Friday, February 25, 2005

Return Of The Funkyman

Aight, tonight is part 2 of the DITC producers. Now i thought bout writing my own lil summary of the Funky Technician, but screw all that. Elemental Magazine interviewed the man in 2003 and it summed it up better then my i'gnant ass ever could. So sit back and educate yourself on the man who found Big L, got signed to Ice T's label Rhyme Syndicate, worked with Dr. Dre, and is a triple threat (DJ, producer, and emcee) who helped found one of the most rugged crews in hip hop. Since this is such a long ass post imma throw the mp3's here so u have some shit to bump while reading bout this cat.

Shorties Caught in the System
Hip to the Game - (Buckwild Remix)
The Graveyard - Jayz ft. Big L, Lord Finesse, and two other cats

"Lord Finesse" written by: Austin "The Judge" Wheeler"

"I go back to rhyming in the playground, when I was fourteen," begins Finesse. "That’s when we took rapping for fun and shit. Women, money, none of that shit came into play back in the day. We just did it because it was the thing to do. It was fresh, you know? It was ‘fresh’ back then."

But back then Lord Finesse really wanted to DJ. "I began with Mike Smooth in about ‘85 or ’86, and he used to force me to rap," remembers Ness, "I wanted to DJ. He used to have a DJ set-up in his room, and when he left the room to make a sandwich or some shit, I was on the turntables. I didn’t really want to be no rapper, but he really kept pushing me. He knew I had the talent to do it, so he just kept pushing me."

Around the same time, Finesse began to roll with another couple of DJs from Forest Projects: Diamond D and Showbiz. "I used to go to Show’s house. I used to go to Diamond’s crib, but I would DJ more at Show’s crib because his set-up was custom-made for me," explains Finesse, "Diamond would have the turntables set straight up, like the old school way. Diamond was quick like that. He was fast cutting like that! I was always knocking over fucking tone arms. I liked the other way, and Show had his set-up the other way."

No matter how much of a push Show, Diamond and Mike Smooth gave him to keep rhyming, Finesse still just wanted to DJ. "That’s what I wanted to do… to hell with rapping," explains Finesse, "I mean, I was rapping, but DJing was more cooler because you could do block parties and house parties and get the girls. The girls would come to a party to hear you DJ, so, I wanted to DJ. Mike used to always put me on the turntables. Show taught me a lot on the turntables. I mean, I learned from Mike, I learned from Show. I learned watching Diamond. So my DJ skills are better than average. When I say better, I mean it’s out there."

DJing quickly became Lord Finesse’s main hustle. "I was doing house parties before I was really rhyming seriously," remembers Ness, "because that’s how I used to make my money. $250- $300 to do a party back then, that was alright." As far as equipment: "I had turntables and borrowed shit from here and there. I might borrow an amp from my man, a bass bottom from this guy. I had the curved-armed Technics. Not the 1200s, the B somethings… the curved-arms before the 1200s. I was nice on those, so by the time they came out with 1200s, I was ultra-nice. When I finally got a pair of 1200s, shit, you couldn’t tell me nothing. You couldn’t tell me shit. I knew it wasn’t going to jump. If you set the weight right on that shit, man, it was over."

Upon entering junior high, Finesse gradually shifted back to rhyming, eventually forming a group with DJ Mike Smooth. "I went to Junior High School 120 in the Bronx," continues Finesse, "Show went there too. I think he was a year ahead of me, and like, every school I went to, Mike was graduating my first year there. We lived in the same hood, same projects. His building was right in front of my building. So I used to see him on all types of different levels. Mike was a knockout artist. If he could’ve been a boxer, to me, he had to be one of the tops. I saw him knock a lot of dudes out. Straight punch a nigga, and knock him out. So, Mike was always like a big brother role. My first year of junior high school, him and his partner Rome, this kid he used to hang with, were graduating. When I left junior high school, I went to Park West. Mike didn’t go to Park West. I was in a whole class by myself. That’s where I met all of the Brooklyn and Manhattan niggas that I know, to this day. My first reputation as a rapper came from that school. But I was fucking up at Park West, because it was like too much freedom. I was cutting class and going home. So I wound up graduating from Morris High School. My first year there, Mike was graduating. By that time, during the Morris days, we were a group."

