Artist: Group Home
Album: Livin’ Proof
Rating: 7 / 10
The mid 90’s was a busy time for the Gang Starr foundation. Building off of the successes and acclaim their first 3 albums had recieved, Guru and Premier were ready to bring the next generation of underground NY rappers into the game. 1994 saw not only a new Gang Starr album, but also Jeru the Damaja’s full-length debut, “The Sun Rises in the East”; in between producing 2 full albums in their entirety, Premier also found the time to drop 3 gems for Nas on “Illmatic”, and closed the year out with a 12″ for the new jacks in the foundation, Group Home.
Melachi the Nutcracker and Lil’ Dap were not totally unknown to their audience; Dap had appeared on 2 previous posse cuts with Guru and Jeru, and Nutcracker got a short solo spot on “Hard to Earn”. They got their break finally in 1995 when “Livin’ Proof” dropped, 11 of the 13 tracks being produced by Premier, with guest spots from Gang Starr affiliates Big Shug and Guru himself.
The album begins nicely enough, with a groovy, mellowed-out guitar loop over some jazzy drums. As soon as the MC’s hit though, one notices that these guys are not at all on the same level as Guru, Jeru, or other rappers Premier had worked with up to this point. Both have very basic rhyme styles, and although Dap is saved somewhat by an interesting voice, neither one stands out at all:
“Yo I rock on the block with the real hip-hop
as you start to clock and jock
yo, I’m comin’ off with mad rage
18 and hittin’ the real stage
but don’t worry ’bout me ’cause I’m makin’ it
and if I can’t have it then I’m takin’ it
that’s how it is ’cause I’m livin’ trife
where’s my knife take a chance wit’cha life
rappers decapitate and disintegrate
you i will mutilate when I penetrate
go for the one when I say raid
a hit man for hire and I wanna get paid
’cause bullets are sprayed then anybody is layed
more money is made and that’s the family trade
see I make moves and tell what’s the truth
that’s why I’m here, to be livin’ proof” (Melachi)
In a strange way, it is somewhat of a blessing that both MC’s are about equally handicapped on the microphone, as neither one outshines the other, and their two voices do play off one another rather well (Dap has a high-pitched, raspy lisp, while Melachi’s voice is much deeper). To see how they fare when sharing the mic with other more polished rappers, check out ‘Speak ya Clout’ from “Hard to Earn”, where Dap’s raps are left in the dust by Guru and an especially on-point Jeru the Damaja.
So how does an album with 2 sub-par MC’s still manage to achieve somewhat legendary status? Well, the other side of the coin is the production, and Premier certainly wasn’t slouching when he programmed this one. Every beat he produces from start to finish is gold, with lots of subtle sampling (nice headphone music) and excellent, funky loops to spare. A good example of the skills Primo brings to the boards can be seen on the 2 mixes of ‘Up Against tha Wall’, where the same vocal track is used, but the drum patterns are entirely different; still on both versions the vocal emphases and syllables hit the beat perfectly.
This album was a bit of a transitory stage for Premier; the sampling still draws more from jazz than his later funk and soul-heavy tracks, but the production is a little more sparse than previous works, reflecting the path mid 90’s NY boom-bap was progressing down. His trademark scratched choruses are upgraded, however, as previous works usually saw one sample scratched for the duration of the chorus; this album sees him chopping 3 or 4 (or more) vocal cuts on chorus lines, and sampling vocals from rappers outside of Gang Starr’s hemisphere (parts of Inspecta Deck’s raps from ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ make up the chorus for the title track). On the whole, the most amazing part of the album is that the production overall is SO dope, you almost forget the failings the MC’s themselves have (side note: Guru once said that Mel never wanted to be a rapper, but rather a boxer; his parole officer however had second thoughts, so he turned to the microphone instead… which maybe explains the lack of enthusiasm in his rapping).
There isn’t really a ‘standout track’ on the album, although my 2 favorites are ‘Suspended in Time’ and ‘Up Against the Wall (Getaway Car Mix)’. The album flows smoothly from start to finish, and has a nice, smokey, jazzed-out feel to it. A perfect 10 out of 10 were it not for the MC’s, I have to dock it a couple of points for that reason alone. Still, it stands out as one of Primo’s best efforts to this day, and one of the last (non-Gang Starr) albums that he did the lion’s share of the production on; nowadays, with a schedule like his, we are unlikely EVER to see a non-Gang Starr album completely produced by him (and new Gang Starr albums only come every couple of years nowadays anyway). It is interesting to note that Group Home jumped ship and went to Fat Beats after this album, and we haven’t really heard from them ever since…