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SA-RA GO SO-LO!
The Los Angeles/New York-based group/production trio consisting of Taz Arnold, Shafiq Husayn, and Om'Mas Keith are stepping from behind the boards...
Experience and innovation. In the age of young thugs and one-hit wonders, these two traits are often missing from today’s Hip-Hop. Not so, with SA-RA. The Los Angeles/New York-based group/production trio consisting of Taz Arnold, Shafiq Husayn and Om'Mas Keith are stepping from behind the boards for their G.O.O.D. Music/SONY Urban Music debut.
“This is something we talked about and joked about for years,” says Taz. “All of us were producers and artists as individuals, but we knew each other and were fond of each other’s work.”
Ironically, Taz and Shafiq met at a mosque they both attended. According to Taz, he knew Shafiq was already an established producer and they often discussed music and their respective projects. In fact, it was Shafiq’s work with Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate Records, of which Shafiq was a main staff producer, that introduced Om’Mas into the trio.
“At one point, Shafiq & Om’Mas lived and shared a studio on Sugar Hill in Harlem. When they would come back to L.A. they would use my studio,” Taz recalls. “So, Shafiq introduced me to Om’Mas. Ever since then, we all kept in contact and would build on music. Eventually, we decided we wanted to make a super group/production-type thing happen.”
Having logged years of studio time as individual producers, the members of SA-RA are by no means newcomers to the game. However, their sound is unlike anything you have ever heard before. Not bad for a group that only “officially” formed four years ago.
A Master Teacher, Street Fashion Icon and native of South Central Los Angeles, Taz worked as a primary creative consultant and talent scout for Dr. Dre while he crafted hip-hop’s historic The Chronic 2001. His input would include helping to actually name the LP. Additionally, his continued work with Dre would eventually land him a label deal with Aftermath Records.
Shafiq has an impressive resume of his own. The Bronx, NY/LA-bred Master Teacher, Zulu King and Record Guru had previously been signed to SONY, and produced for a vast array of artists (i.e., Ice-T, Body Count, Lord Finesse, D.X.T., Afrika Bambaataa, Prince, Duran Duran), movie soundtracks (New Jack City) and scores (Deep Cover).
SA-RA’s third Master Teacher, Hollis Queens, NY-bred Om’Mas began honing his craft at the age of 15 while interning at RCA Records. As a staff producer for the late, great Jam Master Jay, he would produce and/or engineer on tracks for Onyx, Run DMC, Lauryn Hill and a young 50 Cent. Later on, a production deal with Suavehouse Records would have him working with 8-Ball & MJG, Mobb Deep, Foxy Brown, Coolio, Charlie Baltimore & Ice Cube.
“We all come from a very strong, royal Black lineage; that’s one of the many things that we all have in common,” Om’Mas notes. “We all came from humble beginnings; none of us have rich parents, but we were all schooled by our parents to have a mindset to know that we can take over if we want to.
However, after years of creating for others, SA-RA decided to go for self. “We decided to put all of our previous endeavors aside,” says Om’Mas. “We agreed that all the endeavors that we would have in the entertainment field for right now would be under the auspices of this thing called SA-RA…our thing, our way.”
With the trio now ready to record, they immediately had a vision for their sound. “We understood that before anything, the music had to be competitive and unique to get anybody’s attention,” says Taz. “You can’t just do what the next man is doing. Our music might be considered left on some level, but it is always very well thought out. It’s meant to be that way. It’s on purpose.” “We are the perfect blend of what the streets want and what the streets need,” Shafiq adds. “It’s a delicate balancing act, but we’re up for the challenge!”
“Say you have a lot of cats standing on the corner, and on one corner you have all the gangsta rap shit, on another corner you may have the more artistic cats, on another corner you have R&B and soul,” says Taz. “We wanted to be on that fourth corner by ourselves. Even though that fourth corner wasn’t popular and no one frequented that corner, we would rather be on that corner by ourselves because we’re going to get people’s attention.”
And the group did just that with just a few tracks.
“We put out a small CD-R -- maybe 20 tracks -- and we started circulating it to let cats hear it. The next thing you know, it was being bootlegged on the internet,” says Shafiq. “It got bootlegged so hard that it leaked into Europe. When it hit Europe, it was like the new plague. We started getting e-mails and calls. We were jumping on planes and doing whatever we had to do in order to be right where the action was. The beautiful thing is that we never really looked for a record deal. We tried to do this thing totally grassroots-style and just f**k what everybody else was doing.”
While SA-RA -- which they define as an ancient Kemetic or Egyptian phrase meaning “offspring of the most powerful energy in the universe” or “children of the cosmos” -- wasn’t looking for a deal, it wasn’t long before the major labels came calling. Though, only one label seemed like the right choice. “By the time we were in a position to get a deal, we were dealing mostly with Kanye [West] & Sony/BMG,” Taz explains. “Before we signed, we had Pharrell interested in signing us to Star Trak. Jay-Z and L.A. Reid, at Def Jam, were very interested.” “One of our Attorneys, Gary Stiffleman, even walked our project to Jermaine Dupri. You had cats like Craig Kallman at Atlantic Records calling us into their office and saying they wanted us on their team,” Om’Mas adds. “There was a soft-core bidding war, but it didn’t really get out of hand because we felt strongly and passionately about the G.O.O.D. Music family and dealing with Kanye.”
Though, it would be eight months of intense negotiations before they actually signed on the dotted line. “A lot of that time was spent just talking about how fly the SA-RA movement would be for the cats in the streets and in all walks of life,” says Om’Mas. “People will always need something different in their lives.”
”The fact that I’m a style whore, a label whore and a fashion trend setter -- coupled with the fact that SA-RA was killing the whole fashion game -- was another large aspect of why we went with G.O.O.D. Music, because you had Kanye doing the same thing,” Taz reasons. “You had Bentley and Consequence; it was a thing where we could be looked at as the best dressed label—the flyest ni**as in the game, just with different styles.”
With G.O.O.D. Music behind them and style to spare, SA-RA seems more than ready to bring their signature sound to the masses. “I have a term and a definition to describe our music,” says Shafiq. “The term… Afro Magnetic Electronic Spiritualism. The definition… Black music.”
However you describe it, the group’s forthcoming G.O.O.D. Music/SONY Urban Music debut has something for everyone.
“We like to deal with the ladies, but we got jewels too,” says Shafiq. “We’re not just some jive type dudes. It’s fun but it is all balanced. You’ve got to deal with supreme balance and with supreme balance you’re talking about opposites. With opposites, you’re talking about masculine and feminine. A chick wants to rock with a dude just as much as a dude wants to rock with a chick, but because society has set up certain boundaries and etiquette, you can’t. So, SA-RA is going to break the ice.
“SA-RA is like a Secret Society, but you’ve got to go buy the album in order to be indoctrinated,” Om’Mas muses. “I’m confident that we’ll have a membership well into the millions. “One main thing we have in common with Kanye is that we are proactive artists. We don’t wait for nobody, we make s**t happen!”
“The vision of this album is to liberate people,” concludes Taz. “To let them know that they can do whatever the f**k they want to do—musically or otherwise. They are going to hear so much on this album that they’re going to say, ‘I didn’t know they could make music like this and still appeal to the masses.’ We are bringing everybody back to the table. It’s about to be fresh to be Black again. From the thugs to the elitist, we are about to level out the playing field.”
“This is Excellence, Black excellence!” SA-RA