September 8, 2011

Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth - Funky Technician (June 7, 1990)

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  Funky Technician is generally considered to be an unsung classic record and a historical document, as Finesse and Mike Smooth broke up their act shortly after their debut hit store shelves.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.

And so.

Yet another unnecessary rap album intro. At least the music laid underneath actually sounded like it could be Lord Finesse's entrance theme, though.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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)”



  1. fuck yeah finally! i wanna read this now but i have to go somewhere so i'll leave another comment when i get back and finish reading it

    also diamond d's stunts blunts and hip hop would be a great thing to follow this up with

  2. got to agree with your gut reaction max , a dope album

  3. alright, alright, so all i really wanted to say is bad mutha is a fucking amazing perfect song, a.g. is a straight killer, and lesson to be taught is the one bad song

  4. Still no comments? Anyway, this album is just great. A must have. Totally agree with your review.

  5. Hurrah! Our prayers were heard.

    Can't wait for the next Finesse review.

  6. True Stroy, I hgave my own version of this review on my blog. idk if it's still up there.

  7. Lord Finesse is simply dope on the mic. He's got witty bars for days and he drops them on pretty much every track. Not as crazy about him as some others in this comment board but I'd be lying if I said he's anything less than dope!

    And a great debut too for him.

  8. djbosscrewwreckaSeptember 08, 2011

    Oh my days.
    Most of the tracks here are fire - this is a classic album. Lord Finesse has lyrics, and a style that makes pretty much anything he says sound good. The production is tight – I wouldn’t say it sounds dated – it sounds vintage.
    Back to back Rhyming is off the hook.
    Lord Finesse said in an interview that Mike Smooth gave up music soon after this and now works for the park service.

  9. DOPENESS! D.I.T.C. rarely fails to impress.

    To Max & any others I would suggest listening to DJ Premier's recent remix of "I Keep The Crowd Listening"

    Which was intended for Lord Finesse's album "Funky Technician - The Remix Project" which was to be released in 2010, for the 20th Anniversary of the "Funky Technician". Just awesome

  10. *Sorry bad link

    Lord Finesse - I Keep The Crowd Listening (DJ Premier Remix)


    Apparently Lord Finesse himself commented on the status of the "The Funk Technician - Remix Project"

  12. nice review but i must remind you to review
    an Immortal Technique album please....

  13. Lord Finesse is disgustingly nice and this album is crazily good. Not to essentially mimic everyone else's comments, but yeah, I think 'dope' adequately describes this. So many quotables! Honestly, I actually can't think of a track that I don't love on this album, except for Lesson To Be Taught which is a little tedious. CLASSIC debut from a master MC.

  14. Maaaaax iiiiiiisss baaaaack.

  15. I am happy now!
    Great review max, TNX.


  17. I fucks with it

  18. Max I assure you that Immortal Technique is not worth your time. That is all

  19. no immortal technique please

  20. THE 14 YEAR OLDS CAN LOOK FOR HIS SHIT ON A DIFFERENT BLOG- who the hell is this clown? Immortal Technique is an authentic MC, he truly has something special although, as Tonedef said, he is more inclined to calling you a “fucking f*ggot” and curse your dying sister in the hospital than to flip a witty worldplay joke. He comes of as gutteral and unpolished yet fresh and unique– Street Shock Politics. Check him out Max.

  21. Hey Max, good stuff. Please pick up Wise Intelligent's albums from the previous decade. He is one of the few older lyricists who has progressed beautifully.
    -The Talented Timothy Taylor is incredible. Peace and love.

  22. This "clown" is someone who actually refers to himself as someone other than "anonymous" Tech has one of the worst flows out, he may have some good vocab but that doesn't make him anything special. There's lots of MC's like him just because he's more commercially known doesn't make him a authentic artist. Like i said before the teens that dig his shit can go on a different blog as it's quite clear it's not just me who would rather Tech to not appear on hiphopisntdead. That is all i will waste of you, good day.

  23. Wow, people really are divided on Technique, aren't they? Anyway, yeah, every time I have heard Tech, I've gotten bored within about 6.5 seconds, while he tries to vomit guttural, throaty syllables saturated with politically charged content at me. I'm a bad person, I know, but frankly, I wouldn't read an Immortal Tech review. I'd far prefer a review of Tech N9ne, whose delivery commands far more attention and is actually entertaining to listen to. Even if the whole speed-rap thing is somewhat gimmicky, he is certainly pretty damn good at it.

    I've already commented on this review (oh btw, Lord Finesse is dope and stuff), but yeah, co-sign the 'No Technique, please'.

    Not that I'm propelling my opinion over anyone else's but hey, reviewing any of these would make me happy. Just suggestions of course:

    -Rakim (w/ Eric B [or solo, if you can bear it])
    -Royce's Bar Exams (especially the first one)
    -Pharoahe Monch (Organized Konfusion! or his solo stuff)
    -Naughty By Nature (Treach used to be craaazy)
    -Common (Like Water for Chocolate?)
    -AZ, Busta, LL, Canibus, Shad, the new Game?

