You’re feeling like a high roller so you go to the trendy new restaurant downtown, the type of place that doesn’t even have a sign outside. You’re presented with plate after plate of foods you don’t recognize and the waiter just laughs when you ask what it is. Every bite is delicous, something you’ve never really tasted before, but on the way home you’re still so hungry you stop by a taqueria for some enchiladas. Welcome to Sa-Ra’s new album The Hollywood Recordings, a musical dinner with some intruquing flavors but few calories. Sa-Ra is …
DJBooth Album Review
Welcome to Sa-Ra’s new album The Hollywood Recordings, a musical dinner with some intruquing flavors but few calories. Sa-Ra is a production collective made up of Taz Arnold, Shafiq Husayn and Om'Mas Keith, who have individually earned widespread respect for their production work with Dr. Dre, Kanye, and Jurassic 5 among others. Five years ago they decided to join forces in order to make music so unique it would sound like it came from another planet (Sa-Ra reportedly means “children of the cosmos”). After years of slowly building buzz they’ve finally emerged with The Hollywood Recordings, a psychedelically spacey journey that lives up to it’s billing as Afro Magnetic Electronic Spiritualism. What’s that mean? I’m not sure even they know.
The track Hollywood typifies their production style with its electronic blips, swirling synths, jazz drumming, and falsetto vocals. The volume is dampened by the entire album, and Hollywood’s quiet restraint is no different. Rosebuds is another cut that seems to almost evaporate into the air. The rhythm section is strong enough to keep the track together, but the stream of conciousness lyrics leave little to hold onto. There’s nothing wrong with pushing boundaries as long as at least one foot is on the ground, and The Hollywood Recordings is on the verge of disappearing into the atmposphere.
Sa-Ra does attempt to bring the musical altitude down a few times, most notably on Not On Our Level featuring Capone-n-Norega. The duo’s street level lyrics certainly add some grit, but when they scream “militant motherfuckin minds move in strength” you expect to be hit with something stonger than a synth harmony and a relatively restrained drum beat. Sa-Ra lands some body blows on the track Thrilla with the late great J Dilla, who’s been getting the attention in death that he deserved in life. The track has a rumbling bass line, bursting harmonies, and a sharp clap-track. Thrilla proves that when Sa-Ra isn’t trying to reinvent music they produce some stellar work.
The Hollywood Recordings is full of features, a neccesary addition because Sa-Ra isn’t vocally interesting engouh to carry an entire album by themselves. Bilal’s sky-high vocals are a perfect fit for the relaxed and stuttering melodies of Sweet Sour You and Erykah Badu’s incredibly stylized vocals lock down the chorus of Fly Away, though you can’t help but wish Sa-Ra got out of the way and let her work the entire track. Fish Fillet is an ode to oral sex that finds Pharaohe Monch stopping by to put in his double entendres, and Talib Kweli is his usual multi-syllabic self on the riding Feel the Bass, a track which ironicly doesn’t have much bass. The surprise is the relatively unknown Ty, who displays shades of Common on the undeniably cool track And If. The Hollywood Recordings certainly has one of the more solid features lists in recent memory, but it’s not enough to fully save Sa-Ra from their self-indulgence.
Hip-hop’s been pushing the boundaries of music for decades and in today’s truly global market genre-blending only makes sense. Sa-Ra’s The Hollywood Recordings is certainly miles off from anything on the radio, but the album is closer to a cocaine-laced retrofitting of 70’s soul than truly genre smashing work like Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere. If you’re looking for an intruquing appetizer or some delicous dessert than by all means try some Sa-Ra, but may I suggest some Outkast as your main dish. They’re just as daring and won’t leave you asking for seconds.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 04/29/07
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Feel the Bass ft. Talib Kweli" (2007)
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