[April 13, 2016]
By Kyle Roe // Photo by Theo Jamison courtesy of Stones Throw Records
Ann Arbor beatmaker Sam Baker, aka Samiyam, is making significant headway in the far away city of Los Angeles. The storyline of Baker’s career resembles his albums: understated yet to-the-point, progressing with a steady tempo and scattered with collaborations from hip-hop heavyweights.
He first allied with legendary experimental hip-hop producer and Brainfeeder Records founder Flying Lotus, with whom he co-produced the song “RobertaFlack” off FlyLo’s 2008 release ‘Los Angeles’, among other projects. The two met over MySpace before either had any real following to speak of and their friendship prompted Baker’s move to LA to participate in the city’s vibrant beat scene. Later on, Samiyam would record his debut LP ‘Sam Baker’s Album’ for Brainfeeder before signing to the seminal Stones Throw Records.
His newest album, ‘Animals Have Feelings’, is his most soulful release to date. The quiet euphoria of 2013’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ has matured into a more unified sound, with each song more focused on a single set of motifs rather than the sometimes abrupt mid-song changes that added character at the expense of a smooth, cohesive groove. A man of many styles, ‘Animals’ starts out gritty, with the video game-inspired funk of “Blowed” and snappy keyboards of “Kimchee.” It moves into brighter territory from there, some instrumental highlights including the reverb-soaked “Surprise,” the smooth tempo changes in “Not a Fluke,” and childlike soul bliss of “Ronald.”
‘Animals Have Feelings’ has its fair share of features from up-and-coming MCs, including the virtuosic Earl Sweatshirt on the track “Mirrors,” spitting lines like, “High and level-headed, so I’m treading when the tire switch/Self-medic always too restless to let the time tick.” Also making an appearance were Brainfeeder’s Jeremiah Jae, Fontana independent rapper Oliver the 2nd, and prominent chef/rapper Action Bronson.
Samiyam admittedly doesn’t listen to very much new music, but spends hours in record stores looking through stacks of old vinyl records. Like most of the producers in the LA beat scene, the genres he samples in his songs are fairly eclectic, ranging from be-bop to classic movie scores. He says he usually buys a record based on its instrumentation or name recognition, but sometimes will budge if it has an especially interesting album cover.
When it comes to samplers, Baker prefers the Roland SP-303, the instrument used by J Dilla to record 29 out of 31 songs on his classic posthumous album ‘Donuts’. Originally working with an MPC, because of its prominence among successful hip-hop producers, Samiyam wasn’t able to properly express himself until he started using an SP in combination with an MPC 2700XXL, citing the latter’s various effects and built-in sequencer.
Samiyam is a regular in clubs around Los Angeles; look out for him at the weekly Low End Theory show at the Airliner club in Lincoln Heights. On April 14th, he’s headlining a show at the Hi Hat club with Ras G, Knxledge, and House Shoes.