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NY's Finest Pete Rock 
NY's Finest
[Nature Sounds; 2008]
Rating: 6.8
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NY's Finest, Pete Rock's fourth proper solo album since 1998, has just enough comfortable tricks for the one of the grand old men of 1990s New York production to maintain warm feelings. He may have abandoned his steadfast SP2100 for the MPC, he may be the featured MC on over half the tracks, and he may be doing his work at every hip-hop head's favorite label for sustainable nostalgia, Nature Sounds, but Pete Rock is still Pete Rock. It should be taken as a compliment to say that NY's Finest feels unhinged in time.

"914" dotingly retouches ESG's "UFO" (one of the most beloved sample source materials in hip-hop), sanding down the original's howling sirens and tucking its loop under another Rock trademark, a modest, warm horn splice. Ever the consummate crate digger, Rock touches all his favorite sonic bases-- classical, reggae, Miles Davis-- across Finest. And in an age when producers bid for stardom as soon as they hop behind a laptop queued up to Fruity Loops, Pete Rock works selflessly. Steering any MC through the warp and woof of as a beat as calmly as he digs crates, Rock's most seamless gift is the way he can manage a range of talent.

Papoose sounds spring-loaded on album-closing "Comprehend". The rhotics and sharp sonorants of New York accents (Masta Killa, Styles P, Raekwon, Jim Jones) bend across Rock's warm overtones. Emotions too sound fresher. Rock has Little Brother pound obese horn section gravitas (another one of those Rock horn loops) on "Bring Ya'll Back". Rock himself is a frustratingly spacy vocalist, unsure where the line breaks should go, happier to name check specific drum machines than to pause and inhale. His heart is genuine; his hooks awkward: "Don't be mad cause you can't do what I can/ Like when Jordan went up for that shot and switched hands."

On this site Tom Breihan suggested that Snoop Dogg had essentially become rap's Tom Petty. While it doesn't make NY's Finest's missteps or lyric doddering any cleaner, Pete Rock probably falls into that same matrix. I'll leave the definitive analogy up to someone else (Pete Rock as Brian Eno? Pete Rock as T-Bone Burnett?), but the implications are clear. Everything Pete Rock does now sounds like a sweet negotiation with the past, a vivid reflection of a place and of sound and craft gradually freezing into memory.

-Evan McGarvey, April 23, 2008

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