[NEXT-GEN HIP-HOP] The first 20 seconds of Living Proof's sophomore full-length, Full Speed, proves the duo is serious about repping its hometown. The disc opens with the sound of a radio dial twisting impatiently, finding sound bites from Lifesavas, Sandpeople and Cool Nutz in the static. "Portland's got the best shit!" a voice exclaims as Living Proof turns the key to its music box and starts the show.
The new production though, funnily enough, fits more neatly into traditions of California gangster rap and mid-'90s Bay Area underground hip-hop than it does to its increasingly crunchy local contemporaries. Living Proof has always relied on smooth flows and soulful beats, and those gifts are plentiful on Full Speed: Even when Prem—generally snappier in his delivery than his more organic partner/producer, Tope—is firing a fully automatic, Living Proof stays within the hypnotic groove of its smoky production. Not only does this set Living Proof apart from a scene of artists trying to out-boom-bap one another, but—despite LP's insistence that it makes the "real raw dope even if you don't smoke"—it should endear the duo to legions of potheads.
Lucky for the rest of us, Prem and Tope can rap, too. Though you can hear influences shining through (Jay-Z on the lush "Just Breathe"; NWA on the funky title track; Murs on the skateboarding anthem "Independent"), the MCs have developed their personality enough since the last album—blue collar, confident but not cocky, funny but not silly—that those tracks sound like loving tributes rather than rip-offs.
That's the real joy in listening to Full Speed: watching Living Proof find its voice in both form and content. There's still room to develop—at the MCs' worst, they're a bit too chameleonlike—but the fact LP can retain a consistent aesthetic while making such a wide variety of songs is evidence of the duo's vision becoming a reality. On "Dirt," Tope and Prem stand side by side with Boom Bap Project's Destro as he systematically attacks the haters over a funk Trox beat reminiscent of heyday Blackalicious. On album closer "Caddy Music," local MC Epp and DooDoo Funk All-Stars frontman Tony Ozier join Living Proof for a smooth jam that feels more Compton than Hawthorne, despite lyrical references to the contrary. National-level MCs like Planet Asia and Abstract Rude are integrated seamlessly and without ass-kissing fanfare throughout the album, too, and it's a real testament to the group's growth. That Portland has fostered that growth is a testament to the scene.
Living Proof plays Someday Lounge on Friday, Jan. 7, with Spaceman, Xperience, Vinnie Dewayne and Natasha Kmeto. 9 pm. Cover. 21+.