It was at high schools like Morris and Park West, where Lord Finesse honed his skills. "High school battles," explains Finesse, "whether in Park West, up in Walton, at DeWitt Clinton in the Bronx, I was there. I was everywhere, because my boys used to go to different high schools ampin’ me like: ‘Your alright, nigga from my hood—he’s the shit! Your man ain’t shit. Aight, I’m a bring Ness up here Wednesday morning. They would tell me and I would cut school Wednesday morning and go to their high school and battle people. That’s how I met A.G. I was in the yard at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. I’m in the schoolyard battling. Mind you, now I done ran through maybe six or seven cats, and they’re telling A.G., ‘Yo, there’s this kid out here, he’s rhyming, yo, and he’s going through everybody! A.G. came out, and he went for it! I respected him. I respected his skill level. Yo, it was crazy, to hear him first rhyme just blew my mind. I was like ‘Wow, this cat is dope."

After battling A.G., Finesse struck a deal with his grandmother. "I made a promise to my grandmother," explains Ness, "we had a deal. As long as I finished high school and got my diploma, she would knock me for anything I wanted to do after that. Especially when it came to music. We had that deal, and she actually paid for my first studio session. She was paying for my studio sessions while I was still in high school. She was ultimately behind me, and what I wanted to do, so once I got my diploma, summer school ’89, it was on. I gave up everything… jobs. Fuck a job. I just went ahead full steam. Block parties, rhyming, clubs. Wherever I had to go to get on, that’s where I was. Whoever I had to battle or get through to get props, that’s where I was at. That’s what it was about."

Besides battling and attending high school, Finesse also recorded his first demo. "I had a demo called Funky Dope Maneuver, recalls Finesse, "I sampled Cassanova Rud ‘funky dope maneuver’ and put it behind ‘Engine #9,’ which was a breakbeat, and rhymed off of that. That was my demo. I got signed to Zakia with that in ‘88, but they went under before anything really transpired. I was signed but I guess they didn’t have enough money to put me out, and have me as a full act under their roster. They released me at the beginning of 1989."

As unfortunate as it sounds, Zakia folding was one of the best things that could’ve happened to Lord Finesse. His demo eventually made its way to a much more legendary launching ground: Wild Pitch Records. "There was a DJ Word," recalls Finesse, "who, along with Guru, used to listen to demos up at Wild Pitch. They picked my demo out and brought it to Stu Fine, who was the owner. Stu was like, ‘I don’t know. Me, I just wanted to show people I was the nicest. At that time, I was going to different neighborhoods, different parties and different high schools, and I was battling people. So, making records was an accomplishment, but I wanted to be the best! Before I even got to make a record, I just told Stu, ‘Man, just put me in a seminar, I don’t give a fuck about this record shit. On May 5th 1989, Lord Finesse and DJ Mike Smooth were officially signed by an A&R at the time, DJ Word, to Wild Pitch Records. Stu made good on his word, and in July entered Finesse in the 1989 MC Battle for Supremacy at the New Music Seminar.

"I wanted to show Stu and the industry my capabilities," explains Ness in his biography. "The buzz started after I defeated Mikey D, who was the champion for the year before, IN THE FIRST ROUND." He continues, "Stu Fine had Primo in the crowd like, ‘Yo Premier, we just signed this new artist, what do think of him? Primo was sitting there watching me rhyme and he was like, ‘Wow—I want to work with him, shit, he’s dope! A round or two after flooring Mikey D, Premier and Stu Fine, Finesse himself was eliminated. "I wanted to win the whole thing, and when I didn’t win the whole thing, I was upset, but I understood that my mark was made just by beating the champion from the year before in the first round. The mark was set after that. I wanted to win, but after a while when I really looked at the outcome of everybody that had won it… I mean, where are they at now? What happened to them? Treach was in it the year after me. He got bumped in like the second or third round and look who he became: Naughty by Nature. I learned that it wasn’t if you won or not it’s what you did after that situation. So after that I went right to work on the Funky Technician album."

With Premier in one corner and Diamond and Show in the other, Lord Finesse and Mike Smooth started on their first album. "As soon as the seminar was over, we did ‘Baby You Nasty,’" remembers Finesse, "It got done quick." Released in the fall of 1989, "Baby You Nasty," set the tone for what was to follow. Finesse enlisted the help of A.G. along with some assistance from his neighbors in Forest. "A.G. was dating a girl that actually lived across the street from where I lived at. Cats had told me he was there, and I knew the girl and I knew her brother, so I went and knocked on the door. Pretty soon, we were in the hallway talking about it. I told him that he had to be on this album." Within five months, Finesse and the crew had knocked-out the entire LP. "The rhymes were already there. A lot of those rhymes were being written going to the studio," explains Finesse. "Like on the bus, going to the studio—So, it got done."

One night, during the recording of Funky Technician, an unsuspecting Primo made a routine call to Finesse’s crib. "Premier called my house," remembers Finesse, "trying to catch up with me, and my grandmother answered the phone. She was kind of tipsy that night. Preme was asking her, you know, and she was just like, ‘Premier, is my baby ever going to make any money? He’s so talented, and he tries so hard, and everybody loves him, but is he ever gonna make any money? She’s telling Premier this! You know, and she’s tipsy! And Preme was like ‘Naw… he’ll be okay, just give him a minute. That’s something that we still laugh about."

On February 16th 1990, the Funky Technician album was released on Wild Pitch. "I remember hearing it get played on the radio," recalls the then 20-year old Finesse, "I was bugging. 107.5 was the first to ever play my records. When that album came out they played a couple of cuts. They didn’t play one or two, they played like three or four cuts in one night. I’ll never forget, because I was chillin’ with Premier at his crib, and we kept buggin’ out. We were up at his crib, then we went downstairs and out and heard another cut. Then we came back upstairs and heard another cut. Hearing your shit on the radio, your first joint, is amazing.You’re sitting there like, ‘Wow, that’s… that’s ME!!"

With the airplay, came performances, the first with K-Solo. "That was the first show after the Funky Technician," remembers Finesse, "that was like the first show to kick off everything, and it was packed. It was a hot show. It was a real hot show. ‘Your Mom’s in My Business’ was out, and we were performing in a dark lunchroom. We were rhyming on a table and Redman was DJing for him!" Other legendary performances occurred at a Bronx nightclub called The Castle. "That was a historical club, a lot of people were in that club. I don’t want to say that was my house, because that was Kid Capri’s house, but that was where my whole reputation started from. That was where everything started from. That was The Castle every Thursday night. I even shot my video up in there, ‘Strickly for the Ladies.’ That’s also where A.G. battled DMX. He got it twisted in his biography on page 162, or something. I don’t know what the hell he was talking about in that book—him and A.G. actually battled. He said in his book that he had a show there, and that he was rocking. He said the crowd was all into him and that he was rocking so hard that Kid Capri called me and A.G. up to the stage and we wouldn’t go up on the stage. I don’t know where he got that story from. Anybody that was there saw him and A.G. battle each other. And I’m not mad at DMX, you know, you sold millions of records, you did your movie, but come on homes, don’t take our glory. Get the story right. I know you want every part of your life to be complete, but that part wasn’t complete. Anybody that was there could see that A.G. did him. A.G. won that. Mark my words."

In April of 1990, Lord Finesse began making mix tapes. "The album wasn’t bringing me any money, like that," explains Finesse. "Shows here and there was cool, but I was getting my money doing mix tapes. Figure I was getting $150 a master, and I was doing a mix tape every month and I had about a good ten or twelve spots that would buy my master. You add that up. It was like $1,500 to $1,800 a month, on top of parties. I had a little side hustle going on."

While Finesse hustled mix tapes, Mike returned to his nine to five. "When hip-hop got rough and the money slowed down, Mike always had a real job-- a good paying job. So when shit got tough that nigga just said, ‘I’m going to work, Ness I’ll see you later. I had to hustle. I did mix tapes, house parties. I did whatever I had to do to put money in my pocket. He had a real job, a nice five-figure job from back then, and he still has the same job, so imagine how much money he’s making now. That’s when me and Mike kind of, parted ways. No real differences, it was just that I went hard at what I was doing."

While Mike went back to work, Finesse built a serious rep as a mix tape DJ, eventually running into the mighty Buckwild. "I met Buckwild," remembers Ness, "because he was a mix tape DJ just like I was. We shared a lot of things in common." Buck and Finesse immediately became crew, and in Ness’ word’s, ‘Buckwild went on to be one of the biggest producers around.

In the summer of 1990, on a routine stop to Rock and Will’s on 125th Street, Finesse would discover a legend. "I discovered Big L," he begins, "during a visit to Rock and Will’s record store, where I normally came to distribute my mix tape masters. It was one of the original stores to distribute mix tapes in the late 80’s and early 90’s." He adds, "Everybody used to bring their mix tapes there: S&S, Kid Capri, Ron G. I met Big L during a ‘hard pack’ session, when all the mix tape DJ’s got together every Monday night to record a special type of tape. L, kind of got the word that I was going to be there, and he came down there and had his man introduce us, like, ‘Yo, my man is nice, he’s trying to get on. And I’m telling him, ‘Well, give my manager the number. What impressed me is that L went for broke, right there and then. He came up to me and said, ‘Look, I just want to rhyme for you, you like me, you help me get on.You don’t like me—you don’t even have to fuck with me no more, I won’t bother you again. What better deal is there than that? So I said, ‘Okay, go ahead, spit. When he finished spittin’, I was asking for his number!"

Just as Big L had made a lasting impression on Finesse in 1990, Finesse had apparently made a lasting impression on Ice T the year before at the New Music Seminar Battle for Supremacy. "When I lost I was upset," explains Finesse, "and I’ll never forget, I was introduced to Ice T by a friend of mine named Chilly D. He was like, ‘Man, you’re dope. I don’t know why you didn’t win the contest, but fuck it. If there’s anything I could even do for you, just give me a call. After keeping in contact for almost a year, a historic phone call was made. "I’ll never forget, I had put the Funky Technician album out and I wasn’t getting any money. I ain’t have no money. The album was doing alright, everybody knew who I was, people were talking about me and telling me how dope I am, but no money. He [Ice T] was just telling me, ‘Yo, I got a deal waiting for you worth $125,000. And I’m like, ‘Get the fuck out of here, for real? He said, ‘But I can’t break you out of that Wild Pitch contract, It’s just airtight, you can’t get out of that. So I said, ‘Just keep the money there, I’ll get out of it!"

On July 20th 1990, Finesse was released from Wild Pitch, sighting the fact that Stu Fine was, "unable to compete with marketing and promotions of other labels in the industry," and that it, "brought about disagreements and disputes which led to me being released. "The fact was," Finesse continues in his bio, "that I couldn’t stand around watching another artist with less potential and talent, live better and be more established than I was."

In December of 1990, Lord Finesse was signed to Rhyme Syndicate management and Giant/Warner Brothers Records. "I went from no money, to some money," explains Finesse, "From the hood with maybe two, three grand a month, to a budget of like 100 to 150 grand a month. I went from the first album probably not costing more than ten grand, to having $125 thousand to play with. I didn’t know how to act… I was a loose cannon. Any cat from the hood that goes from no money to some money is a loose cannon. Your going to get everything that you always wished for but never could afford. You’re a loose cannon. My house was looking like Macy’s, for real. I had mad leathers, ten pairs of kicks, and all types of jewels. Loose cannon. I acted up, and the focus wasn’t there like it was on the first album. I was more trying to get the album done so I could go to a party."

Besides flipping the script on Ness financially, Return of the Funky Man forced Finesse to switch up his entire approach to song-making: "Nobody taught me how to take your best rhymes and format them into 16 bars, make a tight hook, and do a song. Fuck, man, a verse for me was like 40 bars! I was trying to get everything off in that verse. Fuck 16 bars." Finesse struggled with the industry’s format until it was time to make 12-inches. "I had to make radio versions and video versions," he remembers, "then everything came in formats. The label was like, ‘Yo, your songs are too long. I had to cut five minutes to four minutes. I had to cut all the curses out. Then I learned the format… I definitely learned a lot during the course of Return of the Funky Man."

In August of 1991, Finesse finished his second album, Return of the Funky Man. On August 31st, he departed for Europe with Ice T, as part of the Rhyme Syndicate Original Gangster European Tour. It was Finesse’s first trip to Europe, and it opened in London on September 3rd 1991, and ended in London on October 5th 1991. In between, the Syndicate tour made stops in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, France, and Holland.

Return of the Funky Man was released in January of 1992 on Giant/Warner Brothers Records.

In March of the same year, Finesse booked three sold-out shows at the legendary Apollo Theatre. Also on the bill was Queen Latifah, Naughty by Nature and Pete Rock and CL Smooth. "The first two shows sold out so quick," remembers Ness, "that they had an additional show at 2 in the morning. That’s how big that was."

In May of 1992, Finesse, T-Ray and a then SEVENTEEN YEAR-OLD Big L entered Jazzy Jay’s legendary recording studio, and proceeded to make hip-hop history. The trio eventually emerged, having recorded the "Yes You May" remix, and helping to introduce hip-hop to a sound that would dominate for the next decade plus.

