Group Home is the New York based duo consisting of Melachi The Nutcracker and Lil’ Dap (who we might have to credit for ushering in the “Lil” prefix that would soon become a played out phenomenon in hip-hop), who were a part of the larger collective, Gang Starr Foundation, thanks to their relationship with the late great, Guru. The first time I heard of Group Home was when Lil’ Dap appeared on Gang Starr’s “I’m The Man” off the Daily Operation album; and who will ever forget Melachi’s epic debut on “Words From The Nutcracker” on Hard To Earn? In 1995, Group Home would finally get the chance to shine on their own with the release of their debut album. Livin’ Proof.
One of the biggest perks of being part of the Gang Starr Foundation must be having access to the greatest hip-hop producer off all-time in DJ Premier, and wisely, Group Home calls on Premo to produce all but two of Livin’ Proof’s thirteen tracks. Livin’ Proof would produce three singles, and while the lead single, “Supa Star”, would make a little noise on the underground scene, the album received mediocre reviews and had little commercial success, which would ultimately lead to Group Home parting ways with their label, Payday. They would go on to release four more albums on independent labels, but would never get the chance to shine with the type of exposure a major label provides, and ultimately, would disappear into hip-hop’s black hole, earning a mention on Nas’ 2006 record “Where Are They Now”.
But today are focus is on Livin’ Proof, so let’s jump in to it, shall we?
Intro – Livin’ Proof opens with a funky guitar loop placed over scarce drums, and wisely, our hosts refrain from adding rhymes to it and let it shine as the dope instrumental intro that it is.
Inna City Life – Premo laces Dap and Melachi with some blunted-cloudy-atmospheric boom-bap that the duo use to, loosely, represent for the kids in the inner city. This is a dope record that sounds even better when played after the sun goes down.
Livin’ Proof – For the title track, Dap uses Prem’s crisp drums and eerie beeping loop to spit “ghetto rhymes stories”, while Melachi disintegrates, mutilates and penetrates emcees (hey, he said it, not me). It’s not my favorite song on the album, but it’s still solid.
Serious Rap Shit – This one opens with a soft and warm melancholic loop that Group Home uses to let their crew shoutout their deceased homies over. Then Guru gets his only production credit of the evening, and he and Big Shug spit verses along with Melachi, while Dap sticks to hook duties. I love Guru as an emcee and I’m always rooting for and welcoming of a verse from Big Shug, but this beat aint it (are those lasers going off in the instrumental?), and ultimately the song falters.
Suspended In Time – This was the third single released from Livin’ Proof‘ and it’s definitely the album’s magnum opus. Premo serves up a brilliantly mystical instrumental for our hosts, who both sound focused and easily spit their strongest bars of the evening. This masterpiece is followed by a short interlude that features Jeru The Damaja dropping off a few jewels over a heavenly piano loop accompanied by a babbling baby sample that is sure to sooth your soul.
Sacrifice – The song opens with Melachi (sounding like the fourth member of Alvin and The Chipmunks) sharing a few words before giving all his doubters a big middle finger. Then Premo’s dark and rugged backdrop comes in with a Paul Mooney snippet placed over it, setting the scene for Melachi and his homie, Absaloot (whose voice and delivery remind me a little of Nas…shoutout to Esco for the Grammy win!), who pledge to sacrifice their lives for…the street life? The message is perplexing, but both parties entertain over Prem’s nasty production.
Up Against The Wall (Low Budget Mix) – Premo conjures up an instrumental dripping with Kung-Fu flick vibes, as GH discusses the stress and traps that come with the street life, and of course, Melachi gets sidetracked and slips in a few bars aimed at wack emcees. This was dope, and I love the song’s sub-title.
4 Give My Sins – This one starts out sounding like it’s going to be an emotional banger, but after thirty seconds it starts to fade and the listener is left with the sad reality that it was only a short instrumental intermission before the actual song begins. Then a super dry and empty instrumental drops (it’s credited to “Big Jazz”, which I’m assuming is the same Big Jaz aka Jaz-O that gave Jay-Z the “Hawaiian Sophie” fame that Nas once teased him about) and all the weaknesses and flaws in Dap and Melachi’s emcee abilities are exposed without Premo’s marvelous production backing them.
Baby Pa – The first half of this is an interlude that finds a bunch of hyped-up brothers playing ceelo, while tough boom bap drums and an aggressive guitar loop play underneath their energetic exchanges; and just when their exchanges turn into chaos, a calming melodic loop with a baritone voice arrives and bring things to a peaceful closure. The second half is Lil’ Dap getting off a quick verse over Premo’s bangin’ bass line and zig-zagging strings. Dope.
2 Thousand – Premo slides GH some ole smooth creamy shit (the dope stuttering drum effect in between the verses sounds like a crashing computer getting ready to explode), while the duo set their focus on the future…well, past now, but you get my drift. This is another great joint to play in the midnight hour.
Super Star – This was the lead single from Livin’ Proof. Premo laces Dap and Melachi with a soothingly spacey backdrop with dope other world type samples placed throughout, as the duo continue to spew random thoughts with no real theme and throw a meaningless song title on it.
Up Against The Wall (Getaway Car Mix) – This mix uses the same verses as the “Low Budget” mix, but replaces the rawness of the first version with a more chilled-out somber feel, and I enjoyed it. It makes for great rainy day music.
Tha Realness – Melachi sits this one out, as Lil’ Dap is joined by Jack the Ripper and Smiley aka The Ghetto Child to close out Livin’ Proof with this cipher session. Premo’s beat is decent, but a more talented group of emcees could have made it shine a little brighter.
The Group Home won’t “wow” you with their content on Livin’ Proof, as every song pretty much covers the same territory, just the song titles change. Lil’ Dap consistently dishes out steady dosages of hood commentary delivered in his lisped-mutated vocal tone, while Melachi The Nutcracker is more focused on fuckin’ up emcees and every now and then he sprinkles in a few words of wisdom and motivation. Neither of them are top-notch rhymers, but Melachi’s simple flow and straightforward approach (which always sounds like a freestyle) somehow blends well with Dap’s deadpan demeanor and concentrated content. But the backbone, cornerstone, heart and soul of Livin’ Proof is the masterful boom bap production work by DJ Premier, who was in a complete zone during the mid-nineties. So even if you disagree with me and don’t like Group Home’s rhymes and style (which I can completely understand), you’ll definitely enjoy their backing music.
Still waiting for the instrumental version to be released. Recently an instrumental version of OB4CL was released. Not sure why Preemo doesn’t do the same for all the Gang Starr Foundation releases. Would be dope to have on vinly.