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Words By Gottyâ„¢

As a collective trio, Sa-Ra Creative Partners – composed of members Om’Mas Keith, Taz Arnold, and Shafiq Husayn – has been one of those groups that the “cool kids” of hip-hop, urban hipster culture and their peers in the musical know have championed for some time now for being ahead of the pack in various arenas. A list of the work they’ve done behind the boards for others is an astounding one – Dr. Dre, John Legend, Badu, Talib…see where this is headed? Unknowingly to many, they’ve been engaging our listening experience some time, as they’ve produced, managed, had a hand in…or somehow someway involved with artists like Common, Jill Scott, Bilal, Capone-N-Noreaga, Heavy D, etc etc. Just this week, media-crowned fashion icon Kanye deferred to and crowned Taz, one of the most commonly recognized members, as a true genius of fashion for his ability to push the envelope there as well. While I can’t agree with ‘Ye on that because dude’s style of dress is a little too boisterous for the average cat to wear with a straight face, that same hectic quality in their music is what gives you that feel that the group is setting the trends and bar for others to follow. In short, their fingerprints are found all over hip-hop right now and every now & then you realize “these dudes are definitely way ahead” and it’s on us, as listeners, to catch up.

So why hasn’t the rest of the composite hip-hop Bell Curve heard of them?

Lack of exposure or perhaps their chase for it. The usual artistic label woes that sometimes snag artists whose music doesn’t fit inside the current cookie-cutter genres. False rumors of the group disbanding. As I’ve ranted before, their Set-Ups and Justifications album sampler was greater than most releases of that same time, with tracks like “Hollywood,”"Big Fame,” and “Star Warz,” and a musical ride to be enjoyed. But in the end, the work was one only to be scrapped and never released in full.

Whatever the reasons, they did finally recently release The Hollywood Recordings on Babygrande, but it seems to be more of a collection of songs just to officially get their music and name out to the masses before their official major label release. “Feel The Bass”, with Talib sounding reinvigorated, should be enough to convince people of their abilities.

But this week found myself backtracking to one of their earlier “mixtapes” and remembering why their names ring so many bells. Dark Matter & Pornagraphy is…groove and funk for Generation Now, Pink Floyd slash Prince-sounding inspired sprinklings, guitar riffs and synths for the hip-hop culture. It contains an assembly of their remixes for others as well as dusties.

From the outset, as a listener, you get this feeling as if you should be ingesting or smoking a hallucinogenic, or just twacked period. Their revamping & meshing of Pharoah’s “Agent Orange” and “Move” with Fiddy & Banks pulsates and moves forward, backed by a blistering synth bassline. In what might be the crown jewel of the whole mixtape, it’s that knack to cultivate a sound that highlights artist from different end of the content spectrum and make them sound natural is impressive.

Lending an uptempo bounce to Heavy D’s “Can’t Help The Way I Feel” (featuring Anthony Hamilton) and Goapele’s “Catch 22″ give both songs new life. With the Goapele track, there’s an uneasiness that works as her voices falters in and out of balance among a trickling of lush keys. The remodel treatment of Pharell’s “Maybe” brings it to a point where it takes on the rock edge that P himself seems to reach for but can’t perfect.

Admittedly, their stylings aren’t for everyone and it’s evident on the latter part of the disc as they pick a few more obscure tracks where what was heard between their ears just didn’t translate well to this audio recording. While their sound can’t be classified, it’s typified by a few characteristics – it’s always moved in stages and always pure trial and error, as in one they discover a musical vibe they attempt to test it, experiment with it to the fullest, for better or worse. At times, this can get repetitive but still engaging becuase it, knowing what they’ve created to date, it has the feel of a “making of…” process that we’re allowed to witness.

But with every escapist high, one has to come down, no? And it’s the high we chase…not the coming down part. So enjoy the high because musical, Sa-Ra is producing a thing that shouldn’t be looked back on saying “how did I miss these dudes?” but instead listened to now, letting your gray matter work out what you’ve heard.

I won’t put the album up for listening here. But if you want it, you will now learn and grow accustomed to where to go when we post writings like this.

www.sa-ra.net, www.crackspace.com/sa-ra, www.babygrande.com

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