Group Home: Up Against The Wall
Lil Dap & Malachi explain losing Guru, their new dedication album to their late mentor, and the Biblical and apocalyptic references on their classic LP.
It’s hard to deny that some of the best beats of DJ Premier’s career are found on Livin' Proof, Group Home’s 1995 debut album. It’s also hard to deny that as far as 15-year old albums go, it has aged remarkably well, as evidenced by the use of tracks such as the outstanding "Superstar" in modern-day films, television and video games. With one listen, it becomes clear that there was something special going on in D&D Studios.
But nothing lasts forever, and as the years passed, the core members of the Gang Starr Foundation seemed to drift apart from one another. As Lil Dap and Melachi The Nutcracker continued to hone their craft with other producers, Jeru The Damaja embarked on his own course and Guru and Premier wound up separating from one another. Somewhere along the timeline of this musical evolution, things got cloudy and best friends apparently became strangers.
After Guru’s untimely passing this year, Solar’s bizarre, bitter online diatribe attacking DJ Premier and others attempted to compromise a legacy, and only added to the confusion. In an exclusive, HipHopDX caught up with Melachi the Nutcracker and Lil Dap in an attempt to set the record straight on the strange—and somewhat sad—legacy of a Hip-Hop powerhouse, as they ready their September 28 album, Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal.
HipHopDX: Melachi, what have you been up to? I heard a rumor you moved to Poland. Is that true?
Melachi The Nutcracker: Poland, nah. I’m in Pennsylvania. I live in a group home now. A real group home, out in Pennsylvania, like, out in the woods. I just spent eight months in jail because I was in a store and broke some stuff. But it’s cool though. My mom is out here. It’s cool.
DX: You know, I remember watching you on Rap City way back in the day and you talked about training to become a pro wrestler. Are you still doing that?
Melachi The Nutcracker: I was gonna do that. You know how it is when you watch dudes on TV and you say, “I wanna do that.” But those dudes are too big so I said forget that. [Laughs]
DX: So, what projects are you guys working on now?
Lil Dap: This project we got for Guru, the dedication project [Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal] on Babygrande Records.
DX: What are you contributing to it?
Lil Dap: We’re basically just trying to clear up all the nonsense that was out there and giving people our vision of our friend, how we know him. There were some good days and some good times and I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it wasn’t for that.
DX: Now, you said "nonsense." Are you referring to Solar?
Lil Dap: We all hear this nonsense [about Guru] and I’m like, that ain’t the brother I knew. People got jobs, you know. This is the industry. They’ll love you and hate you. People are going to say good things and they’re going to say bad things. You take that good love to cover all the negativity and bring it to the light.
Melachi The Nutcracker: Solar didn’t care [for Guru]. He was just out for the money.
DX: So, let’s talk about something positive. I was listening to “Speak Ya Clout” earlier this morning. What was the vibe in the studio like when you guys recorded that record?
Lil Dap: That was crazy, yo. [Laughs] You made me laugh with that one. Flashback… I can go back to [that day]. God damn, yo. That was like…[Pauses]
When we was up in there, at first, they ain’t believe I could rhyme. I always kept it low. Guru always knew that I be spitting like that [with] Jeru [Da Damaja] on the low. Me and Guru used to always be putting it in with the lyrics and shit. When we got in the studio and did ["Speak Ya Clout"] it was crazy because everybody was in the studio waiting, putting their one’s and two’s together and Guru’s sitting there laughing because they ain’t know [I could rhyme]. Guru and [DJ] Premier put [the instrumental] up, loud, so it sounded real good, boom, and we did all that shit, chillin', just getting ready to give it to you guys. We lived in the studio back then.
DX: Who do you think had the best verse on that record, back then, coming out of the booth?
Lil Dap: As long as a nigga ridin’ that beat like water, shit, man, as long as my head knockin’, I ain’t really payin attention [to who’s best]. You got me listening by riding that wave. The next thing you know, I’m reciting what you just said, saying, “Damn, I like that.” I just go with the vibes—Guru did his thing, Jeru did his thing. I can’t say who was the best. I was just happy I was on the track.
