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LIFERS GROUP (Buy CDs by this artist)
Lifers Group EP (Solid Productions/Hollywood BASIC) 1991
Living Proof (Solid Productions/Hollywood BASIC) 1993

Former Hollywood BASIC president and hip-hop visionary Dave "Funken" Klein had lots of good ideas; the concept of making a record out of the Scared Straight anti-crime program was one. Formed by Rahway Prison (New Jersey) inmate Maxwell Melvins and consisting of real life-sentence convicts, the Lifers Group represented a small effort to reverse some negative trends. Klein and Melvins saw a hard-hitting album recorded inside the prison as a way of broadening the Lifers Group's message.

The first EP has only four proper songs but is filled out with edits, remixes and bonus beats. The centerpiece of Lifers Group, "The Real Deal," is chilling material. Although most of the themes had already been covered — sometimes more adeptly — by Public Enemy and N.W.A, authenticity lends the lyrics an undeniable edge. Knowledge Born Allah recalls Kool G Rap at his finest, while Rocky D and Chuck X also contribute hard verses; the European duo Solid Productions provides appropriately direct, angular funk.

Living Proof trades intensity for a showcase of Rahway's considerable lyrical/musical talents. "Freestyle 1" is just that. The problem is not in the message or the sound — as on-point as ever — but in the very anonymity of the performers. Ironically, with record labels marketing the "realism" of so-called gangstas, the Lifers Group's inside story could barely compete.

[Jeff Chang]