'Left of Return' is a time-stretched, smoldering concoction.
Bit-crushed melodies saturate warm layers of weighted filtering while familiar voices echo positive messages and modern day spirituals.
The samples themselves share common ground in rap, soul, dub and rock - but just know that Saharas Greenery can pare down the instrumental quality of any given sound with his warping and distortion.
Listen to how bit-crushing chords can reduce sounds into singular tones on a track like “Molecular Rupture.” The moody vocal samples and incoherent wanderings reveal a production voice with a story to tell.
There are vocal qualities to the project that are just as closely related to SG’s personal musical journey as they are to hip-hop’s history. It seems that the two have been connected since his start.
After reaching out to SG to talk about his most recent release, he mentioned how music can sometimes become an unhealthy habit for him.
Before learning more about Left of Return, I spoke with him about the relationship a beat maker shares with the creative process and how it can affect your sensibilities:
How can music become an unhealthy habit for you?
Everybody is different, but for me, it comes down to balance. I have children and other responsibilities that are important in my life. But i can become overly obsessed with music, where I choose to lose sleep or not keep up with self-care in order to make music. Then it becomes a feedback loop.
I am one of those artists that can only create and feel happy about it when my mind is free. I can’t be too stressed in other areas of my life and expect to ignore it all and channel it into the music. So if I am not sleeping much, and not taking the time to exercise regularly, make home cooked meals, take walks, spend some time with my loved ones, or if I’m stressed about whatever, then making music can become painful. But if I try to balance it with the proper self-care, it takes time away from making music and I feel agitated and restless. Perfectionism contributes to it too.
So that’s what I mean by music being an unhealthy habit sometimes. I can get fixated on it and tunnel visioned. It’s fine when the resulting music is to my liking, but if the music is not to my liking and I had to put myself through a lot to make it, it really does make me step back and question if making music is worth the time. Don’t get it twisted though, if i make something amazing, it all seems worth it. It’s hard to be amazing all the time though.
You’d be surprised by how challenging a creator’s job is - music and art are down to the very essence non-utilitarian. Music and art suspend any typical questions like: “what purpose does this serve?” or “how much does this cost?” It can be easy for a creator to look at the work and wonder if it was all worth it. Maybe something reassuring to know is that making music is a worthy cause because it allows us to newly interpret our lives. If your music can inspire and help future musicians to do the same, then you have continued the experience for somebody else.
I thought it was important to talk to SG about this concept before digging into the music itself because I’ve heard similar stories about this from other beat makers. It was my hope that the conversation may reach somebody experiencing the same feelings towards their music.
What is interesting though is that you wouldn’t ever hear these sentiments from the music itself. Left of Return’s dark-tinted sounds provides its cool character as smoothly as its red-hot layers feed its sizzling textures. Vocal samples become featured elements on tracks like “Blunt Stains,” or “Jus Anotha Day,” while other unidentifiable voices are sprinkled throughout interludes.
I learned more about these details when SG unfolded some of the vocal samples he used as well as the overall significance of the project for his life:
What significance does LOR have for you?
LOR represents grappling with my unique journey in the music biz, which I feel is very different from most other artists. SG is my second career in music. My first career was a certified failure, but I was still able to experience moments of success and get a taste of the rap life. I went from touring Europe with my idols and producing for legends to being completely removed from the music industry, with no one even bothering to see if I was okay. After my hiatus from 2009 through 2018, I decided that my creative impulses cannot be suffocated, so I created SG as a therapeutic outlet.
Fast forward to LOR, the concept itself is a play on the term “Right of Return”, which is a very serious socio-political term that basically means that displaced people have a right to return to their homeland. But what I find interesting about the term is that no-one questions whether their homeland is still their “home.” What will they be coming back to? Does anyone living there remember them? Have they changed so much when they were gone that they no longer recognize their home? Do they even want to go home? The politics of the term is actually quite patronizing and paternal if you think about it. It also reminds me of the book Things Fall Apart, which is a story set in Nigeria circa 19th century where the main character was a strong leader that was banished from the community, and returns years later to find that colonizers have taken over his village.
I saw all this as a metaphor for my journey in music. While I was away from it, I always knew I would return to it. When I finally returned, I was very surprised about how much the game had changed, both good and bad. With “Left” being the opposite of “Right”, the concept touches on the surprises and unexpected things I experienced when I started releasing SG music.
There are hints of the concept throughout the project. One that jumps out to me is Jus Anotha Day and the interlude after it. It’s a primitive flip of the Queen Latifah classic, which for me growing up in 80s/90s New Jersey, really reminds me of home. I made that beat when I was packing up to move out of a house I was living, and I was finding all my old tapes and items from my childhood. My studio was mostly packed up, so I wasn’t in the mood to do a full beat with drums and all of that. So it became this simple ode to my childhood. And the interlude after is a sample from the very first radio show I recorded on tape back in 86 or 87. It’s from a WBLS Rap Attack mix show. Again, it touches on where I came from. On the flip side you have a song like Eezay, which is a collab with the young homie Pentium Since he is so young coming up in today’s game, it felt like full circle for me. After all this time, I can still create and align myself with vibes that are shared by the next generation. The album is really about the old and the new, for good or for bad… where I come from and the journey coming back to it.
How does the artwork relates to the album?
The artwork was done by an artist named The Real Theory. He runs a website called Art Grab, a real professional operation. I hope it’s not too disappointing but the truth is that it wasn’t a commissioned work tailored to the music. He sells pre-done pieces, and I chose that piece. However, the moment I saw it, I immediately knew it had to be the album cover. I had the concept before seeing the piece, but it seemed to match it perfectly. The two characters seem to be coming in from a journey, into an abyss of the unknown. They seem as if they are walking confidently, but it also seems that they are walking into uncertainty. That is as close to the concept of the music as I think you can get. I also think the colors match the music. I see blue and gray when I listen to the project so it also fit in that sense.
I’m glad you picked up on the artwork because I thought it really enhanced the project. Shoutout to The Real Theory, maybe I can actually meet him one day and do a more organic collaboration. On a side note, I have no shame in admitting that my network for getting artwork done is limited and have to use a service like his to make sure the artwork is up to par. I know plenty of artists, but sometimes the timeline and budget don’t align. My original idea was to have a gifted friend of mine do a hand-painted piece, but the stars didn’t align. Hopefully as the fan base grows, I’ll be able to meet more artists that want to collaborate.
Hopefully learning more about his musical journey and musical intent enriches an understanding of the project.Very often I’ll find that review pieces for music and art take away from my initial response to a work - and while the beat maker’s biography does hold weight, I wonder how important it is to others that are enjoying the music.
For example, there are some museums that omit all art labels in the building. It’s something like this that makes me compare my own reactions to music: when I see an album cover and a beat maker’s face vs when I hear music over a car stereo or at a show.
Music is always best shared in person, but I wonder about the way in which we share the music as well. Is it important to know a beat maker’s background to fully understand the beat tape itself?
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