I had no idea until today that Lord Finesse is considered to be the leader of the Diggin' In The Crates crew. I just figured that they were a loose ensemble who would occasionally pair off to record albums.
Anyway, Lord Finesse hails from the Bronx, although he currently resides fairly high on my request list, if the comments section is any indicator. He's currently best known as a producer-slash-rapper, but back in 1989, when he and his partner, DJ Mike Smooth, released the twelve-inch single "Baby, You Nasty", he worked solely behind the microphone. Their debut, Funky Technician, which predates the D.I.T.C. crew, was released one year later on Wild Pitch Records, and features production from Smooth, labelmate DJ Premier (who was under contract as a part of Gang Starr), and future group members Diamond D and Showbiz.
Lord Finesse's lyrics have earned a lot of blogger acclaim, as his cocky delivery ranks him as one of the most underrated artists in our chosen genre. Funky Technician is generally considered to be an unsung classic record and a historical document, as Finesse and Mike Smooth broke up their act shortly after their debut hit store shelves. There is only one guest on Funky Technician, and he appears twice: A.G., foreshadowing his eventual work with the D.I.T.C. crew, delivers two solid cameos. But this project is solely Lord Finesse's show, so much so that you two probably forgot that the man shared equal billing with his deejay on his debut effort.
1. LORD FINESSE'S THEME SONG
Yet another unnecessary rap album intro. At least the music laid underneath actually sounded like it could be Lord Finesse's entrance theme, though.
2. BABY, YOU NASTY (NEW VERSION)
This track, a remix of a song that appeared on a twelve-inch single, contains four long verses and runs for more than five minutes. Before that description scares you off entirely, you should remember that attention spans weren't as short in 1990 as they are now: what Lord Finesse pulls off on here was actually the status quo back in the day. Over a simple and jazzy DJ Premier instrumental (which features a sample that he would later recycle for Big Shug's “The Jig Is Up”),Finesse lays out his mission statement: Funky Technician will be all about clever rhymes and shit-talking. And he's damn good at it, too: nearly every single one of his bars connect, thanks to his effortless flow and his charisma on the microphone. Primo's beat is a bit too simplistic for my taste, but that's my only (mild) criticism.
3. FUNKY TECHNICIAN
It turns out that our host didn't use up all of his rhymes on the previous track, as he gives the listener three more verses over this Diamond D-produced title track. The beat utilizes a familiar James Brown sample (there's a lot of him on this album) that most hip hop heads will likely recognize, and Lord Finesse epitomizes swag, walking around the instrumental “with a bop and [his] hat turned backwards”. “Funky Technician” is also infinitely more accessible for the newbie than the previous track, thanks to our host limiting himself to only three verses, so I suggest you start here if you have no idea who the man is and what he stands for.
4. BACK TO BACK RHYMING (FEAT. A.G.)
Showbiz's simple instrumental (and DJ Premier's contribution, which warrants a shout-out) lays the foundation for two solid verses, one each from Lord Finesse and his invited guest Andre the Giant. You can almost feel the confidence our host has in himself ooze out of your earbuds, but the day is won by A.G., who is fucking on fire as he drops “science, math, and all that shit”. He spits as though he had something to prove (which makes sense, as Funky Technician predates Showbiz and A.G.'s debut EP by two years), and he makes his effort worthy of rewinding over and over again. Although rewinding a song on your iPod doesn't feel the same as hitting “stop”, “rewind”, and then “play” on your Walkman. Regardless, this song is the shit.
5. HERE I COME
The first sort-of misstep on Funky Technician isn't a bad song, but it is hampered by an awkward-sounding chorus, made up of two disconnected vocal samples. The instrumental is appropriately funky, and Lord Finesse appears to be game for anything, but after hearing our host trade bars with a guest on the previous track, it's a little bit jarring to hear him support an entire song all by himself so quickly. I realize that last sentence doesn't make any sense: what most present-day rap albums need are songs where the host is all by himself. But “Back To Back Rhyming” proved that our host excels in smaller doses, so hearing him talk shit through all three verses, while excellent, also wears the audience out quite a bit. It is what it is.
6. SLAVE TO MY SOUNDWAVE
This song was pretty good all by itself, but the part where Lord Finesse explains that he “drop[s] science like a kid in Catholic school” is beyond brilliant, and it takes the track over the top. Over Mike Smooth's pulsating instrumental, with its echoes of Eric B and Rakim's “Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em”, our host lays down two verses (and an extended outro filled with shout-outs) that make it hard to understand why the man is never thought of when lists are compiled about the greatest performers in our chosen genre. I'm not claiming that he's top five dead-or-alive material, but Lord Finesse has some fucking bars.
7. I KEEP THE CROWD LISTENING
Over a dull throb of a Diamond D beat, Lord Finesse supplies two-and-a-half verses (I don't know how it's possible that someone can perform half of a verse when he's by himself, but that's exactly what our host does on here) that the crowd can hear but not necessarily pay any attention to. The instrumental truly is detrimental to the cause: even Mike Smooth's scratching at the end comes across as a “too little, too late” proposition. It also doesn't help that Finesse seems to be obsessed with the idea of people actually dancing to this particular track, which isn't funky or catchy enough to light up the floor. In short, this track was a bust. Can't win them all, I guess.