DX: I want to keep up with this positive vibe. Livin' Proof is one of my favorite albums. It’s such a wonderful album—
Melachi The Nutcracker: I felt like I was gonna be the next Michael Jackson, like wow. It was so amazing.
Lil Dap: That’s my baby, kid. That’s my baby because we put a lot of work into that album. People didn’t really have too much faith in [how] me and Mel was trying to do our thing at the time, and everybody thought that we couldn’t put together a project at that time. I just started building with Premier because I got tired of waiting. Premier had a lot of things on his plate at the time so I would help out a little bit. I would get some beats, get some loops, get some records and put the ideas together like, “I can hear us doing this on this track…” [I’d then] bring the idea to Premier and Premier would be like, “Aiight,” and then bring it back to us like, “Bam,” and then we’d be like “oh shit.” Next thing you know we’re knocking it out. It got him more into the album; [it told him] that [we] were coming to the table with ideas and it was shocking. It made the process quicker and Premier put some of his other projects to the side [to work on ours].
DX: I think you just said something very interesting. It seems like you guys were very enthusiastic for this project and I think some of the best beats Premier ever made were on your album. Do you think he saw your energy and had to bring it back to you?
Lil Dap: Oh yeah. We had to bring the energy and you have to bring the vibes to the brothers. Especially producers. That way, when they work with you, it flows like water. That way it gets them to want to work with you. These vibes come naturally. On a bad day, I can [still] put a good track together. It’s about the passion. This is like our shrink. This is how we get our pain out. Fuck it. You have freedom of speech.
DX: You know, I’m glad you said that because one vibe off that album is about inspiring youth and inspiring change. Who’s idea was that?
Melachi The Nutcracker: I been through it all, you know. I knew it was rough and I made it. You could do it too, you know.
Lil Dap: That’s us. From being being around Guru and staying in our lane. The music we were putting out was about saving people’s lives. You gotta speak everybody’s pain, especially if you’re out in the streets walking with them. But at the same time, you just put that [pain] to the side when you’re making music [because] there’s gonna be people that judge and say that it’s wack but that’s all part of it. Sometimes we say our music is wack. You just gotta keep an open mind when it comes to the game. I just go with it freely.
DX: As we’re talking about vibes, one vibe I want to talk about is the “Superstar” intro where you talk about how "the world is about to end." Can you explain what you meant by that?
Lil Dap: [Pauses] We used to travel a lot with Guru and Premier and them niggas around the world. It was the signs of the time…the type of talk that you hear from your grandparents. It caught my ear just like Rap caught my ear.
DX: Another vibe off of Livin' Proof that I want to talk about is how you quoted The Bible a lot. But, at the same time, you didn’t tell us that you were quoting from The Bible and I thought that was a beautiful thing. Where did that come from?
Melachi The Nutcracker: A lot of that is just what I was feeling at that time.
Lil Dap: That’s from my grandmother. You know how it is in this Rap game; some of these old folks are scared of us because some of them just don’t understand. They’d be like, “Let me hear your music,” and I’d be like, “Nah, I don’t wanna let you.” [But I learned] that you gotta explain to older folks who don’t understand [the music]. I’d take things my grandmother taught me and put them in rhyme form to touch these kids just like [the older generation] touched us. At the end of the day, I gotta answer for myself.
DX: Yesterday, I was on YouTube watching an old interview of you guys from Yo! MTV Raps and you talked about wanting to work with other producers. Now, some 15 years later, what have you learned from working with other producers and how has it affected your development as artists?
Lil Dap: I feel cool because I gave everybody a chance to work with me. I go overseas and I get people [Impersonating a European accent] going “Little Dap, please, will you rap on my beat?” I can’t do it for everybody but if their track touches my ear, I’ll give them all a chance. I keep my mind open.
