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by
6 March, 2008@6:26 am
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Considered by most as one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time, Pete Rock has been a major contributor to the genre for some 20 years. His partnership with CL Smooth resulted in some of hip-hop’s most poignant work, and his continued pursuits as a solo artist have largely been of the highest caliber.

Pete’s latest, NY’s Finest, is a welcome addition to the catalog — though not as balanced or groundbreaking as what we’ve come to expect from the Chocolate Boy Wonder.

Arriving nearly four years after the highly-overlooked Soul Survivor II, the album begans impressively. “We Roll,” featuring Jim Jones and Max B, is a jaunting opener. A classic PR bouncer, Rock samples not one but two Kool and The Gang songs (“Summer Madness” and “You Don’t Have To Change”). Jim Jones mumbles — no, slurs — incoherently throughout his verse, but with saucy production like this anyone would sound smooth.

“‘Till I Retire,” a full-on solo track from Rock and the album’s first official single, abandons the traditional PR sound to great success. Over a much more aggressive backdrop flanked by a Run DMC vocal lift, Soul Brother No. 1 adresses the doubters: “I hear the talk, what’s the hating about? Pete Rock ’07, still ‘Straighten It Out.’”

“914,” featuring Styles P and Sheek Louch, is successful as is the Little Brother blessed “Bring Y’all Back” — a sinister, tuba-backed offering. Royal Flush (yes, really) surfaces from the unknown to lace “Questions,” a head-nodding press conference of sorts, while a rejuvenated Redman appears on the fantastic “Best Believe.” Strangling the life out of a signature Pete Rock anthem, Red harks back to the early ’90s with lines such as, “When I run out of ink I kill another octopus.”

Unfortunately, for both Rock and listeners alike, Finest fails to retain much of its momentum during the album’s second half. “Ready Fe War” is an awkward reggae-inspired inclusion, built on the same foundation as Damien Marley’s “Welcome To Jamrock.” Rock steps away from the boards on “Don’t Be Mad,” opting instead for a DJ Green Lantern concoction that lacks any semblance of fervor.

“The PJ’s,” with Raekwon and Masta Killa, is solid — too bad we first heard it nearly two years ago on the 2006 Nature Sounds compilation, Natural Selection. “Comprehend,” the album’s final track, is another example of why Papoose has yet to break through as a mainstream entity; his agressive, awkward delivery simply outweighs a piano-driven piece from Rock that, honestly, deserved better.

Still, the most disappointing aspect of “NY’s Finest” is the exlusion of CL Smooth. But I guess that’s just wishing thinking.

Regardless of its flaws, Finest is a solid, albeit unspectacular, effort. It may not be Mecca and the Soul Brother, but rest easy: your producer’s favorite producer still has the main ingredient. -Jack Goodson

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