Have you ever created something (a story, a painting, a blog post, whatever) that you originally didn't let everybody see because you weren't thrilled with the end result, and then several years later, you happened across it and decided to purge in order to clear out some space? That's what today's post is: a purging. I wrote this shit about a year ago, and while I'm still not thrilled with the post itself, I figured it's time to accept it and keep it moving.
Producer-slash-rapper Pete Rock is responsible for creating classic hip hop songs, whether alongside his on-again, off-again, now-I-understand-on-again partner in crime CL Smooth or not, having crafted a signature sound that mixes New York boom bap with jazzier beats and soul-heavy influences. Whenever I use the word "horns" on this site, odds are your mind immediately shifts to Pete Rock no matter what loser I'm writing about: that's how much of a mark the man has made within our chosen genre. And, like most artists, Peter isn't content to sit on his laurels and count his money: no, he'd rather be working, and has done so steadily for over two decades now.
After the dissolution of the Pete Rock & CL Smooth brand, Peter Q. Rockefeller took his act solo, releasing his debut, Soul Survivor, on Loud Records, one of the most heralded rap labels of the time. Although Pete rhymes quite a bit, his bread-and-butter comes from sitting behind the boards, and, as such, Soul Survivor turned out to be not unlike Dr. Dre's own solo debut The Chronic, except Pete wasn't trying to launch a record label: he was just trying to show off how many famous friends he had who would kill to spit over one of his beats. And it worked: that album has tracks that I still bump to this day.
Six years and one instrumental project later, Soul Survivor II dropped, although Pete was forced to distribute it through indie label BBE Records. It followed the same path as its predecessor, but to much less fanfare, probably because BBE spent all of their marketing budget making sure that the album cover was printed in color.
Fast forward four more years. In 2008, Pete Rock released NY's Finest, which, while featuring a slew of guest stars over his production, was not Soul Survivor III by a long shot. Instead, our host opted to run with a bit of a concept, recruiting some of his favorite New York-based rappers to churn out a very East Coast-flavored compilation. The fact that NY's Finest features turns from New Jersey's Redman, North Carolina's Little Brother, and South Carolina's Rell leads me to believe that description to be complete and utter bullshit, though: I choose to think that Peter was merely referring to himself as New York's finest producer-slash-sometime rapper, because that's the only way this project makes any sense to me.
Released through indie Nature Sounds, NY's Finest featured the same inconsistencies and instability that Peter had encountered his entire solo career: while never hurting for work opportunities, Pete Rock traveled a rocky road when it came to signing with labels that couldn't stick around long enough for him to attend a holiday party. His selection of guests also seems to have fallen hard from when the likes of Ghostface Killah, Large Professor, Method Man, Common, Black Thought, and even CL Smooth would line up around the block: the few A-listers present are forced to share screen time with names such as Papoose and Jim Jones. Peter would probably say that this was because he wanted to help break some of the younger cats, but we all know that Nature Sounds could hardly afford what he actually wanted to bankroll after paying for that James Brown homage on the album cover.
Anyway, whatever, here's a review.
1. PETE INTRO
If the first track on NY's Finest is named “Pete Intro”, it's fair to assume that Pete Rock would actually appear on it in some kind of speaking capacity, right? Well, he doesn't. Don't you feel stupid now? I know I do.
2. WE ROLL (FEAT. JIM JONES & MAX B.)
Any goodwill Pete Rock has earned up until this point in his career is immediately dashed the very fucking moment you hear DipSet's Jim Jones ad-libbing during the intro to “We Roll”. I mean, really? You're Pete fucking Rock: you couldn't get anybody else to contribute? This song is the main reason why it's taken me so long to write about NY's Finest: I could never get past how angry this song makes me. Why is that, you ask out loud to your computer, tablet, or smartphone screen? Because the beat on here is really goddamn good, but it is utterly wasted on the likes of Jimmy and his boy Max B (who, admittedly, sounds better than his fellow guest). This shit just angries up the blood. Bottom line: if Pete Rock is the best rapper on a collaborative effort, then it really can't be that great of a song, regardless of how hot the beat is. Groan.
3. TILL I RETIRE
Peter delivers the first of two solo, unencumbered shots early, using “Till I Retire” as a mission statement explaining his position in the rap game, because younger readers could give a shit about Pete Rock and because older readers already know how important he is to our chosen genre, you see. I know that rappers are legally required to talk mad shit and boast about themselves to an unhealthy degree, but “Till I Retire” is a three-verse track where Peter recycles the same message on every other bar. His instrumental kind of floats out of the listener's mind, never to be recalled, which also doesn't help matters any.
4. 914 (FEAT. SHEEK LOUCH & STYLES P.)
