By David Ma | “I’m not the best motherfucker, but I’m better than a lot of n*ggas,” the grand imperial Lord Finesse once famously, succinctly remarked on record. While one would expect such swift hubris would apply to the Funky Man’s acumen for punchline-heavy braggadocio verses, it actually resounds three-fold. For Finesse is that true rarity amongst hip-hoppers: a revered and celebrated emcee who also boasts equally prodigious talents as a DJ and producer.
Despite classic rap efforts to his credit like 1990’s Funky Technician, it’s been Finesse’s fine work behind the console that’s kept him most active between extended breaks on the mic. Often characterized by dark, reverb-soaked horns, forgotten jazz riffs, propulsive drums, and those signature sleigh bells, his productions have naturally punctuated the efforts of his brethren in the D.I.T.C. (Diggin’ In the Crates) collective - Show & AG, Fat Joe, O.C., and his protégé, the late, great Big L. But he’s also helmed the beats for “Suicidal Thoughts,” off The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die, and “The Message” from Dr. Dre’s 2001 album. Both are classic Finesse in terms of sound and feel; both round out their respective albums with emotionally resonant tracks that show their architect’s musical range.
With his recent mixtapes, Art Of Diggin' Vol. 1 and Art of Diggin' Vol. 2, “The Underboss” continues to display his knack for picking the right records to utilize. And though it’s been 17 years since his last LP of new raps, 2012 promises a resurgence of Finesse through a slew of both original and archival material via Slice-Of-Spice Records. Sounds like the perfect time then, to consult the Funky Technician for his all-time favorite (rather funky) sample flips.
10. MC Lyte - “Stop, Look, Listen” (First Priority, 1989)
PRODUCER: King of Chill
SAMPLE SOURCE: Ecstasy, Passion & Pain - “Born To Lose You” (Roulette, 1974)
Lord Finesse: Of course when it comes to the original, first thing you think of is Mobb Deep ["The Realest"]. I was in the house tapping on the machine, trying to get a mean chop out of that [Ecstasy, Passion & Pain] record when I discovered the record had been used earlier in the game by King Of Chill for MC Lyte. I had to call King of Chill after that, we had a good laugh on that one. And he did it with a simple one-two chop!
9. Pete Rock & CL Smooth - “What’s Next On The Menu?” (Uptown, 1993)
PRODUCER: Pete Rock
SAMPLE SOURCES: Kool & The Gang - “Summer Madness” (De-Lite, 1975); Bob James - “Nautilus” (CTI, 1974)
Lord Finesse: I first heard this while Pete was mixing the song for the Who’s The Man? soundtrack. I was in the other room remixing Notorious B.I.G.'s ”Party and Bullshit” when Pete invited me in to hear the song. The electric piano, the "Nautilus" sounds with the trademark Pete Rock horns! He had that shit rocking. He actually had me do an ad lib on CL’s verse on that song. All I could think about was, "How the fuck he compose [it so] all the samples [worked] together?"
8. Slick Rick - “It’s a Boy (Remix)” (Def Jam, 1991)
PRODUCER: Large Professor
SAMPLE SOURCE: Lonnie Smith - “Spinning Wheel” (Blue Note, 1970)
Lord Finesse: When I first heard the remix, I had no idea that Large Professor programmed those drums, I swore up and down that was a loop! I’m still stuck to this day how he had the drums free flowing like a live drummer, with the turnarounds and drum fills and everything. I won’t lie, he introduced to me to using sleigh bells behind my drums!
7. Amerie - “Why Don’t We Fall In Love” (Columbia, 2002)
PRODUCER: Rich Harrison
SAMPLE SOURCE: Dave Gruisin - “Medley: Condor! (Theme)/I've Got You Where I Want You” (DRG, 1975)
Lord Finesse: [When I heard this] I just couldn’t stop listening to the way it was put together. Man, her voice along with the melodic background is a perfect combo! Rich Harrison at some point had to be a digger and real hip-hop fanatic! For the most part, I thought it was played until I stumbled across what he used while I was picking through the [Three Days Of the Condor OST] record looking for sounds to add to this Grand Agent song I was working on at the time. Man, that Amerie song got so much run in my truck when it first came out.
