14 September, 2012

30 Reviews In 30 Days: Review #14

Group Home, Livin' Proof (Payday/FFRR/PolyGram Records, 1995)

This album is infamous for the incredible beats, created by DJ Premier working at peak capability, and the supposedly sub-sub-subpar rhyming on top. People have dumped on the rapping here for years and years. Lil Dap and Melachi the Nutcracker are both regarded by "real hip-hop" fans as almost the definition of wack MC's, who somehow lucked on top on the best beats Premier ever created. If only Nas had rapped on top of these beats for It Was Written (which, admittedly, would have made for a better album than anything Nas has released since Illmatic)... if only Guru had rapped on top of these beats and this had been a Gang Starr album... if only Jeru the Damaja had rapped on top of these beats... if only Craig G had rapped on top of these beats... if only Biggie had made this the followup to Ready To Die (which would have never happened because Puffy barely let two Premier beats on Life After Death)... if only... if only...

Yeah whatever. Dap somehow gets regarded as the better (or at least barely adequate) MC of the two rappers here, but he has a weird froggy lisping style that sounds odd and sort of dumb, if indeed adequate. Melachi the Nutcracker, though, gets slammed left and right for being one of the world's worst MC's. This shall not stand. Melachi is not even near the same league of pure lousiness as Plies or Silkk the Shocker, to cite two examples of truly garbage rappers. Melachi is an ultra-simplistic MC, there's no question about it, but he is incredibly entertaining on this album: his rapping is elementary as all hell, but truly hilarious, awesome and never boring (which so many more conventionally accomplished rappers can be - Saigon, anyone?) Melachi has a really cool, mid-ranged, raw New York rap voice which is full of a sincere teenage enthusiasm and passion that can't be faked. The obvious enthusiasm, and the fact that he keeps a straight face throughout, makes him a whole lot funnier and more entertaining than some generically competent gangsta MC talking about the same old shit would've been. He also makes his rudimentary raps flow pretty well, and sells them 100%. His great subject is how he will beat your ass, elucidated in the most elementally basic way possible. His rapping will have you in stitches sometimes. I mean, this guy actually raps: "Cause there's no tricks, when I let off clips! I leave bodies in ditches! Play bitch niggas like bitches!" That's right. "Bitch niggas like bitches." Twice in the same bar. He's at least 10+ years before Waka Flocka Flame would come around with "Hard In The Paint." Is it ridiculous? You don't say, Captain Obvious, now go buy a Papoose mixtape. Do you like it anyway? Uh, fuck yes you do, because Melachi is charismatic, young and gut-busting. There are lines like this all over the album. And they are awesomely funny. "Deadly like a rattlesnake, except I don't rattle." "Eating MC's like Jeffrey Dahmer!" "I'm outta sight on the mic! Do what you like! I hit ya moms in the head with a metal pipe!" Genius. Pure genius.

Of course, the beats on here are amazing. DJ Premier regularly gets worshiped by anyone who knows their shit as one of the best hip-hop producers to have ever lived. And this album is, well, livin' proof on that front. (Get off your "I hate puns" high horse and blow me.) The beats here are really atmospheric and jazzy, yet sound rough and have real impact. The rhythms are consistently hard-hitting, and the layered samples continually create melodies that end up sticking in your head. There's the ride-cymbal rhythm intersecting with the looped Nas sample and ghost piano note on "Inna-Citi Life." There's the contemplative, wistful bass line and pitch-manipulated strings on "Baby Pa" that come in after the gritty, assertive guitar line that soundtracked the beat before that on the same song. There's the stop-start rhythm, two-note bass thump, and chiming keyboards of "2 Thousand." Instrumentally, this album is what happens when a master beatmaker and producer with one of the most imitated styles in hip-hop is given practically free reign to create whatever the hell he wants. Even the two songs that weren't produced by Premier are good: "4 Give My Sins" features an incredibly beautiful introductory instrumental segment that unfortunately isn't elaborated on afterwards. Some great New York MC needs to hijack that segment for a beat someday. But the best song was released as the lead single. "Supa Star" is simply quintessential mid-'90's hip-hop - from the absolutely brilliant beat, to Melachi and Dap's extremely simplistic but technically competent and extremely real lyrics (even here, I'd give Melachi the upper hand), to the subject everyone can identify with - these two kids' reasons for wanting to become rap superstars, which are, predictably, related to getting the fuck out of the ghetto, and their dreams of what it'll be like to become rap superstars - it's just a classic song.

Livin' Proof is a great album with unconventionally awesome rapping that relies way more on force of personality and unintentional humorousness than any kind of superhuman technical rapping, and that's honestly just fine. You should really hear it someday.

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