Archive for the ‘Sa-Ra’ Category

Way back when…in 2007…

January 3, 2008

Aight, it’s January 3 and neither myself nor Kyle have shared any thoughts on the year in music that was 2007 (looking at our last post, looks like we’ve been hibernating). But, I’ve been listening to music incessantly, and been reading some fine wrap ups on some of the blogs I frequent however, and don’t feel it necessary to cut and paste some of the great albums and tracks that others have recollected, e.g. Ohmega Watts’ Watts Happening over at WTR. (“Model Citizen” still sits atop as my favorite, along with “Dedicated” & “Eyes & Ears.”) Sure, I really dug (or digged) Pharoah’s Desire, Hov’s American Gangster, Kweli’s Ear Drum (Madlib dressed “Everything Man” & “Eat to Live” smartly), and other top choices for top 5-10 albums of the year. There are a few albums that I felt didn’t get represented as well as they should have in others’ top 10 lists.

For example, one of my early favorites of the year was Black Milk’s Popular Demand, shown some love early in ’07. “Sound the Alarm” with Guilty Simpson has to be in the top five for gully of 2007. Through 2007, Black Milk lent some really dope production to a range of artists (not including how he laced up his own work, e.g. “So Gone” & “Take It There,” both from Popular Demand). If you haven’t, be sure to check his work on Wildchild’s Jack of All Trades. “Love at 1st Mic” is so Detroit, so Dilla, you have to love it, featuring the classic cut and stuttering soul sample. This beat could have easily been on Popular Demand. I really like the drums on “Ox to tha D,” but Frank-N-Dank don’t really do it for me, nor does the chorus…but the beat is still pretty hot. Black Milk also killed “Danger,” (shown love at WYDU, #81) from Phat Kat’s Carte Blanche; this track was also featured on BM’s EP, Broken Wax, but in my opinion, the highlight of that project was “U’s a Freak”: Classic tale of dude calling out a girl who’s a lady in the street but freak behind doors (very Slum Village-esque theme), but that beat is ridiculous.

Jneiro Jarel also put out, what I consider, and excellent album in 2007, in the form of his Shape of Broad Minds project, which is to Jneiro Jarel what Yesterday’s New Quintet is to Madlib: includes Jneiro Jarel, Jawwaad, Rocque Won, Dr. Who Dat?, and the only non-Jneiro creation, Panama Black. Craft of the Lost Art (digital version here) features the rare soul/funk samples of Madlib, drum arrangements of Dilla, non-self-absorbed lyrics of Ohmega Watts, and the free wheelin’ style of a Count Bass D release. Four elements that make for a great album. Led by the single “Let’s Go” featuring MF Doom working as a tribute to Dilla (whom I would guess Jarel was a student), Craft of the Lost Art is packed front to back with diversity, but manages to sound coherent in one listen. While tracks like “Let’s Go” & “Light Years Away” back the bangers, I really like when Jarel sculpts some more surreal backgrounds, as heard in “Changes,” which features a rolling sample that makes the track float, “Electric Blue,” one of my faves on the album, and “Lullabanger,” the latter very Madlib-esque in the use of rising tones, and, what sounds like a maraca. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the jazz tribute, “It Ain’t Dead!!” reminding us all that jazz still contributes greatly to hip hop music. Unfortunately, when I was in Philly and tried to check out Zanzibar Blue, I found it to be closed.

Other honorable mentions include:
100dbs & Ryan O’neal’s The Adventures of the One Hand Bandit and the Slum Computer Wizard – a long-winded title, sure, but it’s certainly worth checking out for 100dbs’s production. Sample-heavy it is, but as I always say, the ability to find an ill sample nearly precludes sculpting the sample into a track. 100dbs digs some good ones. Highlights include “She Got a Body,” “Get Down!” & “One Hand Bandit.”