Peter comes through with a unique way of sampling ESG's “UFO”, and, as is the natural order of things, the beat bangs. Although Jadakiss was apparently too good to work with only a fucking hip hop legend, his Lox partners Sheek Louch and Styles P. weren't too busy to answer the call, and, surprise surprise, everyone sounds pretty goddamn good. Styles rips shit during his opening verse, and Sheek's need to please shines through his performance, which absolutely needs to be experienced for yourself, as the beat is a banger. Nice work, Peter.
5. QUESTIONS (FEAT. ROYAL FLUSH)
Pete Rock reanimates the corpse of Flushing-based rapper Royal Flush, whose most well-known song, the Noreaga-featured “Iced Down Medallions” (from Ghetto Millionaire), dropped way back in 1997, and the guest returns the favor by unleashing a couple of verses that sound dated and will evoke nostalgia for mid-1990s street rap. (For some of you, those two traits will seem as though they're both describing the exact same thing: if you fall into that category, I don't know what to tell you.) Pete's instrumental is at once dramatic and hesitant, as though even the music isn't sure how to react to Royal Flush's presence in the booth. Now if only Pete had been able to locate which Rite Aid location Flush's boy Mic Geronimo was selling shaved ices outside of that day, this could have been fucking interesting. As it is, I still liked it today, but I grew up with this kind of stuff, so...
6. BEST BELIEVE (FEAT. REDMAN & LD)
This reunion of Peter Q. Rockefeller and Reggie Noble, which takes place long removed from the time when Pete co-produced Whut?! Thee Album's “How To Roll A Blunt”, is merely alright, as the flow of the track is disrupted by the contribution from LD (yeah, me neither), which may have sounded decent by itself, but the only reason anyone would ever seek out “Best Believe” is because of the two A-listers on here. Unfortunately, Redman spits his verse, records a couple of ad-libs, and gets the fuck out of town, leaving Pete carrying the weight of this particular world on his shoulders, and while he tries his best with his verse, the results aren't that memorable. Hell, even Reggie's verse seems to be a throwaway. Is it too late to ask for a do-over, Pete?
7. READY FE WAR (FEAT. CHIP FU & RENEE NEUFVILLE)
After a mind-numbingly long skit, Pete Rock envelops himself with the (kind of stereotypical, honestly) sounds of reggae (there's even an air horn present, along with gunshots, for fuck's sake). Pete sticks with the original recipe: there isn't any Major Lazer-type of deviation to be found on “Ready Fe War”. What can be found on here is a Pete Rock performance drowning in hilariously awkward patois, while guest stars Chip Fu (of Fu-Schnickens fame – Peter is reaching pretty far back here) and Renee Neufville (of R&B duo Zhané) fail to toss the motherfucker any sort of flotation device. Kudos to our host for trying something different, but this song would have been best left in an unrecorded state. Bleh.
8. DON'T BE MAD
Peter's other solo effort on NY's Finest features production contributed by DJ Green Lantern, marking “Don't Be Mad” as the only track on here not handled by our host. I think the fact that he didn't have to worry about the music helped him work out some of his writing stuff, as Pete Rock actually sounds pretty good on here: he comes across as cocky, self-assured, and confident. His first verse is curiously censored, but the rest of “Don't Be Mad” features the explicit lyrics that we all know and love, so that was weird. Lantern's beat is kind of dull, but Pete's performance is almost good enough to completely overwhelm it anyway. Almost.
9. BRING Y'ALL BACK (FEAT. LITTLE BROTHER)
When the now-defunct North Carolina-based group Little Brother first hit the scene with their debut The Listening, critics drew a lot of comparisons between 9th Wonder's production work and that of Pete Rock. So, unsurprisingly, Pete brings in Phonte and Big Pooh (and their weed carrier, the uncredited Joe Scudda, which clearly was an omission on the label's part, as Scudda performs the first fucking verse), but left 9th stranded in the airport lounge so that only two-thirds of Little Brother would ever know what it was like to actually work with the real Pete Rock. Interestingly, Pete's beat is uncharacteristic of his usual work, but “Bring Y'all Back” is still pretty good, despite the nonsensical chorus from our host. No, seriously, just listen to what the man says: you'll quickly discover that his questions don't connect well with his answers. Still, not bad.
10. THE BEST SECRET (FEAT. LORDS OF THE UNDERGROUND)
I don't know why this shit is called “The Best Secret” when “The Best Kept Secret” (italics mine) would fit better: the very phrase “the best secret” doesn't even make much sense in most contexts. Anyway, Pete Rock and the Lords Of The Underground finally connect, several years after the Lords had fallen out of favor in our chosen genre, and Pete's instrumental is...well, much more subdued than one would expect for the guys who brought us “Funky Child” and the like. Lords Mr. Funke and Doitall both sound okay, but you can almost hear their respective acceptance that hip hop has left them for dead in their voices, so that was kind of sad.
