Veteran Hip Hop duo Group Home’s latest album’s worth of songs bearing the acronym-ready title Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal (G.U.R.U.) couldn’t have come at a better time. One of the reasons Hip Hop struck a chord with so many fans is how so much of it focused on the rawness while plowing through the petty bullshit that eclipses so many other kinds of Pop music. Yet the mood following the death of Guru – the iconic emcee and half of the legendary Gang Starr – has felt like a string of speculations and Monday morning quarterbacking straight out of the out of the pages of US Weekly.
Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal doesn’t just succeed as a tribute to the fallen brother and mentor of Group Home’s Lil Dap and Malachi but also as a tutorial on the essence of Hip Hop. It’s a statement from a pair of slept-on emcees that are through with being forgotten. Remembering Guru is the thrust of things but the ultimate goal isn’t about getting nostalgic. Nothing can be more blatant when Malachi calls out someone figuratively with, “You’re too old to rhyme.” G.U.R.U. has also just caused a permanent smudge at the 20 second mark of Nas’ “Where Are The Now?” where he links the question with Group Home’s legacy.
When listening to someone deliver a eulogy it’s clear within seconds if the individual really knew the person who has filled (or scattered) the room in memoriam. Rather than making stock pronouncements on the epic grandeur of someone’s life the eulogist should be highlighting the idiosyncrasies, the nuances and the contradictions that made the deceased individual so unique. Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal offers the same sort of grey area with its own material which is why the album feels so personal. One minute Dap and Malachi are, “ready for war like Big Daddy Kane gets raw,” when on other occasions they’re haunted by demons, vulnerable with “Backs Against The Wall.” And just as the G.U.R.U. title declares the universality of their subject matter, the album is strikingly regional as the duo draws a line in the Brooklyn sand. It says you can let us take you on a tour of our world with legends that include Lord Jamar and Jeru the Damaja along for part of the ride or you can – “no disrespect” – get the fuck out.
Group Home knows what they’re good at and cut to the chase without trying to get fancy. Sometimes the rhymes get clunky but it’s made up for by the distinctive voice of Lil Dap which always chops through a beat. This allows the album’s producers – new names rather than the nostalgic lineup some may have expected – to shade their musical contributions with elements like the sung background on “Bright Lights,” the melancholy piano on “Get Out The Car” and the bass pops and fret work that aren’t pasted but rather grow out of the middle and tail of “Ghetto Soldiers.” This production is a perfect example of the efficiency that makes DJ Premier (whose music is also featured) so timeless, it helps line up the lyrical crosshairs and stays away from a lot of sounds that are prevalent right now which are more Italo Disco and Synth Pop than Hip Hop.
The real highlight of this album are the rhymes from Guru himself back with Premier on the beat. Carried over from Group Home’s 1999 sophomore album, “The Legacy” still rings true and holds mighty. Whether it was a conscious decision or not Dap and Malachi didn’t try to force poignancy and place the other tracks with Guru first or last in the album’s order. Rather they appear just like they would have if Guru was still alive and made two featured appearances. Showing restraint and continuing the move forward can sometimes be the greatest tribute of all.