The LA/NYC based Sa-Ra Creative Partners (pronounced Sah-Rah and meaning roughly “Children of the Cosmos”) is the collective moniker of Om’Mass Keith, Shafiq Husayn and Taz Arnold. All three of these guys are industry vets, with some serious experience between them. All have worn multiple hats- musicians, producers, record execs, etc.- and worked with everyone from Erykah Badu to Dr Dre, Lauren Hill to Duran Duran.
This album is about a year and a half old. (If you’ve read my blog before though you know I write about whatever I feel like. I’m more into variety than the newest of the new.) Although its more of a compilation of their post millinial work than a proper album, the distinctiveness of their sound allows it to play like one.
From the opening wah wah guitar and Funkadelic- style sreechy synths of Sea Gulls it’s obvious that though the quality of production is on par with the best in the industry, this is no status quo exercise. Shirking the dominant electronic sound of their contemporaries (Neptunes, Timbaland, etc.), Sa-Ra utilize a plethora of vintage synths, horns and guitars along with an impressive roster of vocal talent; no doubt garnered by their extensive industry connections. This, in my opinion, is how 21 century R&B should sound. One part neo-soul, two parts left field hip-hop bounce, and one part British Broken Beat- all spaced out and galacticly funky. P-funk, Prince, Stevie Wonder; the stamp of great black music is writ large over these compositions, yet Sa-Ra also claim contemporaries like Madlib and Daedalus as influences. Accordingly they pull off a style that manages to sound vintage and futurist at the same time.
As mentioned, a number of high profile artists lent their talents to this project: Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, J Dilla, Pharoah Monk among them. Some of the best tracks though, in my opinion, don’t have the big names. An MC named Ty, drops some serious lyrical heat on a few tracks and Shafiq being a more than competant wordsmith/singer cover vocal duties on almost a third of the album.
The bouncy Glorious (originally released on Ubiquity) is a smooth hybrid of soul and hip hop, with shuffling drums, hand claps and background vox both male and female. So Special feating Rozzi Daime is a summery jam with a big funky analogue bass line and swirling Rhodes puntuated by horn blasts and a plucky acoustic guitar. Rosebuds’ chiming Rhodes, call and response crooning, pitch shifted vox (again the influence of Funkadelic is obvious) and steppy drums give it a distinctive luxureous, hip hop swagger. Pure Quality. The collabs are hit (Feel the Bass feat. Talib Kweli) and miss(Tracy feat. Rozzi Daime) but it’s usually the vocal talent that I find to be the issue.
All of these tracks bump hard enough to go down in the club and yet transcend most of the forgettable fodder you’d here there. In the past few decades R&B has become so inbred, it’s vision so myopic, it’s easy to forget that only a generation ago it was the cutting edge of popular music. Compare Prince or Thriller-era Michael Jackson, to what passes now. Obviously those are some pretty large shoes to fill, but if it can be done I can’t think of anyone more likely to step up than these children of the cosmos.
For a nice idea of how these guys roll, check their ill mixtape Dark Matter & Pornography
And be sure to look out for the new album Nuclear Evolution dropping in June on the ever solid Ubiquity Records.