat down with it and tried to figure out what that meant and what it represented. To me, it’s got a few meanings, but I think the main one is the fact that I’m a bit of a mess and a scatterbrain but understanding that it’s okay because something can be messy, but it can be cleaned up,” Henshaw explains.
“So understanding that and making a conscious effort to try and work on myself every day that I’m breathing. And that’s even the ideal concept of God’s grace as well. He understands that we’re sinners, but it’s like, ‘No, I’ve given you grace so that you have the opportunity to make it, to work on yourself and to be different, to grow, to change, develop and evolve.’”
Henshaw has experienced his bouts of growth, personally and career-wise. Formerly signed to Columbia Records, his release from the label allowed him to take full stock in the lane of creating music that’s wholeheartedly true to the basis of who he is as an artist. Now at the helm of his career, his independent status provides full creative autonomy, which plays an immense role in releasing his long-awaited premiere.
With Untidy Soul, the biggest takeaway for Henshaw was the ability to learn about himself and the ways he can progress. Even though he claims he made the therapeutic album for himself, he also wants the album to serve as a soundtrack on the journey of self-consciousness for his listeners.
Years after releasing singles here and there with no album in sight can possibly cause doubt. The uncertainty lived in the potential to actually complete the album. He gratifyingly discovered that he is indeed capable of carrying through with his desired concept and seeing it to the end.
“Sometimes, I question if I care about anything, if I’m passionate about anything. I’m like, ‘Can I actually give my all to it?’ and I think I did that. I spent a long time doing it but, you know, we got there, so the next one won’t take as long.”
Listen to Samm Henshaw’s Untidy Soul below.