Sa-Ra Creative Partners: One Nation Under a Groove

What must it have been like back in the early 40’s for Max Roach to have contributed to making Be-Bop a dominant force in Jazz music. Hanging out, making music with the likes of Kenny Clarke, creating new rhythms that changed the sound of music and ever evolving and growing with icons like Dizzie Gillespie, or contributing to the Birth of Cool with Miles Davis. But for the legendary percussionist, he was probably just following his soul.

The Sa-Ra Creative Partners has to be similar to that experience, because this group’s grasp of music is intrinsic. Appearances by Iggy Pop, Afrika Bambaataa, Herbie Hancock, Erykah Badu, and Pharrell mark their present-day work. But individually, this group has worked with everybody from Parrish Smith to 8Ball & MJG to extensive work with Dr. Dre. Fat Joe once claimed that Russell Simmons was “every rapper’s silent partner.” Taz, Shafiq, and Om’Mas might be “every rapper’s silent musician.” Bringing their vast experience together, Kanye West is helping this East-West trio go global with their own unique amalgam of styles, beats, and genres.

AllHipHop.com spoke to the guys of Sa-Ra Creative Partners to see where their hearts, their experience, and their goals lie in this era of G.O.O.D Music. The rebirth of cool is about to begin, one nation under a groove.

AllHipHop Audio

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AllHipHop.com: Do you guys use all live instruments on your songs because it doesn’t sound like a lot of samples?

Taz: For the most part, yes but it’s a combination. The majority is played, but we use samples for texture not because of a lack of musical prowess.

AllHipHop.com: Your music seems like a lesson in musical evolution, because it sounds like music from Jazz and Be-bop to Rock, Soul and Disco, was that the goal?

Taz: It was definitely our goal to utilize all those influences. We draw heavily on all those genres of music and various artists from those genres.You take Jazz instrumentation, and turn the drumbeat around and you get some s**t like Parliament and the Funkadelics. We’re taking it from where cats like them left off, and we want to turn the beat around one more time.

AllHipHop.com: How did you all come to be?

Shafiq: Taz and I actually met back in ‘89 at a mosque in Watts, California. It’s funny because there were different crews back then. You had like the athletes and the fly guys.

Taz: I was dancing, freestyling, doing videos, and stuff like that. I started rhyming shortly after we met. I grew up in a house where my dad had like six or seven thousand records. He had one of the largest record collections I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen a lot of collections; but he used to play Jazz and I would learn about all this music in high school. My dad would sit me down and play s**t. So when I started rapping, I would hear my most favorite beats on these records, and I was like, “Damn, I have all these records. I need to get a beat machine now, I wanna make beats.” So I got an SP 1200 in 1994, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Shafiq: I started out DJing. The people who taught me were like Afrika Islam, and just watching Flash and Theodore and all them cats. I was already making trips back and forth from the Bronx, where I lived, to LA. My experience was unique, because I was around when LA’s Hip-Hop scene was developing. There was a time when they weren’t really playing rap records. I think the most [played] was like [The Furious Five’s] “The Message.” Run-DMC hadn’t even really popped yet, it was like Kurtis Blow. My advantage was I was still migrating back and forth, and I knew Grandmaster Caz and Whippa Whip, back here [I’d] deal with Egyptian Lover, Bobcat, and Roger Clayton.

Taz: I was messing with them cats too. Ice Cube lived two blocks from me, him and his mama.

Om’Mas: I come from a very traditionally musical family. My great, great grandfather used to write for Duke Ellington and Ma Rainy. I was trained classically and studied at the University of Amherst in Massachusetts. I got an internship at RCA Records and that parlayed into me working on PMD records with Parish Smith. I was 16 at that point and I worked up to being the assistant to the VP there. Then, Jam Master Jay scooped me up and I worked with 50 [Cent], Onyx, Lauryn Hill and Diddy, so that was an ill time. [Later,] I had a production deal with Suave House and I got to work with 8 Ball and MJG, Foxy Brown, and Mobb Deep, and get some plaques, but always still building with Shafiq.

AllHipHop.com: So is that what you want your music to do, take us back to that particular place in time?

Taz: We’re not trying to recreate anything, our music is lifestyle driven, meaning whatever we are and whatever we believe is what goes into it and that’s obvious in our music.

AllHipHop.com: Prior to G.O.O.D Music, you guys had a following?

Taz: Yeah, we had already toured Europe three times before even sitting down with Kanye. We had already won the BBC Award in London, which is equivalent to the Grammy here.

AllHipHop.com: What do you think it was that struck Kanye about you guys?

Taz: I think a lot of artists can relate to us because of our creativity. I think we do a lot of things that a lot of people wanted to do or never really even thought of doing, and it’s only so many new things under the sun, so its just a way of flipping things that we all already know. I think that definitely had something to do with Kanye and everybody else being interested, ‘cause that’s a labor of love put into the music. Like you got a cat like J Dilla, rest in peace, when he came in, you had Pete Rock already, Tribe, Large Professor, Marley Marl – all these great producers already doing it. They paved the way for him, but it was a certain level that he got to in his career, where he just added a whole bunch of newness to that whole legacy. He made a big contribution, and once you give like that, people have no choice but to hear it because you enhance the music.

AllHipHop.com: It’s crazy though, because although you guys do have some songs with rapping on it, your music is hard to define as Hip-Hop…

Taz: You know what it is? It’s Hip-Hop, we just turned the beat around, know what I mean? Just like it’s Funk, but it’s something else.

AllHipHop.com: You actually had a phrase that described your sound, what was that?

Shafiq: Afro-magnetic-electronic-spiritualism.

Taz: It’s like a live current running through a wire. It’s African. It’s hot, it’s spiritual rhythm, because it’s electronic, if you look at a lot of electronic mood music from back in the day the frequencies are like rays of light so mash all those words together and that’s what it is.

AllHipHop.com: Your music is unlike anything that’s on the radio right now how do you see Sa-Ra fitting into today’s musical scope?

Om’Mas: The whole thing about it being different from anything on the radio is it’s still street music. N***as grew up in the hood, and you gotta understand what we grew up in, it’s not a game. Shafiq was raised in South Central and the South Bronx, the Boogie Down. You’re talking about the hardest places to live in the world. Taz came from South Central in the heat of gang violence. I grew up in Hollis Queens in a crack-infested building, a crooked co-op that was literally on the wrong side of the tracks. N***as done seen folks get killed and smoking crack all that stuff. It makes its way into our songs, but we don’t have to be all political about it and be trying to preach and burden people with it. Because in this new era, cats wanna be loose so that’s why we bring it with humor and substance. Like our song “Big Fame,” it’s whimsical, it’s funny, and it’s talking about b*tches slitting they’re wrists over – it sounds crazy, but they really do slit they’re wrists behind the cocaine and the moving out to Hollywood and doing porno’s and losing their damn mind. N***as didn’t even know they needed to hear n***as talking gangsta s**t, but singing it. It’s like if Bill Cosby, Sydney Poitier and Yaphet Kotto had a little rap streak to them, that’s what Sa-Ra would be like we’re bringing the black excellence to the rap game.

AllHipHop.com: What is the basic message behind Sa-Ra?

Taz: Be the best you that you can be. We’re here to lead by the good examples that we set, so manifest your own destiny don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t dream.

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