Waajeed’s Waajeed Presents: The War LP – Again, here we go with Detroit. Waajeed’s production is on point throughout this “compilation,” which is comprised of both vocal and instrumental tracks. The instrumentals are worth it, but you throw in some excellent tracks from Ta’Raach, a few Dilla instrumentals, and 3 solid Tiombe Lockhart songs, and this album gets better and better, culminating with its final two tracks: “Escape from Stinktown” and the instrumental, “Tron.”

I first learned of Uncut Raw’s First Toke over at When They Reminisce. This was certainly a surprise banger for me, and due to this element of surprise, probably is in my top 5 for the year. Both Selfish & Fluent are capable emcees but for me, the production is definitely the selling point – the samples could hardly be more perfect, including so-soulful and funk, and it sounds like it was recorded in a dark basement; it’s got that dusty sound that made (or, makes) Wu-Tang’s Enter the 36 Chambers so appealing. “The Flying” may be in my top 10 tracks for the year, and is quite Dilla-esque if you ask me.

Sa-Ra’s Hollywood Recordings continues the Detroit ambiance and restores some contemporary Prince vibes to the ’07.

And last, but surely not least is Panacea’s The Scenic Route, which you can (or may have already) read about right here. I still maintain that Raw P is one of the premier story tellers out right now.

Here’s to 2007 – an excellent year, imo, for music. Both the underground and not-so underground came with some really solid albums; while I will occasionally get into a funk when I hear an awful hip hop song on the radio, or see some sloppy video on television, I cannot really complain about what came out in 2007. I’m optimistic enough to be quite interested in 2008’s releases.

Hip Hop, rock, rock on and…


RE Reaching Outside the Box…

October 15, 2007

I’ve been looking forward to an “official” J’Davey project for a minute now – there’s actually a “mixtape” that was available a month or so ago, Land of the Lost; I thought it was available for download on their myspace (or from Fader Magazine), but I can’t find it. You’re on your own to locate it, but I definitely recommend it. I don’t think Jack Davey has a great voice. But I really like her mic disposition and willingness (or natural inclination) to be “experimental;” very attractive quality, artistically speaking. (see “Lalaland” on aforementioned mixtape). I can see the connection Kyle made between J’Davey and Steve Spacek’s sound – spacey, synthy, Prince-y. I tend to compartmentalize J’Davey with Sa-Ra and Platinum Pied Pipers – all are on level just beyond our holy ozone.

Kyle, where did you find Steve Spacek’s mug shot?

Soul is good for your health

August 29, 2007

I’m trying to get my RDA of soul, not that I need it – I’ve been bumpin’ Stevie, Curtis, & Dwele for about 72 hours – but capitalizing on it’s salubrious sound nonetheless. Soul is great, because unlike, say, chocolate, too much is never bad for you; but similar to chocolate, it’s condusive to remarkable tastes, perpetual good moods, and in the right context, amorous exploits.

While I’m a huge Dwele fan, and have been pushing (at least to myself) to get a Dwele post on TT, I need to pay some respect to Bilal. Remember him? Him & Raphael Saadiq freaked us with “Soul Sista,” and he even was nice enough show up on Common’s LWFC, including what I consider one of the smoothest, illest interludes in the history of music, which coincidentally closed out one of my favorite Dilla beats, “Funky For You.” Not to take away from that song (excellent track!), but I used to fast forward to about the 4:32 mark so I can get a quick listen to Bilal pleading with somebody that it was “going to be okay” right before I walked into class. Brilliant voice!

Earlier tonight I was dyin’ for something smooth (duh). I found a cover of EWF’s “Can’t Hide Love,” featured on Interpretations: Celebrating The Music of Earth, Wind, & Fire, revisited by The Randy Watson Experience (Quest & James Poyser), and featuring Bilal. A few thoughts: first, I love Quest’s perspective on music (definitely aware of that ill “something” that makes classic soul so f*cking cool), and I love the prospects of him and Poyser producing an entire album under the Experience. I could be wrong, but I think Poyser also joined Quest on Pharrel’s Out Of My Mind, which really is a great listening experience.