  24. Immortal Technique shout be shot to death.
    Anti-Semitic bastard.

  25. I'm almost tempted to give this Immortal Technique thing a shot, if only to see if you all could guarantee multiple page hits and comments.

    I might just be kidding.

  26. I don't want to see an Immortal Technique review, however, I must say that he's awesome and I wont deny that. I'm just uninterested in a review for him and prefer old school stuff like the page at hand.

  27. I appreciate Technique to a point, but his unchanging flow and relentlessly obsessive need to stick with the same topic, song after song, album after album, year after year, make him a chore to listen to. I'll agree with the kinder/gentler Captain and admit that he's good at what he does.... But I'd rather read reviews of other artists.

    In the end though we are all at your mercy....

  28. doesn't get much better than this album imo

  29. Shocked as hell you didn't mention there's a beat on here that is the exact same as Kool Keith's "Welfare Love"...

  30. Classic album and nice review! 12" version of Baby You Nasty is much better and all the way funkier for ladies and gentlemen)

    delete all that offtop comments please

  31. I gotta admit I was way too adamant & uncompromising when I back in the early 90's started decided that Ice Cube, PE & Wu-Tang (+Sunz of Man & Killarmy, never could deny how well True Master & 4th Disciple evolved technically) were all the hiphop I needed. As a white kid in a backwater, town/industrial zone surrounded by forest having one foot in the project housings with its increasing poverty and the other in the countryside boondocks, I had a reputation too maintain, both as a white male (elvis, guns & roses and/or maiden & such weak, soft hard rock, possibly grunge, was ideal & the default beside not being into music at all, but I was into early sunlight proto-death & hc which gave me an edge, that shit was way too dark, hard & noisy for the ignorant populous but I repped it good) and as a little dude known for having a mind of his own & iron will. Changing my mind in public wouldve been a defeat. So I didn't read up properly on the rest of the EC powerhouses until just after high school, 1998-2001. I knew of Big L ofc, & Buckwild for some reason. Still over ten years later I have blanks to fill.

    On the subject of IT: I can't stand his music. There's like 4-5 songs thats alright but his misoginy doesnt have that satirical feel it should have; makes me nauseous when someone can't settle for deliviring a message as best he can, he just HAVE TO show off that latin machizmo in absurdum. Fucken stupid.

    I love gritty, hard shit, horrorcore & conscious rap showing no fear in the face of the Israel lobby, the warmongers & military-industrial complex, as well as the liberalist elite using smoke & mirrors to deflect from the fact that the 1% nobody ever voted for should rule as they always have & that the desinformation about the enemy of the day (its putin and assad now, right? my advice is that they do a lot of things right from a proletariat perspective cause Leviathan's wrath enters the open only when their unrightful accumulation of capital, land, power & production is threatened) by simply twisting the discourse so that the choices doesnt even include solidarity based on your place in the pyramid. To americans who's fed up there's individualism locked in your house with a gun, defending your tiny tiny piece of "property" as if its the taxes that hurt you and the politicians who's in charge & not faceless investors controlling both currency, market, production, prizes & unemployment levels,, starting wars to get an open pipeline right into the federal treasury; delivering whatever services for whatever price they tell their friends & fellow stockholders in the senate to give them, all wars since first Gulf have come as a reaction to inflation or a bursting speculation balloon. The other choice is being a good project ni**er & "get rich or die tryin". Entrepreneur!!!!=) Fuck Im tired of that word. Sorry for rambling here, got carried away. Contenta: I agree with Immortal Technique on most issues (though Im marxist-leninist, organized, & I don't see the demand for any illuminati, the demigods who rule the world & keep the poor poor cause segregation keeps the wheels spinning & the conflicts at street level while once being in opposition with several of EU & sometimes US governments cause of tax issues or whatever but now operate with the full support of the state.

  32. Pt.II: (Sorry for the long post, but I gotta finish it or else there's no connection to the issue I was adressing first (IT), so here goes:)

    Its politically incorrect, and JEALOUSY, to point fingers at the rich, theyre just hard working!! U know, blame the masses who have to take refuge in our countries cause we wanted "democracy" (in reality a perpetually re-ignitable conflict to keep the chaos alive so that no court or zealous public servant at the iraqi or afghani version of IRS or minister of the interior or whatever in peace time can find the numbers, the lies, stolen lives & gazillions of tax dollars, & claim reparations.

    Btw, I agree about A.G. being shockingly good here. Loved him on Kamachi's second non-DIY-wax The Meanin' (They Don't Know) [feat. A:G:] / Nile Nutrition [feat. Last Emperor] "12 in '98 or '99, that's when I discovered him & made the connection with Diamond D & DITC.