11. THAT'S WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT (FEAT. RELL)
R&B crooner Rell will forever be known as one of Jay-Z's earliest casualties: one of the earliest acts signed to the first incarnation of Roc-A-Fella Records, Rell was quickly ditched by Jay, Dame, and Biggs when he failed to keep pace (or garner any real interest in his work) with Hova's skyrocketing career. I guess it was nice that Pete Rock convinced Relly to call in to work that day to record “That's What I Am Talking About”; hell, he can hose the jizz off of the backs of those movie theater seats another time. But merely giving the guy another opportunity to shine won't automatically mean that he will shine: this track proves that Hova and company were right to shift their focus elsewhere.
12. THE PJS (FEAT. RAEKWON & MASTA KILLA)
I've already written about this track for my write-up on Masta Killa's mixtape The Next Chamber, but within its proper context, this Raekwon/Masta Killa collaboration still works. Pete Rock's instrumental is a “slow burn”, as I apparently referred to it before, which works well for Raekwon's flow, which is at once apathetic and sleepy, but in a way that sounds entertaining, unlike on, say, Roc Marciano's work. (The potshots will apparently never end until the guy finally fucking impresses me.) Elgin also relishes the rare opportunity to appear on a high-profile project outside of the Wu-Tang family, and Pete's hook doesn;t get in the way or anything. It's the little things, folks.
13. MADE MAN (FEAT. TARREY TORAE)
Why in the world would Pete Rock give himself one of the most boring-as-shit Pete Rock beats he's ever made? Our host's verses were alright (for Pete Rock, anyway), but that beat caused me to tune the fuck out.
14. LET'S GO (FEAT. DOO WOP)
Our host gives about two minutes of airtime to deejay Doo Wop, who unleashes two verses that rival those of the actual rappers on NY's Finest. The beat is kind of interesting, and “Let's Go” is short enough to allow for a positive reaction and disappear before the listener starts questioning just why Pete Rock didn't just give the beat to an actual rapper. It isn't bad, but I wouldn't run home and tell my mother about it or anything. And not just because she isn't a Pete Rock fan. (She's all about the dirty South.)
15. COMPREHEND (FEAT. PAPOOSE)
Peter ends the evening with an overly-wordy hook that he gets lost within, which may help explain why formerly lost rapper Papoose (a well-regarded mixtape rapper whose debut album finally saw the light of day in March of 2013, seven years after its scheduled release date) is the only guy who delivers actual verses. The beat is okay, if a bit simple, and the guest star does what he can with such a high-profile platform to speak from. But, just like the rest of NY's Finest, this track fails to connect with any of the other tracks present, and after it finally ends, the listener is left feeling considerably underwhelmed.
A deluxe edition of NY's Finest contains two additional tracks, one featuring Roc Marciano (you can imagine that I'm not all that upset about missing out on this), and the other a previously-leaked collaboration with Slum Village, which wouldn't have made much sense on here, given the alleged theme. If you're familiar with those tracks, jot down your thoughts in the comment section. Peter also released the instrumentals for NY's Finest separately, if you're into that sort of thing.
FINAL THOUGHTS: And so it was proven that not everything Pete Rock touches turns to gold, or even gold's non-union Mexican equivalent. NY's Finest not only doesn't really feature many of New York's actual finest rappers (which may be more of a scheduling conflict issue than Peter not actively trying), it also includes throwaway instrumentals, some of which sucked anyway, but a handful of which actually could have made for a great sonic foundation had Pete been able to convince someone with actual talent to contribute (*cough* Jim fucking Jones? *cough*). I like that Peter likes who he likes, regardless of how popular they may be within our chosen genre, and it's not like this is new behavior: the two Soul Survivor albums follow a similar formula, with our host choosing to work with whoever the fuck he wants. But it seems that, even though this was his first solo album in four years, Pete Rock rushed NY's Finest to store shelves in an effort to not be forgotten. Dude: you're Pete Rock. Of Pete Rock & CL Smooth. You've produced actual, tangible classic songs that nobody can fucking dispute. Your legacy isn't going anywhere. You're allowed to take your time with these things. Still, NY's Finest managed to squeak out two pretty good songs (which are listed below) that should find your way onto your playlist.
BUY OR BURN? You two can burn this without feeling guilty, or better yet, just look for the tracks below and keep it moving. Soul Survivor III this is not.
BEST TRACKS: "914"; "The PJs"; "Questions", maybe
Catch up with Pete Rock by clicking here.