Melachi The Nutcracker: As long as [producers] have fat beats, I’m good.
DX: It seems a lot of people who once worked with Premier...stopped, and I'm not even talking about the two of you. Why is that? Is there something about his personality?
Melachi The Nutcracker: When he was with Gang Starr, he made his best music. When he was with Guru, he made some nice music. I'm not gonna lie...it's not his personality; it's just the music.
DX: You hinted at Europe earlier. What’s so different about the European approach to Hip-Hop compared to the American approach?
Lil Dap: When Guru and them first took me there—God bless his soul—I was a little nervous because it was my first time leaving the country. We did shows all around Europe back then; we even went to Turkey. I didn’t even know they like [Hip Hop] out there and they know the lyrics! They don’t even speak English, but they’re singing along with your lyrics! It was just beautiful.
A lot of brothers don’t know you gotta pass the test in London. You got to. Back then if they didn’t like your show, they’d throw bottles on stage. That was the warning back then—I used to throw my mic down after I’d finish a set and people were like, “Please don’t do that in London because you might start a riot.” Sure enough, I almost did it, but the audience didn’t care because they really appreciated Hip Hop.
They still do graffiti, man. Breakdancing is like American Idol out there, man. They love us; they admire us. We gotta take care of them. At home, we’re spoiled. But over there, they appreciate us and we appreciate them. They really save their money to come see you and that’s real.
DX: I gotta shift the vibe a little bit and talk about Guru. When you got the news that he passed, how did it first hit you?
Lil Dap: It hit me hard. I was crying like a motherfucker and I normally don’t cry too much.
DX: I’m sorry to cut you off but I do want to go back to the Solar thing. Guru’s passing hit a lot of us like a ton of bricks because we didn’t see it coming. The Solar thing made things very, very strange…it struck me as inappropriate for him to write that venom, especially so soon after Guru’s passing. What was your first reaction when you first saw that stuff?
Lil Dap: It was all types of reactions because me and Melachi was the last ones to see him, and he looked out for us and gave us a little money and all that. He hugged me and Melachi real hard the last time we saw him. He and Solar were arguing…I don’t know [about what]. Mel was about to flip out so, I was like, let me get him out of here.
I just try to keep his memory alive. [Solar’s writings] ain’t nothing but negative energy. What you getting out of that? It would be a good book but the new generation doesn’t need to know what’s going on. Guru left a nice legacy: each one, teach one.
DX: Let’s take the pain of his passing and turn it into something positive. How has his passing inspired you not only as an artist but also in your everyday life?
Melachi The Nutcracker: It tells me you can’t take people you care about for granted.
Lil Dap: It just let me know that it could happen to any one of us. It was like losing a close friend. You just try to keep those memories alive, keep home alive. You gotta keep that peace in the air. Let’s keep our peace. We’re men first.
DX: Let’s get back to the project you’re working on now. What’s the vibe like in the studio as you work now?
Lil Dap: The vibe is like getting a brand new car. We have so much to say, so much to flow. You stick us in the studio for a couple months and what you’ll get is unbelievable.
DX: Are we gonna see another posse cut?
Lil Dap: Excuse me?
DX: Is there gonna be another posse cut, you know, a group collaboration?
Lil Dap: Yeah, yeah. Of course. We’re keeping it street. You said, “posse cut.” Half of these kids don’t even know about that word, “posse.” [Laughs] You know what I mean, you’ll be like “Where your posse at?” And they be looking at you like, “What is that, a code?” [Laughs]
DX: Aw shit man, I’m feeling fucking old just by saying that word. [Laughs]
Lil Dap: I haven’t heard that word in a minute. You made me think, like, “Yo, get the posse. Come on, where the posse? [Laughs]
DX: I knew I was in trouble. I’m gonna have to edit that out.
Lil Dap: [Laughing] Nah, keep that because that’s let’s them know where the posse at.