This April we lost one of the most dependable voices of rap music with Keith Elam b/k/a The Guru, or simply Guru, also short for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal. The rap nation’s public mourning was overshadowed by certain circumstances that need not be discussed here, but with the commotions having settled, we hopefully have a less obstructed view of Guru’s legacy.

Lil’ Dap and Melachi the Nutcracker aim to pay tribute to Guru at least in name with their third full-length “Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal.” Collaborating with DJ Premier for 1995’s gem “Livin’ Proof,” Group Home were part of the Gang Starr Foundation who left an indelible mark on hip-hop during the early to mid-’90s. That the Foundation’s members eventually drifted apart, was the natural course of things, although in view of the aforementioned posthumous drama the absence of communication between its two core members – Guru and Primo – strikes one as especially unfortunate.

Unfairly or not, rap fandom’s concerns focus on Gang Starr the rap duo, making everyone else that publically worked with Guru a second-tier. That includes Group Home, who from the look of things hadn’t been heard alongside Guru since 1999. They have every right to pay their respects to Keith Elam artistically, but it’s evident that his death is a significant factor in them going from being an item in Nas’ “Where Are They Now” to making a comeback. They couldn’t count on Premier to orchestrate the eulogy, which naturally would have lent enormous credibility to the project. But they did get fellow Gang Starr Foundation MC Jeru the Damaja to join them as they reminisce over Guru:

“I lost my big brother this year and that’s a fact
Had to come back and hit you with the latest facts
It hurt me so much, man, I had to sit back
Prayed to God, hopin’ that you will come back
But it’s your mission is done, so you gotta go now
So let’s pray that you go to a better place now
No more jealousy and envy hurtin’ you now
no more fake niggas just hangin’ around
I remember when we used to tear The Tunnel down
goin’ to far countries and give ’em the sound”

“It seem like just yesterday we did So Called Friends
Now Guru is watchin’ in 2010
Me and Dap – niggas filled with frustration
Guru put us down with the Gang Starr Foundation
We held each other down, no one stood alone
Dap came up with the name, yo, we are the Group Home
We became Supa Stars, now we’re Livin’ Proof
You know that this is the Moment of the Truth”

“People know about the worldwide tours
but we used to steal food and sleep on your floors
You took care of me, you’se my brother from another mother
You’re always in my heart and mind – Guru, I love ya
All the things that we been through
Me and Dap remain cool no matter what other niggas do
On Washington we used to spit rhymes
drink 40s all night, those was some real good times
Me, you and Dap used to combine minds
couple of times we even helped you with a couple of lines
Late night sessions at Firehouse
Dap gets fucked up, stabbed the couch, we out to Powerhouse
I won’t forget the things I was taught
It’s because of you, duke, that I’m on my fifth passport
Rockin’ shows around the world
Bad chicks in every port
Not spendin’ time in a pen or court
Your life on Earth was way too short
In the end I wish I was there to be a support
If I knew then what I know, now it’d be a whole different story
at least you woulda died around your whole army
Thanks for the fun, the fame and the glory
Son, you know what it is
I know you’re rockin’ crowds Above the Clouds
so give a shout-out to Big for me”

“G.U.R.U.” is not the ultimate farewell to Guru, but combined with the humble, almost ethereal beat by DJ Idem, it is the track that most consistently delivers on the promise of the album title. Dap’s “Intro” sets the track up nicely, while “Pay Attention” follows it up as an unearthed recording featuring Guru, Smiley the Ghetto Child and Melachi.

The rest of the album largely lacks references to Guru as well as the drive veterans should put behind a comeback album. “The Realness 2010” poses as an update of 1995’s “Tha Realness,” Cash Flow’s low-lit beat continuing Group Home’s dark brand of hip-hop that they solidified with 1999’s “A Tear For the Ghetto.” “Up Against the Wall” should also ring a bell with those familiar with “Livin’ Proof,” although this version is entirely different, a duet between Melachi and Brand Nubian’s Lord Jamar over a mixture of West Coast basslines and East Coast pianos courtesy of DJ Lord Ron, who signs three more solid tracks, the silky “Ghetto Soldiers” (using an echoing MC Lyte “Brooklyn” quote to good effect), the nocturnal “Ears to the Streets” and the experimental ’90s underground throwback “Bodega.”

It is safe to say that the task of releasing a new album caught Group Home somewhat unprepared. They had to resort to using two tracks from “A Tear For the Ghetto” (the Guru features “The Legacy” and “Be Like That”), but more damagingly, they haven’t really been able to give the project enough thought and come up with adequate songs and lyrics. All good intentions considered, “Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal” is not quite worthy of Guru nor of Group Home. But as a personal statement from the hearts and minds of Big Dap and the Nutcracker, it holds up.

Group Home :: Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal