Although in internet terms I’m kinda late on this one, the bottom line is that this wouldn’t be FDB if I didn’t throw in my two cents concerning the latest Pete Rock full length NY’s Finest. You’re unlikely to find any particularly original thinking here, as a few blogosphere notables have already said their piece (and said it very well), and for the most part you can probably second guess what my reactions to the record are going to be. Still, for what it’s worth, here is how I’m left feeling after a week or so of getting familiar with the Chocolate Boy Wonder’s latest outing, which easily stands as my most eagerly anticipated release of 2008.
Let’s start with the good. Unsurprisingly, the elements to savour in the record are almost exclusively rooted in the album’s production, which on the whole is beautifully executed. The groundwork laid by Soul Survivor II and his numerous credits on major releases over the last four years or so is clearly built upon here, with Rock having gradually fine tuned his cleaner, more overtly modern aesthetic to the point of near perfection. Tracks such as ‘We Roll’, ‘Best Believe’, ‘Bring Ya’ll Back’ and ‘Comprehend’ are unmistakably Soul Brother penned whilst managing to sound current and involving, and that’s no mean feat for an artist who is rapidly approaching his third decade in the game. Studio engineer Young Guru also deserves a mention, aiding the Chocolate Boy Wonder in achieving a level of clarity with the sound that is for the vast majority of the LP masterfully realised. Although fans with their heads still firmly rooted in the sands of the golden era may take issue with these developments, for me there’s no faulting the beats on offer here (for the most part…), and I’m left with a feeling of warm satisfaction that NY’s Finest still ultimately feels like a Pete Rock record.
Unfortunately, things ain’t all rosy, and even my glaringly biased perspective can’t ignore numerous shortcomings that tarnish the release. Already heavily documented, the guest vocal appearances range from the good to the undeniably wack, with only ‘The PJ’s’ featuring verses that actually match the quality of the musical backdrop care of Rae and Masta Killa. In this context, Rock’s unusually high frequency of vocal contributions is actually a blessing, but there’s little doubt that in terms of both delivery and content his style of rhyme isn’t really up to extended periods of such prominence, and his somewhat clumsy flow begins to feel tired relatively quickly when exposed to such substantial opportunities for dissection. Despite this, I’d still rather listen to Pete Rock rhyme than the majority of the other guests on the album, and when it comes down to it, this is a sad indication of the lack of lyrical finesse on offer.
The other key issue with NY’s Finest for me is that it seems to attempt to do too much at the same time, and this results in a lack of overall cohesion. I don’t actually dislike ‘Ready Fe War’ as much as other respected bloggers seem to, but there’s no denying that it is completely out of place and only serves to disrupt the flow of the album when listened to from front to back. Elsewhere, the more heavily R & B tinged numbers ‘That’s What I’m Talking About’ and ‘Made Man’ are surprisingly weak, particularly given that Rock usually has a knack for incorporating these elements into his grittier aesthetic with a sense of enduring quality (see ‘Take Your Time’ from the first installment of the Soul Survivor series). I’m also not completely sold on the radio friendly ”Til I Retire’, which for me deviates too far away from the traditional Pete Rock sound and again feels a little at odds with the content that can be found elsewhere on the LP.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the initial 12” release featuring ‘914′ and ‘The PJ’s’, there’s no getting away from the fact that NY’s Finest ultimately leaves this particular Pete Rock sycophant a little underwhelmed. As much as I want to think that various cuts on offer here will grow on me with time, the combination of essentially dull vocal performances and an uneven level of quality leaves me feeling otherwise. It goes without saying that NY’s Finest still goes down as a must have in my book, but if this is an indication of things to come from Pete Rock, the sad likelihood is that I’ll be relying on his back catalogue with increasing vigour whenever I feel the need for a little Soul Brother fix. The Main Ingredient for lunch tomorrow? Aw, go on then…