Cool Song: Group Home “Up Against the Wall” (Getaway Car Remix)

When I got into DJ’ing in 1995, one of the first records I bought was Group Home’s “Supa Star.”

I played the shit out of that record, and even today, more than 25 years later, I feel the song holds up.

Anyway, the Brooklyn duo’s debut, Livin’ Proof, is something of a cult hip-hop classic, one of those records that diehard fans remember well.

While “Supa Star” and the album’s title track, “Livin’ Proof,” got a lot of attention at the time, one of my favorite tracks was “Up Against the Wall” (Getaway Car Remix). The original version is solid, but I remember hearing — I want to say Evil Dee? — play just a few seconds of this remix on Hot 97 one night, and I had to press record on my tape deck immediately. It was just that unbelievable.

There’s something about that piano loop, courtesy of DJ Premier, via the Young Holt Trio (who would later be known, more famously, as Young-Holt Unlimited, where in 1968 they had the smash hit “Soulful Strut”), which is all of two seconds long, and how it evokes this tremendous feeling of sad joy.

The piano loop doesn’t change much throughout the track, and yet it never ceases to remain interesting; each time it loops, it somehow triggers a new emotion.

The song is also mixed in a rather unique way (at least as compared to contemporary styles). If you listen closely, you can hear the drums pulling the song along, the piano wistfully playing, then the vocals, drenched in reverb, and paired with a slap delay. The slap delay — which to a laymen, produces an echoing effect — makes it sound as if each line is being doubled, for added emphasis. In turn, vocals almost sound like another instrument. Very cool.

When you think about it, this song is little more than three musical elements: the beat (drums and loop), the scratches on the chorus, and the vocal tracks. It’s living proof — for real — that you don’t need much to make something that stands the test of time.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.