Sa-Ra, The Hollywood Recordings (April 24, 2007)
Two years ago, Sa-Ra Creative Partners was the shit. A trio of studio musicians – Taz Arnold, Om’Mas Keith and Shafiq Husayn – who made credited (Jurassic 5’s Power in Numbers, Pharoahe Monch’s “Agent Orange” single) and uncredited contributions to several high-profile projects, many called Sa-Ra the future of soul. Dr. Dre sang their praises. Kanye West signed them to his fledgling G.O.O.D. Music imprint. Okayplayer forum members obsessively traded their material. The Hollywood Recordings arrives well after that era of initial discovery. Many of its 19 tracks have already been released, either legitimately (2005’s Second Time Around EP, 2004’s “Glorious” 12-inch) or illegitimately via official and unofficial mix CDs and bootlegs. The album itself arrives after a year of delays as a result of G.O.O.D. Music’s deteriorating relationship with Sony Music. Babygrande should be commended for stepping in and issuing this long-anticipated project. (The Hollywood Recordings refers to one of the group’s most popular songs, “Hollywood,” but for unexplained reasons that track doesn’t appear here.) Sa-Ra has a quixotic image. The trio mixes street pimp theology with lush soul, resulting in horny, freakazoid undulations. “I don’t want to wife you/But can you be my bitch?” they sing on “Bitch.” Some tracks are undercut with dark, operatic tones reminiscent of Parliament; others, particularly “Tracy” (with Rozzi Daime), mimic the sex rap of Spank Rock and Amanda Blank. As one of the Sa-Ra crew puts it on “White! On the Dance Floor,” “I’ll fuck ‘em, white or black, man.” From a musical perspective, The Hollywood Recordings is generally on point, save for a few tracks, particularly the murky “Bitch” and “Sweet Sour You” (featuring Bilal on the vocals). As a self-contained unit that plays everything from samplers to analog instruments (pianos, synthesizers, drums, electric guitar), they can make music that combines the sensuous warmth of the Roots with the crisp, hard-hitting tweets of the late J Dilla (who appears on “Thrilla”). But from a conceptual standpoint, The Hollywood Recordings has a few problems. It sounds like a collection of tracks instead of a full-fledged suite that carries you through a story. Many of the cuts feel like jam sessions instead of tightly constructed songs, and while that may enhance their appeal, it gives the disc a rough, unfinished quality.