Sa-Ra Creative Partners: The Good Life

Interesting things happen when Sa-Ra Creative Partners start to trip. In 1996 co-founder Om’Mas Keith visited California to meet up with his soon-to-be group members Taz Arnold and Shafiq Husayn. As the story goes, Shafiq’s Crown Victoria ran out of gas and the group had to walk to a local gas station and later to […]

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things happen when Sa-Ra Creative Partners start to trip. In 1996

co-founder Om’Mas Keith visited California to meet up with his

soon-to-be group members Taz Arnold and Shafiq Husayn. As the story

goes, Shafiq’s Crown Victoria ran out of gas and the group had to walk

to a local gas station and later to Taz’s house, where they made their

first track.

Despite the temporary lack of transportation, it wouldn’t be a stretch

to say that the collective is still in the midst of one musical and

figurative trip that has brought them full circle. On April 24, after

building up a buzz that had everyone from Dr. Dre to Kanye West singing

their praises, the group released their official debut The Hollywood Recordings.

The numbers show that the LP is being embraced by both die hard fans

and casual listeners who may be nodding and scratching their heads at

the same time. Don’t trip. Whether you’ve been down since the days of

“Butterscotch” or you’re a newbie who’s still trying to figure out what

it means to have your G and F trophies aligned, Sa-Ra was gracious

enough to provide a road map for all who decide to join in on their

voyage. I heard rumors that you were about to break up?

Taz: [Laughing] Yeah, since this is, we want to go ahead

and reiterate that. Hey, check this out, Om’Mas. The other day someone

ran up on me and said, “Man you guys are f**kin’ ingenious! The whole

break up thing…and then you come back with the whole album? Oh, you

guys never cease to amaze me!” Then he goes, “You guys didn’t explain

it or anything. That was perfect.”

Om’Mas: [Laughing]

Shafiq: [Laughing] Wow, that’s funny.

Taz: I love that, man. I just had to tell you guys that. Aside from the rumors, there are a whole bunch of

unreleased songs with their own little urban legends. What’s up with

“Fantastic Vampire” and the joint with Killer Mike?

Taz: That’s supposed to be a single. That might come out on something

different. The Killer Mike joint—we’re gonna’ put that on an album. The

original one is called “Butterscotch.”

He heard the song when I was down in Atlanta while we were trying to

sell him some beats. I played him about 30 tracks and he was like,

“That’s cool.” I said, “You’ve gotta understand this. When you hear

these beats, you’re supposed to approach this music a certain way. Let

me play you an example of how you’re supposed to approach this music.

Here’s one of our songs.” So I played him that, and before it even got

to the second verse he was like, “Man, that’s what I’m talking about. I

gotta get that!” I asked him if he wanted to buy the song featuring us,

and he said, “Nah, I want to buy the song with your hook on it and I’ll

get on it.” We gave him the track, and I headed back to L.A. I had a

stop in Denver and he called me on my cell phone like, “I’m in the

studio right now. I want you to talk right now on the intercom so I can

put it on the track.”

The track never came out, so we might have to put this on an album.

That’s actually the first song we ever recorded as a group, in the

bedroom at my mom’s crib. We was all chillin’ and Om’Mas had just

hopped off the plane. We had been begging him like, “C’mon man, come

back so we can do this.” We finally got him back, and the first day he

came back was when we recorded. So that song is sentimental with us. What’s going to happen to the music that was going to be on Black Fuzz?

Taz: That’s coming. We’re going to take a quick minute to fine tune

what’s already there, but that album’s done though. This is a set up

for that album. This is not going to be over for some time. I could see

this going into the winter. This is going to be one of those albums

that gets around, and word of mouth plays a part too. For instance,

“Glorious” came out on vinyl over three years ago, but the world is

just hearing it for the first time. It’s not like you’re hearing it and

going, “This sounds like some s**t that was made three years ago.” You

hear it and think, “I’ve never heard anything like this before; this is

some future s**t.” Your image lends itself to that perception too, right?

Taz: As people catch on through the music, or the fashion tip, or some

of our perspectives in regards to how we move socially, I feel like all

those different components help to bring them in. We don’t only make

music and perform, but we’re grown, mature people. People may choose to

be fans on several different levels. Just like how you’re a writer, but

you might draw too, or you might be famous for dancing in your

neighborhood. You catch people however you can. But, the most important

thing is, once you catch them, where are you gonna take them? Along with the name “Sa-Ra” there are a lot of Egyptian

references in your music. Are there any specific aspects of Ancient

Egyptian culture that appeal to you guys?

Taz: Hell yeah. The Kemetic culture is one of the most grand, ancient

cultures of civilization that we know about in modern history. Since it

was one of the main ones and one of the greatest we get a lot of

inspiration from that. We feel that’s what we attract ourselves to

because that’s what we are—reflective of some of that great energy.

We’re an extension and a reflection of those ways. Things then were a

bit more dignified and magical and masterful. They based a lot of their culture off of a scientific

grid system. Since all of you have a strong background in music theory,

do you subscribe to the notion of a science of sound? How much of what

you do is predetermined to get a certain response?