The first order of business was finding the right beat, which would be provided by a then relatively unknown producer/engineer/digger named Todd Ray (who later became renown for his production of (almost) the entire Artifacts Between a Rock and a Hard Place album and Double XX Posse’s "Not Gonna be Able to Do It," as well as countless rock records). But, T-Ray’s track was not even originally intended for Lord Finesse. "I had to beg him for that one," explains Ness, "Biz Markie was supposed to have that one." The begging worked, primarily because of the mutual respect the two already had for each other as beat-diggers. "I met T-Ray through producers that we used to dig with at the Rosevelt," remembers Finesse, "I think Percy P introduced us, but I’m not exactly sure. T-Ray was a digger just like me, and Show and Buck and Diamond. We’d catch him at the Rosevelt Convention. The Rosevelt was a record convention that they’d do in the early, early, nineties. This record convention was like the biggest in New York City at the time, and you could get a lot of rare gems. Everybody was there. From my crew, to Pete Rock, to Large Professor, to Q-Tip, to Da Beatminerz, shit, even PM Dawn was in there! Any producer that was somebody back in them days, especially on our level, was up in there, because that’s where you get everything at. We were spending like two or three grand in there, man! It was me, Buck, Show, Diamond, and EZ Elpee not only spending money, but getting there at like five in the morning, man. Imagine seeing your favorite producers up early at some convention, five in the morning! I guess that’s why our relationships are so tight. We’ve known each other since the early, early nineties."

Big L was the final piece of the remix’s puzzle. "L came around in the midst of me doing the second album," remembers Ness, "but I was just about done when I got up with him. The first thing I could get him on, I was trying to get him on, and the first thing happened to be the ‘Yes You May’ remix. Actually, I take that back. There were two things, but WARNER BROTHERS WASN’T HAVING IT. One was the Class Act soundtrack that I did ‘Set It Off Troop’ for, and the other was ‘You Know What I’m About,’ off of the Trespass soundtrack. They wouldn’t allow me to put him on either one of those songs because he wasn’t a Warner Brothers artist. They was really refusing to let me blow up somebody that wasn’t signed to them, but at the same time they weren’t trying to sign him. So it made my job harder, but I finally got to get him on the ‘Yes You May’ remix."

A shining example of ‘real shit,’ the "Yes You May" remix stands as a true testament to the legacy of, and the kinship between Lord Finesse and Big L. "Me and L was like Starsky and Hutch," remembers Finesse, "Wherever I went, he went. Whatever light that I was trying to get, he got. I wanted people to recognize who he was. Regardless of what you might think: "Yo, he sounds like you," or "yo, he sounds better than you." I didn’t care about none of that. My ego ain’t like that. My ego ain’t like so out there that I’m trying to suppress the nigga that’s rolling with me because I don’t want them to blow. If it was like that, I don’t think Diggin’ In The Crates would’ve ever existed. D.I.T.C. would’ve never been put together if we all had egos like that. A lot to do with my crew, in Diggin’ goes deeper than rapping. The things we do for each other, and how we support each other… there is a lot of behind the scenes support that goes on that’s not advertised and not supposed to be advertised. The love that we have for each other as individuals and as family goes way beyond rap. It goes way beyond rap. We do so many things with each other off camera, that it’s crazy. Especially me and L. We used to gamble a lot. We was gamble heads. Me and L used to gamble until like daybreak. Gamble. Shooting dice. What two rappers you know are going to be on the street corner in a gambling spot, gambling until five or six in the morning. Coming out with anywhere between thirty-five to five grand a piece!"

Finesse concludes: "I got so many memories in hip-hop, that if the shit were to end tomorrow, or today… I could live with that…and you can try to overlook me, and might not give me the credit that I think I deserve, or whatever. But, you can’t knock the mark that I made in this game. Period. You can’t. You can say whatever.You might overlook me, but real people know, ‘Naw, that nigga made a mark in the game. If you basing it on record sales, then I might not have made no mark record-wise. But lyrically, creatively, and talented-wise, c’mon, man, if I ain’t one of the top, man… get the fuck out of here!"
Elemental Magazine (2003)

AIGHT? Now its my turn.
Finesse also did work on Biggies album, 'Ready To Die". He did Big Poppa and Suicidal Thoughts. He just straight looped the Isley Brothers, Between the Sheets and Biggie came in and killed that shit. In 2001 he became part of Dr Dre's Aftermath production team besides Mel Man and the Doctor himself. He didnt want to sign with Aftermath, because he saw that other artists, such as King Tee's projects were gettin pushed back due to Dre's priorities. He didnt want his project to get stagnated while Dre did his own album, the canned Detox, or the Eminem joints. He wound up doing, The Message, on Dre's album Chronic 2001.