[20 July 2009]
While they have worked on several other records and even dropped their own record with 2007’s The Hollywood Recordings, Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) is what springs to mind whenever I hear about Sa-Ra Creative Partners. The trio’s magnificent work on tracks like “Me”, “The Cell”, “Twinkle”, and others was impressive and helped mold new territory for Ms. Badu. Whether fans loved or hated the change in her sound, they would be hard-pressed to deny how sonically gorgeous that record was. And one would hope that same sound would transfer to Sa-Ra’s latest, Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love. Musically, the group continues breaking ground and solidifying itself as a powerhouse. Unfortunately, that only remains true in the sonic regions of the record, which are weighed down by mundane, in-your-face sexuality.
The issue plaguing this record is actually one that rears its head frequently in the realm of modern R&B and soul. Gone are the days of subtlety where, yes, it was implied you were singing to a lady who you would hope to have breakfast with the next morning. But instead of implications, you have straightforward suggestions, such as on the otherwise smooth-as-butter “The Bone Song”. That track in particular, as its title indicates, is the greatest criminal in the case of overt sexuality, which you can hear dispersed all over the record.
Also, while the vocals primarily complement the erratic production well, they do have a tendency to get lost in the mix as the album plays. At first it doesn’t appear that will be the case. Sa-Ra kick things off with the Latin-infused, dance-party “Spacefruit”, which features Debi Nova assisting with crooning in both Spanish and English. And, similarly, Ms. Badu graces “Dirty Beauty” with her gorgeous throaty vocals for the otherworldly space jam. Tracks of this breed, however, are too few and far between. And when Sa-Ra’s Om’Mas Keith, Taz Arnold, and Shafiq Husayn handle the duties on the mic, you are left craving more Nova, Badu, or, at least, a male vocalist with better range. Actually, since they do mesh well with their music, the men of Sa-Ra would be more palatable had they at least given more thought to the lyrics.
Where these three galactic producers shine is in their, well, production. Almost every joint on here, especially those aforementioned tracks, is an experimental hip-hop/R&B head’s wet dream. The trio incorporates the crunchy drums of Flying Lotus on album standout “Traffika”. They get funky and smooth on the break-up track “Melodee N’Mynor”, which features perfectly-mixed, low-laying horns for effect. Another highlight is the longest track on here in “Love Czars”. At nearly eight minutes, one would assume the jazzy drums and tight bass would grow tiresome by the five-minute mark. But no, it’s so infectious that when it ends, you will get entranced for another eight minutes when you play the song again.
Tracks like “Traffika” and “Love Czars” are what make Sa-Ra’s music both unique and enjoyable. These three guys are doing things that most R&B producers wouldn’t either think of or even try if they imagined it. And while some songs, like the aforementioned standouts, are undoubtedly inaccessible to some listeners, they deserve to be heard by anyone who appreciates solid songwriting and experimentation. Even further, those alienated pop-R&B fans should at least give Sa-Ra a shot or two and take a break from the stale love anthems plaguing the radio. Note: That’s not exactly a bash to the mainstream, because it’s more than well known that R&B has been on a steady decline in the past decade with few exceptions.
Obviously—as we all know from their past work—the three members of Sa-Ra are some talented cats. Their instrumentation and production is hands down phenomenal at times. They have an innate ability to take sounds associated with the likes of Prince, Flying Lotus, and J Dilla, smash it all together, and then lay it down for funk-driven ear candy. But their skills behind the boards aren’t enough to accelerate their disappointing lyrics and fitting, but average vocals.