6. O.C. - “Jewelz” (Payday, 1997)
PRODUCER: Lord Finesse
SAMPLE SOURCE: J.J. Band - “Changing Face” (CBS, 1971)
Lord Finesse: When I first heard the original loop, at the time I just didn’t know what to do with it. This song was actually supposed to be an interlude on my Awakening LP, until O.C. came to visit me at the crib. I had it playing while he was there and he was like, “Man what the fuck is that for?!?” I was telling him I was using it for an interlude on my next LP and he said, “Fuck that interlude shit, I need that for my next LP. I have a song in mind for it!” Melodically, I knew it was something special.
5. Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth - “Baby You Nasty” (Wild Pitch, 1990)
PRODUCER: DJ Premier
SAMPLE SOURCE: Young-Holt Unlimited - “Wah Wah Man” (Cotillion, 1971)
Lord Finesse: During the making of Funky Technician I would sit with Premier all day listening to records, trying to pick out loops for the album. I would sit there sometimes til we’d both be nodding off. [laughs] One day he pull out that Young-Holt Unlimited record and as soon as I heard the drums I absolutely lost my mind. I was like, “That’s it right there" - just off the drum loop alone! Man, I didn’t care what he added on top as long as he had that drum loop running. I knew we could come up with something funky.
4. Big Daddy Kane - “Raw (Remix)” (Cold Chillin', 1988)
PRODUCER - Marley Marl
SAMPLE SOURCE: Lyn Collins - “Mama Feelgood" (People, 1973); Bobby Byrd - “Hot Pants (I’m Coming, Coming, I’m Coming)” (Brownstone, 1972)
Lord Finesse: This is a childhood classic. Marley Marl had every club, radio station, boom box and Walkman going with this one! I used to be in high school playing this shit out. [laughs] I needed at least two extra packs of batteries for my Walkman everyday when this came out. Big Daddy Kane definitely put his stamp on this one vocally too. The day I heard the drums dropped and then horns came in after? Man, it was over. Man, after that it had to be around 20 – 30 dance tracks that [came out with] them drums. [laughs]
3. The Notorious B.I.G. - “Warning” (Bad Boy, 1994)
PRODUCER: Easy Mo Bee
SAMPLE SOURCE: Isaac Hayes - “Walk On By” (Enterprise, 1969)
Lord Finesse: I was in Unique Studios when Easy Mo Bee was first putting the track together. I was sitting there thinking, “Man, why is he using this [Isaac Hayes record]?" I kept thinking, "I know he got something hotter than that!" But I didn’t stay the whole session to see the finished product. When Ready To Die came out and I heard “Warning” it personally taught me, “Don’t judge, say, or even think a muthafucking thing until you’ve heard the finished product!” [laughs] I was at the Howard [University] homecoming and Puff was there promoting B.I.G. and Craig Mack, and that’s all you heard down there, man! And it was sounding real massive!
2. Show & AG ft. Diamond D - “Still Diggin'" (Payday, 1992)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Jack Bruce - “Statues” (Atco, 1970)
Lord Finesse: Where do I start with this one?! Is there a such thing as "record rape"? [laughs] Show definitely committed that during the making of Runaway Slave by just jackin' this sample! When I first heard “Still Diggin'” with Diamond and Show killin' it vocally, I just sat there stunned. The way he crafted this record with the horns and the bassline change ups, it was something special - to watch the transformation from using soul and funk loops to picking incredible jazz horn riffs and weird funky basslines. If you ever stumble across that Jack Bruce Things We Like LP, you’ll definitely discover where a nice part of Show & AG’s first LP magic came from.
1. Public Enemy - “Rebel Without A Pause” (Def Jam, 1988)
PRODUCER: Bomb Squad
SAMPLE SOURCE: The JB's - “The Grunt Pt. 1” (King, 1970)
Lord Finesse: Man, that shit right there is another childhood classic! The legendary Bomb Squad had an incredible anthem with that one there. I can’t speak on other people neighborhoods, but when they were playing music in the park back in the day and you wanna see a fight? Throw that shit on! [laughs] To this day, I’m still trying to figure out who or what made them take a loud James Brown horn sample and loop that throughout the song even while Chuck is rapping. And on top of that, put James Brown's "Funky Drummer" under it. Wow.