8. BAD MUTHA
Uses the same James Brown “The Boss” sample that Nas later utilized on his “Get Down”, so if you remember what Nasir's track sounded like, then you already know just how funky “Bad Mutha” comes across. Finesse's boasts sound pretty good by themselves, but when coupled with Diamond D's instrumental, “Bad Mutha” becomes what is easily the most entertaining solo track on Funky Technician. You'll want to use the beat as the score to your stroll down the hallway at your tedious office job that you're only sticking with until your band blows the fuck up, which will be any day now, you know it, since your drummer Dave's cousin's girlfriend knows a guy whose smoking hot sister's father-in-law works as an A&R for Universal Motown. This shit was great.
9. KEEP IT FLOWING (FEAT. A.G.)
Lord Finesse reunites with his “Back To Back Rhyming” cohort for “Keep It Flowing”, but switches things up on us a bit by allowing A.G. to go first. Oooh, controversial! Except not really. Both men murder Primo's backing track, which sounds funkier than a looped-up instrumental ever should, with their boasts and general shit-talking. I had never noticed how much Cormega sounds like Andre the Giant on prescription cough sizzurp until I listened to “Keep It Flowing” again today. Not only are the verses good, the beat actually adds to the experience by making Finesse and A.G. sound even cooler than they were back in 1990. Also, the song doubles as a good source of fiber. Nice!
10. LESSON TO BE TAUGHT
Although it takes him a while to get to the goddamn point (to be fair, he does have to dodge the exhaling vocal sample layered into the beat by producer DJ Premier), Lord Finesse tells a basic, generic tale of drug abuse that is meant as a public service announcement and not, I'm guessing, as real-life example of how “drugs are nothing to play with”. So when exactly did the tide turn in our chosen genre? Because today, you're looked at sideways if you don't glorify drug use (and the sale of said drugs, but that's an altogether different topic). This might have had more of an impact had the beat and Finesse's (elementary) flow been in sync. Oh well.
11. JUST A LITTLE SOMETHING
If it wasn't for the runtime, “Just A Little Something” could have been one of those rap album interlides where the artist drops a one-verse wonder and moves on. Lord Finesse does just that, sounding cocky as shit over a Showbiz loop that drills itself into your skull, and after he's through giving away shout-outs as though they were Skittles, he lets Show's beat ride for an additional minute, which was awfully nice of him. Today's climate would have eliminated the wasteful final minute, but on Funky Technician it facilitates a much-needed breather for the audience. This was pretty good, even if it was just a little something.
12. STRICTLY FOR THE LADIES
An interesting bit of misdirection on here: the title may trick you into believing that Lord Finesse recorded a love rap in order to appeal to a wider audience, but the first two verses on “Strictly For The Ladies” serve as a warning to any girl our host wants to hook up with that won't give it up: he just doesn't want to waste his time. If that description sounds a bit off-putting, then, well, it should: the second verse is actually devoted to Finesse's technique of breaking a girl down mentally just to shift the odds back into his favor, all because she refused to kiss him on their first date. It is a bit mean-spirited, but things pick up during the third verse, where our host drops the act and freestyles, even throwing in a safe-sex message for good measure. Primo's simplistic beat goes a long way toward making the first two verses palatable, as does Lord Finesse's flow, which is as casual as ever.
13. TRACK THE MOVEMENT
An overly pleasant way to end the album. Lord Finesse's vocals are overshadowed by the DJ Premier production on a lot of this song, but when you can hear what he has to say, he sounds pretty nice. He's also extremely complimentary to his deejay, Mike Smooth: “Track The Movement” is the only song that comes to mind where I can remember our host talking this much about his friend. Which makes it even more puzzling that this partnership ended right about when Funky Technician hit store shelves. Oh well.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Lord Finesse and DJ Mike Smooth both help make Funky Technician a, well, funky ride on the Wayback machine. Finesse's rhymes are chock-full of confident boasts that tend to come from cocky nineteen year-olds without a care in the world, and they're entertaining as fuck too, which only helps. DJ Mike Smooth's contributions are more understated, but he does what he can, as do the producers, who take the samples handed to them and fit them into our hip hop mold. This pre-Diggin' In The Crates project proves that Lord Finesse was bursting with talent even back in 1990. Funky Technician does sound a bit dated, but that's mainly because some of these songs are crazy long: back in the day, rappers used to rhyme for as long as they were allowed. Anyway, Funky Technician still holds up pretty well today, which is all that matters.
BUY OR BURN? You should pick this one up as soon as possible. It may take younger listeners a few attempts to actually get into it, but it's worth the effort.
BEST TRACKS: “Bad Mutha”; “Back To Back Rhyming”; “Keep It Flowing”; “Funky Technician”; “Just A Little Something”; “Baby, You Nasty (New Version)”