[HIP-HOP] "I'm sick of following my dreams, man," a familiar voice growls. "I'm just going to ask where they're going and hook up with 'em later." It's the voice of Mitch Hedberg, a stand-up comic of some renown who died of a drug overdose in '05. As such, he's literally calling from the grave on Living Proof's dizzy and often inspired debut, Roots to Branches.
It's a rare moment of weightiness on a disc that radiates positivity. "We got to keep movin' in the right way," Prem raps in a reedy tenor. "We got to keep movin' on, strong." This sort of all-purpose feel-good mentality permeates the album. And at its delirious, beat-mixing, Northwest-pimping best, Living Proof emerges as a tumbling young outfit on the verge of big things.
For an instant spike to your pulse, try the stuttering, scratch-'n'-spin opening track (fittingly, "Roots"), which overlays vocal yelps and call-outs. The duo then plunges into a softer jam with some ironic anger bubbling under the surface: "Get yer man off my dick," Flowtope, the group's waifish half, spits at an unnamed adversary, "And his hands off my chips!" Both rappers plead, albeit in a generalized way, "We got to build it up/ We got to feel the love."
But Prem and Flowtope's ambitions often outstrip their chops. In the bold but raggedly assembled "Beautiful Day," De La Soul, Pep Love and what sounds like the Pointer Sisters' "River Boulevard" make ghostly appearances over whirring percussion and a pedantic beat. It's an intriguing mix, but producer Sapient (of multiheaded local crew Sandpeople) needs to step it up to pull it off.
Living Proof also pays homage—like so many of its hip-hop brethren—to the joys of 420 ("Funk Air"), the power of the spoken word ("If I was sleeping on some cardboard/ I'm still gonna wake up and be in love with this art form," from "Like That") and the expense of "credit cards and stupid chrome" ("Lately"). And it does it all with an impressive list of guests, including local soulstress Liv Warfield, several Sandpeeps and Myka 9 of Freestyle Fellowship.
In fact, there's a promising, lovely and buoyant track late in the game ("Sky High City") featuring Warfield's smoky voice. But the track is overlaid with a stiff beat, and the singer isn't given room to soar. It's a recurring theme on the album: Instead of branches, we're too often stuck with roots—but Living Proof certainly has a steady base from which to grow.
Living Proof celebrates the release of Roots To Branches Wednesday, Nov. 28, with Debaser, Braille and Kid Espi at Berbati's Pan. 7 pm. $7. All ages.