Do Remember: AZ’s S.O.S.A. (Save Our Streets AZ) Album (Audio)

Like sports, what a musician does as a free agent often determines his or her future. Some artists privately seek out their next label home, and get right to work. Others use the event as a combine of sorts, publicly postulating where they would like to be, and what it would take to make it solidify.

In 1999, AZ was in an odd situation. Two years prior, The Firm’s lone album came out (on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment imprint) to a lukewarm response. A’s solo label, Noo Trybe/Virgin Records had reportedly let him go (the label was dissolving in their own right). The Brooklyn, New York lyricist was been acquired by Noo Trybe when EMI was absorbed—and his track record included two Top 25 releases. However, in the eyes of many fickle industry insiders, label execs, and skeptical fans, AZ Tha Visualiza was to Nas, what Memphis Bleek appeared to be to Jay Z.

Without a label home, AZ was deeply ahead of his time. Five years before an MC could upload a digital mixtape or flood the blogs with a la carte tracks, AZ simply got to work on an album—without a home.

The results became S.O.S.A. (Save Our Streets AZ). In title alone, AZ took ownership of his gift and his ability to be a voice where there was none. Released in mid-2000, AZ recorded with relative unknown producer Chop D.I.E.S.E.L., and made a series of songs that were raw displays of street wisdom, heartfelt revelation, and a true carved identity.

Check this rare scan of the artwork, courtesy of The Source (note the mic count):


No longer working with Trackmasters, L.E.S., or Pete Rock, A was finding a sonic identity beyond Illmatic, Nas, or his previously close circle. The crisp vocals and one-of-a-kind cadence was applied to not one, but two Debarge reworkings. With gritty arrangements of “I Don’t Give A Fuck” in one spot, and the up-tempo stuntin’ of “Bodies Gotta Get Caught,” always introspective, this 10-track effort showed A’s range, and his individuality.

Kedar Massenburg (Motown Records) was listening. Not only did the reviving label (looking for a Rap presence) like what they heard, they liked it exactly as they heard it. Much of S.O.S.A. would directly re-appear on 2001’s 9 Lives, including crossover hit single “Problems.” As fate would have it, clearing two Debarge samples wouldn’t be a problem, given that El, James, Bobby and the rest of the gang were on Gordy Records (an ’80s subsidiary of Motown).

9 Lives, although semi-leaked, thanks to S.O.S.A., would be a Top 25 debut. AZ used this point, and a two-album tenure at Motown to really brand himself, and showcase his excellence. Since 1994, Heads knew that Anthony Cruz was an elite wordsmith. However, as A is one of the MCs who has arguably gotten better with time, taking his career into his own hands—and more importantly his music, is why the Quiet Money founder has thrived in adversity, and later, in independence.

With the original S.O.S.A. long out of print, one YouTube user uploaded the bulk of that pre-album mixtape that changed the game up.

Check out other Ambrosia For Heads’ “Do Remember” pieces.

Related: Nas & AZ’s Illmatic Collabo Was Supposed to Be Over “Juicy.” Hear What Could Have Been (Audio)