Anyway, so I’ve been bumpin’ the most recent incarnation of “Can’t Hide Love” with Bilal teasing the listener: I’ve never heard anyone say he couldn’t sing. To me, Bilal is the quintessential soul/jazz singer. At one minute, he’s voice is smooth and dips down into the “holy crap this sounds amazing” part of the body. And then a few moments later, he can stir that same part of the body into an uncomfortable, yet intriguing, frenzy dancing between various tones/harmonies/[insert appropriate musical theory term here]. Whether you’re a music expert or not, you know what I’m talking about when it happens, and Bilal is a master at it. (Refer back to 1st Born Second’s “Love Poems” versus “Second Child,” and compare how he conveys two contradictory moods with his voice. Note: “Slyde” is one of my favorite tracks – “I’ve been eyein’ you for a long time, and I don’t think you really understand, that I’m just so fucking in love with you…” Amazing.)

Besides knowing that there are label issues floating around Bilal, I don’t know the specifics about the delay of his supposed sophomore album, Love For Sale. What I do know is that whenever I see his name as a featured guest, I am sure to grab the track(s). On Sa-Ra’s The Hollywood Recordings, the Bilal featured “Sweet & Sour” is one of my favorite tracks: Sa-Ra’s synth production really is a great match for Bilal’s unpredictable delivery.

So, in a roundabout sort of way, that’s what I’ve been listening to for most of this evening. RWE’s “Can’t Hide Love,” EWF’s “Can’t Hide Love (always love hearing the contrast, regardless how subtle they may be…it’s worth noting that the horn section that closes out the Randy Watson Experience version is simply amazing (starts around the 3′ mark).

Other tracks that have been on steady play today include Dwele’s “Weekend Love,” from Some Kinda… (the trombone in the beginning IS soul as far as I’m concerned), and Raheem DeVaughn’s “Guess Who Loves You More.” If you’re not familiar with it, Raheem (probably best known for his cameos on Jazzy Jeff projects, e.g. “Love Savior” from The Magnificent) has a classic falsetto sound, and his casual delivery on that song IS also soul.

More Stones Throw goodness…

August 1, 2007

Keeping the Madlib train moving, we also have Percee P’s album to look forward to. As far as I know, Madlib produces it from front to back. Admittedly, I wasn’t put on to Percee until he started appearing on Wildchild & Jaylib releases, but his older stuff is bonafied fire. Not sure why he has never had a full length LP: he’s worked with DITC, Big Daddy Kane, and Pharoahe Monch, to name but a few. Check out Percee slaughtering the beat on “Lung Collapsing Lyrics.” (Track 5) For me, hearing MC Percee P on Jaylib’s “The Exclusive” was a wrap – one of my favorite tracks on that album (which is chock full of classic joints). From previews I’ve heard thus far, Madlib layers a lot of sounds in the album’s production: funky percussions & guitar licks, synthy keys, and soulful samples, on top of it all – he even takes a page from Oh No’s book and samples a video game (I think it’s Contra, but I could be wrong) for “2 Brothers from the Gutter,” which features Diamond D – all in classic Madlib form: predictably unpredictable. “Legendary Lyricist” samples (as far as I can tell) the same Jake Wade & The Soul Searchers song (“Searching For Soul, Pt.1”) that powered Beyonce’s “Suga Mama,” from B-Day, one of the few quality tracks on there. I can only assume that the synthesized “Percee P, Promo” that spots the previews will be absent from the final release.

What can I say? I love the moves Stones Throw makes…truly a record label for the people, by the people. An MLB GM would trade a limb to have the roster Stones Throw has: deep, talented, and varied. Madlib has to be one of the hardest workers in the business – according to this Philadelphia Weekly article, photograhers Eric Coleman & B+ own nearly 40 GBs of unreleased Madlib material! Fourty gigs! My quick calculation puts that at roughly 30 days of music!

