Monday, June 7, 2010

Funky Technician: A Retrospective

Original release date: June 7th, 1990

As long as you're talking about overlooked gems and underrated emcees, Lord Finesse and his 1990 debut album Funky Technician oughta come up in the discussion. Released on Wild Pitch Records - also criminally slept on, just check their catalog - Funky Technician was the product of a diabolical hip hop experiment: combine young buck emcee Lord Finesse with a who's who roster of New York's finest producers (DJ Premier, Diamond D and Showbiz), add some ill wax-work by DJ Mike Smooth and a sprinkling of an early Andre the Giant and you've got yourself the hip hop equivalent of the best Yankees team money can buy.

It's fitting that Funky Technician dropped after Rakim blew up but before Nas rose to prominence. Rakim broke many barriers, introducing a new style to rap enunciation and lyricism, namely his internal rhyme (rap bars with multiple rhyming words) and a smooth, almost effortless delivery - a stark contrast to the shout raps of Run-D.M.C. and the like. Just as suave, Finesse's flow is cool, calm and measured - but he also developed the habit for dropping lethal, hard-biting punch lines. Finesse's proficiency for kicking punchlines - predating Big L and Nas by a bit - certainly wasn't a new trend. Indeed, the aforementioned Rakim, as well as emcees like Big Daddy Kane, Kool Moe Dee and others also delivered lyrics in this 1-2, damn-near comical fashion. But no other emcee could kick it like Finesse. As much as Kobe's game has got a bit of Jordan's DNA in it, emcees like Cassidy and Lloyd Banks, just to name a couple, follow in 'nesse's footsteps. You can't listen to Banks' "[I'm] cooler than the other side of the pillow" bar without thinking of this "Bad Mutha" jab by Finesse: "If you split, I'ma get you later/ Rhymes more fresher than a virgin in a frigerator/".

Funky Technician holds true to its name: beats on the record are heavily James Brown (4 samples by my count) or James Brownesque. There's plenty of funk to go around, whether it's dealt by Ohio Players, Funk Inc., Brass Construction, The Blackbyrds or more. Featuring two joints laced by Showbiz ("Back to Back Rhyming" and "Just a Little Something"), the album actually plays like a beat battle between DJ Premier and Diamond D. "Lesson to Be Taught", a Premo-produced highlight, finds Finesse dropping narrative gems in the form of a "Don't Do Drugs" PSA. The smooth swaying of R&B crooners The Moments' "Sexy Mama" meshes well with the positive message. The clever usage of Kane's "listen up" and KRS-One's "we're all in this together" vocals put the icing on the cake. Another worthy Premo joint is the head bopping "Strictly for the Ladies", constructed around a great riff by Lee Dorsey.

But as much as I give props to DJ Premier - he's my all-time favorite producer - Diamond D takes home the gold trophy on Funky Technician. James Brown's "The Boss" is a sure bet by any measure, and Diamond loops it to all-too-simple perfection. If you've only heard Nas' rendition on "Get Down", get familiar with Lord Finesse's "Bad Mutha". Another solid effort by Diamond D is the shoulder-rocking swing that is "Here I Come", also featuring a Godfather sample, this time provided by The Payback LP's "Take Some... Leave Some". The show stealer, however, is quite simply the title track. Once again featuring a James Brown sample - "Blind Man Can See It", off the Black Caesar soundtrack - "Funky Technician" sees Finesse as flamboyant as ever: "Keep the crowd listening/ I'm so magnificent/ It even says Finesse on my birth certificate/".

The quality of Funky Technician's beats are consistent, creating a true album-like experience in congruity and completeness. Accordingly, Finesse's lyrics are not to be overlooked. He'll touch on just about everything under the sun; but in the end, it's all about the braggadocio and clever slick talk. Check out 'nesse getting smug on "Bad Mutha": "On a stage I'm straight up wildin'/ I can kick a party like a brother from the Shaolin.../ ...Temple, I find it simple/ I get the ladies cause they sweat my dimples/". While most of Finesse's lyrics are Parental Advisory-proof, once in a while he'll drop a line that'll make you ask "did he just say that?" and play the tape back. Just a couple of bars later on "Bad Mutha", Finesse spits: "I'm a brother you dare not lay a hand on/ I leave you more bloodier than a tampon/". Ouch!

To be sure, Funky Technician is no Illmatic or Ready to Die. By today's standards it probably wouldn't received the coveted 5 stars/mics, let alone a 4.5 rating. Then again, by today's standards... well, never mind. Nonetheless the record is a personal favorite of mine. There's a purity to this album that I find both valuable and respectable. Above all, Funky Technician is fun. You remember what that means, right?

In the years since Funky Technician's release, Lord Finesse gained acclaim as more than just an emcee, but as a producer as well. He's laced some great records for all of his D.I.T.C. fam, as well as Biggie, Dr. Dre and others. Most recently, he contributed to O.C. & A.G.'s Oasis project and Vinnie Paz's brand new record Season of the Assassin. Any discussion over the best emcee/producers, typically involving Dre, Kanye, Q-Tip, RZA, Erick Sermon, DJ Quik and others, demands that Finesse's name be mentioned as well. Unfortunately, we haven't heard enough from Lord Finesse for him to achieve that rep, at least in a general consensus. He's remained an underground hero, a fixture to cult classic rap - but little more than that. A lot of this has got to do with the fact that despite being a member of the storied D.I.T.C., Lord Finesse hasn't dropped a solo record since 1996. We clown on Dre for being the hermit on the Cali hills, but what about the slick brother with the fade and the half-moon? Yo Finesse, hip hop may not be dead, but it's a lot less 'hip' since you stepped aside from the 'game.' I think it's time for a second 'awakening.' One.

Listen to Funky Technician:

01. Lord Finesse's Theme Song Intro
02. Baby, You Nasty (New Version) | Lyrics
03. Funky Technician | Lyrics
04. Back to Back Rhyming | Lyrics
05. Here I Come | Lyrics
06. Slave to My Soundwave | Lyrics
07. I Keep the Crowd Listening | Lyrics
08. Bad Mutha | Lyrics
09. Keep It Flowing | Lyrics
10. Lesson to Be Taught | Lyrics
11. Just a Little Something | Lyrics
12. Strictly for the Ladies | Lyrics
13. Track the Movement | Lyrics

Purchase: CD | MP3 | Vinyl

...and of course: Funky Technician [The Samples]