Superstar producers with a fine slice of sophisticated hip hop.
Louis Pattison 2007
Perhaps it’s a by-product of hip-hop’s admiration for the men behind the scenes, the Machiavellian movers-and-shakers, but increasingly, the genre’s most lauded personalities are not the rappers, but the champion producers - talented studio men with ears for hits and the Midas touch on the faders. Joining the likes of The Neptunes and Timbaland in this illustrious club is Sa-Ra.
With names like Dr Dre, Kanye West, and Ice-T in their production resume, this Los Angeles/New York production trio certainly have some powerful backers. What’s also clear is that they hold themselves in pretty high regard. 'Sa-Ra is a magical trio', says the group’s Taz Arnold. 'We're three lords from different aspects of the universe, different walks of life, here to put something magical together for the people'.
While a debut album, of sorts, The Hollywood Recordings – released by independent label Babygrande - is conceived as a prequel to the group’s forthcoming major label debut. As a calling card, it’s close to irresistible.
Rejecting the techno-inspired sounds and applied minimalism of Timbaland and The Neptunes, Sa-Ra’s is a luxuriant sound inspired by US R&B, vintage soul, the melodic synths and deep bass of G-funk landmarks like Dr Dre’s 1992 album, The Chronic, and other Black music touchstones from Prince to Parliament.
"Hey Love" is a powerful example of how far this group travel from rap’s borders, the trio chorusing soulfully over an early-morning groove salvaged from Herbie Hancock’s "Textures", while "So Special", featuring Los Angeles soul singer and Sa-Ra affiliate Rozzi Daime, is startling in its sheer sonic richness: fizzing, dry-heat synthesisers, dancing horns, and electronic bass lines that bulge like they’ve had collagen implants.
Also present is a pretty impressive line-up of special guests: Talib Kweli, who throws athletic shapes across the tense, horror film-turned-ghettotech bounce of "Feel The Bass"; Pharoahe Monch hits the mic with some mouth-watering culinary chat on "Fish Fillet"; and the sorely missed J.Dilla makes a posthumous appearance on "Thrilla", a syrupy street jam that winds up the album in style.