[Due to technical difficulties Om’Mas is disconnected from our

conference call]

Taz: There’s a lot of music theory involved. Your training comes from

your application and learning your instrument. As a student we all

listened to Jazz records and whatnot. Being raised in a Jazz

environment, a jazzy type household, I was exposed to what you might

call some magical hippie jazz type s**t. Our approach is to recreate

what we’re fans of and take it to the next level. Theory is also

looking at a Parliament [Funkadelic] or a Stevie Wonder record and then

looking at what type of instruments they use, getting those instruments

and trying to duplicate those harmonics and frequencies.

It’s nothing like a Fender Rhodes or an Arp [String Ensemble], as far

as the circuitry. That’s a big part of the theory as well, not only

being a player, but also being a producer. You have to recreate a

certain type of atmosphere. The other day we were sitting up in the lab

talking about getting this certain type of keyboard, or Shafiq might

have some instrument on his personal list. Om’Mas or I might have

something on our personal lists. You’re just in time. In a previous interview you stated,

“People have come to expect and associate Sa-Ra with that which is

overtly male, sexual, free…” That combination of activism, social

commentary and overt sexuality all in one reminded me of Marvin Gaye.

Om’Mas: It’s funny that you mention that because I spent all day yesterday marveling over the deluxe edition of What’s Going On.

The liner notes allude to that whole stage of Marvin no longer being

the intentional little sex toy of Barry Gordy and more a man

developing…a man, no less sexual and overt, and still able to impart

the sexuality into the music. This is our music. Sexuality can be

involved in creating music and making music, but we definitely have

something to teach people. There are songs about love, songs about

circumstance, how s**t goes down, street tales and just about how life

is. You’ve got to touch on all the superficial and the spiritual

aspects one goes through in urban life. We’re products of the urban

experiment. The s**t we’ve all seen and the s**t we’ve all been through

cumulatively, is what creates those stories.

People say things like grandiose when talking about how we dictate

ourselves and our imagery. To that effect, I say that if you leave it

up to someone else to paint your picture, you won’t necessarily be

happy. Our purpose is to make sure that we communicate and express our

ideas by speaking to the future of what our ultimate goal is. You have

to do that through manifest destiny.

Taz: You’ve got to teach your seedlings, you know what I’m saying?

Om’Mas: Word, so they have something for they self. From Marvin’s era all the way back to the Blues and

Jazz, Black music always seems to dramatically change when the

mainstream gets too involved. When you look at both the critical and

commercial success of people like Gnarls Barkley, Andre 3000 and

yourselves, will this be how we define a shift in Hip-Hop for this


Taz: That would be ill. All the people who were around to see Hip-Hop

in its early stages are waiting for something else exciting to happen.

I know all of us are. You mentioned Gnarls Barkley; Danger Mouse and

them are part of our same generation. It’s no surprise that people are

reaching out to do different and new things. When the music starts

going into an uncreative realm there’s just monotony and people do the

same thing over and over again. That naturally gives you a creative

backlash from the community who wants to grow and take it somewhere

else. All of us have been quietly suffering all throughout the

mid-to-late ‘90s.

A couple things would pop up here and there, but that was it. It’s been

us as well as a whole lot of other people waiting to hear some new

s**t. We started making music just so we could hear cool s**t. Our

music wasn’t being heard by anyone but us at first. We were thinking,

“How could we make some s**t for us that will make a statement. Let’s

make something for the dope people who know what time it is and take it

to the next level.” You hear people…I think Timbaland and Pharrell were

big at the time. Those were just a few faces on the scene. Before you

had Large Professor, Pete Rock, everybody. Towards the late 90’s you

only had a few people trying to push the envelope. Dilla was a big

influence on cats because he was super-creative. He was one of the more

creative people in terms of producers.

So, hell yeah, I think this is the next era. We’re part of that next

wave who might be influencing young cats who are seeking out that next

A Tribe Called Quest. Just thinking about how that affected us when

that dropped. It was like, “Damn!” Just like Slum Village, I heard the

CDR before they came out. That applies to any movement you heard the

first time—Rakim, Marley Marl and his whole movement—just all that

stuff. I think it would be great if we could inspire some people in the

same way that those records inspired us. That would be f**kin’ amazing. Part of that new direction is lyricism. If you could,

I’d like you to break down some of your bars from “Thrilla.” You say, “Louie Vuitton mixed with Benetton/My G, G and F, F trophies align.”

Taz: Oh yeah, ooooh. Okay, it starts off saying, “I’m so serious/Steady B five series,” that’s [referring to] Steady B’s “I’m Serious.” The five series is because I drove a [BMW] 5 Series at the time. “Frontin’ with the M in the front/doubles the price somethin’ serious,”

means you could drive the M5. I drive the M5 now, but at the time I was

just dreaming about one. When you throw that M in front of the 5 the

price jumps up. “My F, F and G, G trophies align,” that’s Fendi and Gucci mixed with [United Colors of] Benetton. It’s just some braggadocius s**t.

“Foldin’ stacks with invisible gats/white collar black power/new twin tower stance,”

that’s my mentality. I’m white collar with my crimes now. I’m not doing

the savage type of things that will put me in jail for a long time. If

I get caught up it’s going to be on some lightweight s**t that could’ve

made me $20 million. In regards to that particular rhyme, it’s just

that type of hood s**t but it’s flipped. It goes on and on and on.