In addtion to this Percee P project (slated for a Sept. 18th release), as well as the Beat Konducta in India album, Madlib also has a project with Erykah Badu in the mix, as per Questlove on last week’s Gilles Peterson Worldwide. This brief tidbit made this music listener very happy. Quest also mentioned a project with EB that involved Sa-Ra!

Sa-Ra Creative Partners – “The Hollywood Recordings”

May 17, 2007

Sa-Ra Creative Partners – The Hollywood Recordings
Babygrande Records (2007)

The next tape is a real banger… this week is going to be fun. 

If I had to describe Sa-Ra’s sound, I’d say its Dr. Dre, J Dilla and Pharrell meet Prince and Parliament. Even though none of Sa-Ra’s members are from Detroit, the group has harnessed a sound that is decidedly modern Motown.  It’s that robo-soul, with drunk unquantized drum patterns, deep basslines, and synthy soul melodies. 

I first heard about this three-man group in 2005, courtesy of Waajeed and Saadiq’s Platinum Pied Pipers LP.  However tongue in cheek the “Platinum” modifer was, Waajeed‘s intention was indeed to act as a pied piper of sorts, presenting a huge group of new talent to the hip-hop disapora.  And he hit the ball out of the park. While most of the featured artists were Detroit-based (Waajeed himself, Dilla, Ta’Raach, Tiombe Lockhart, et al.), Sa-Ra also made an appearance on the cut, “Deep Inside.” The Detroit techno influence was evident from the start.  “Deep Inside” was a pulsating, funky track with these very interesting choral-like vocals.  At this point, Sa-Ra was, at least in my mind, riding in on the buzz associated with this new Detroit sound and had also garned a good amount of industry buzz when they got signed to Kanye’s GOOD Music label. In short, by 2005 you knew things were going to happen for these guys.

In the ensuing three years, Sa-Ra released several singles and mixtape before they hit label drama and rumors that they might disband.  The Double Dutch / Death of a Star 12″ appeared on Ubiquity in 2004. Then in 2005, iTunes mysteriously published a self-titled “partial album”, also on Ubiquity, but the full album itself never surfaced (BTW, this “album” contains a great rendition of Sly’s “Just Like a Baby” worth copping). 2005 also saw Sa-Ra drop The Second Time Around EP–with more rave reviews.  Release after release, their stuff just banged. It was consistently dope, and left you waiting for the LP to drop.

Well, they finally managed to drop the Hollywood Recordings on Koch’s Babygrande Records in April of 2007.  While most of it is new material, several of the older songs appear, and when the title is taken into consideration, you get the impression that Sa-Ra saw this album as a means of cataloging this 2004-2007 period of their work (if they were more accomplished artists, you could almost see “2004-2007” printed on the cover, next to the title).

Getting back to their sound, here’s what Sa-Ra has to say about itself:

“[I]f Sa-Ra’s music is too advanced, too spiritual, too heavy, don’t worry.  It makes sense.  It is a continuation of the work of music’s most significant artists.
‘You look at James Brown, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Parliament — all of the originals, the Gs of whatever they did — people didn’t get it at first,’ Shafiq says.  ‘It wasn’t until they made it cool.  Then, when they made it cool, everybody was doing it.  Our job is to make history, not to entertain.  Our job is to change, add and contribute to what the greats have already contributed.'”

Nah, but what do you really think Shafiq? I guess modesty isn’t their game…

What I find most interesting about the album so far is that Sa-Ra somehow manages to release an a startlingly unique LP that, at the same time, reminds you of a million other artists. They are one of a kind, but all of a kind. It is sure to give us lots to yap about.


And to wet the TT whistle, here’s the artsy-fartsy new video to the first single off the album, “Feel the Bass” (feat. Talib Kweli):

PS: I vow to not use the relatively hollow word “unique” ever again when describing Sa-Ra. That’s word.