LORD FINESSE'S AF1s

Once again, there’s no real modus operandi behind this blog, but even though I’ve got sufficient outlets for athletic footwear and hip-hop, I still thought I’d make it the topic of discussion today. I’ve been pondering Lord Finesse’s attire over the years alongside the beat and lyrical battle between him and Extra P to solidify an answer on the best producer on the mic debate. Today, Finesse. Tomorrow William Paul Mitchell. Like many of my boom-bap pensioner associates (I’m 31 – rap is a young man’s game), I gave up trying a while back.

Other than being a legend – and damn, it’s good to see that he gets a serious audience in the Far East who don’t just form a pallid congregation in yellow armpitted Lord Quas and faded Naughty By Nature ’95 tour tees – it gets hectic when Finesse steps on stage, Finesse forms the increasingly stocky backbone to my hip-hop love. I won’t front, when it comes to his DITC camp, Show and AG stole his C90 thunder with ‘Soul Clap’ highlights as part of a hastily compiled compilation high-speed dubbed alongside ‘Sometimes I Rhyme Slow…’ and Mr. Scarface’s ‘The Pimp’ – I never really was a huge Finesse fan (out of ignorance) until I watched the ‘Party Over Here’ video the same year (though seeing as I’ve never seen it since, was it a ‘YO!’ live performance? From recollection it seemed to be filmed in the same session as the ‘Return Of The Funky Man’ video) in early ’92. Then I was a disciple.

The album…dubbed via clued-up associates showed me how the likes Shell Rumble did indeed ‘do’ – singles and earlier work were gathered, and years later, frustration that I couldn’t get ‘The Awakening’ EP (was it that Mark Ronson reviewing that EP for ‘Ego Trip’?) after Westwood played ‘Hip 2 The Game’ was all part of the fandom. But you were spoilt regardless for production credits in that timeframe. Back in ’92, the Ice-T Syndicate hookup seemed to be good for Finesse, but post ‘Cop Killer’, like Hijack’s ‘Horns Of Jericho’, Warner deletion seemed to beckon.

His uncompromising sound was, obviously a favourite of Biggie, and vocally, Finesse seems to set a lyrical baton that Big L took and ran with before tragedy struck…shit, I even love the graverobbing highlight the Lord brings to the otherwise forgettable (‘Lean Back’ and ‘Pass Away’ aside) ‘True Story’ Terror Squad LP, ‘Bring’em Back’, with Lamont and Pun. I heard rumours about rare SWV remixes, was blown away by his freestyle verses over a Marvin Gaye loop with Supernatural and KRS, and rushed out in ’00 to cop the ‘From The Crates To The Files’ double LP, only to see it re-released in bigger and better form a few years down the line.

But that’s not really the meaning of this post. Finesse has been covered in the blogsphere numerous times by infinitely more insighful e-journos. Back to the lecture at hand then. Me and Nike go way back. Way, way back. My second material love after action figures. As a Brit, I lack the Iron and the Niacin to comment on the AF1’s status in NYC, but I’ve been informed it was a hustler’s shoe after its late ’80s re-release – I hadn’t seen, or at least paid attention to a pair until I saw the sleeve to Lord Finesse’s ‘Return Of The Funky Man’ 12″…what the hell was he wearing? Rakim crouched in a low pair on the ‘Don’t Sweat The Technique’ in the Summer of ’92, but these preceded them.

What the hell was Finesse wearing? This was a time of 180 midsoles and increasingly wildstyle Jordan designs, but he seemed to have opted for some white moonboots, looking like Workouts on steroids, complimenting a warm weather ensemble to rival Puba with what seemed to be an act of wilful regression. PUMA Suedes and adidas Campus were gathering mass appeal as part a burgeoning old school footwear vogue, but these were significantly clunkier.

To credit Finesse with being the first rapper to rock Uptowns on sleeve art would be wrong – go take yourself to the cover of Rob Base and EZ Rock’s ’88 album to see Rock sporting a pair of phenomenal lows – in fact, a member of New Edition looks to be wearing something suspiciously similar on the ‘Candy Girl’ 7″ sleeve…nah, I’m not saying Finesse got there first by any stretch, but while he typifies black hoody rap, often with a leather jacket accompaniment, he brought the AF1 to my attention and had me looking for a pair after i-D featured them (reputed stockist, London’s Passenger) in ’93 to no avail.

What was truly striking was that newer Forces were everywhere at the time – Dre (who used Finesse on the ‘Chronic 2001’) would wear what looked like the superb Air Force STS (aka. Air Force IV) on the ‘Gangsta, Gangsta’ sleeve, and LL seemed to be rocking a pair of STS during the ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ comeback era…maybe they were Air Force Vs (which pales into insignificance compared to its predecessors but had Visible Air) or even one of many Force spinoffs like the Air Ultra Force…even Willie D (‘Read These Nikes’) seems to have succumbed to the Force (maybe Flight) on the ghoulish but iconic ‘We Can’t Be Stopped’ cover. In fact, according to the Urban Dictionary, such was Willie D’s association with the AF1, that Charleston residents named the shoe after him,

Willie D– Term used for Nike Air Force Ones, originating and still active in Charleston, SC. Named after Geto Boys rapper, Willie D, rumored that he was one of the first rappers to wear them excessively. Largely used in close vicinity of the city, occasionally stretching to Georgia or North Carolina.”

With all the newer gimmickry, it seemed arcane to wear something that seemed so primitive by comparison. Of course, Finesse gets the last laugh by opting for a timeless style that was more gimmick-free than the franchise’s fifth installment. I won’t rehash the images again (go Google ’em), but I can’t knock his Sergio Tacchnini tracksuit alongside Biggie, or the Ewings alongside an 8-Ball jacketed, and notably youthful, Fat Joe.

Finesse should’ve been on the roster for the Nike-funded, AF1-celebrating ‘Classic’ alongside Rakim, KRS, Kanye and Nas in ’07.

A good lineup – pilfered from bigltimeline.blogspot.com.

Searching through old emails, I actually found this old (I think, unpublished…maybe it was in B&S, or at least submitted there) Lord Finesse interview from S.O.B.’s before the Big L memorial concert on the 19th of February 2005. Got a double CD of McGruff tracks from the man himself too.The line-of-questioning is pretty obvious…put it this way…it’s hardly ‘Unkut’ but the freestyle talk is alright and the promises of the ‘Funky Technician’ remix project will amuse/annoy those of us who’ve gone grey during the making of that still-undelivered project. It languished on my defunct MySpace page for a minute. For blog-padding’s sake, the interview follows…

For better Q&As check here and here, but the don-dada is the Spine Magazine chatter from ’01 that’s currently M.I.A. but should reappear in some guise soon.

How did you get involved in tonight’s events?

Finesse – Umm, basically, I just wanted to honour Big L, my partner in crime. Sometimes I get discouraged and irritated when they talk of slain and fallen rappers, and don’t remember the rap aspect y’know? I don’t wanna take away anything from the Notorious BIG and Tupac- they were incredible, incredible artists, but I just want the world to know that there was another incredible rapper that got killed y’know? By the name of Big L. It’s got to a point where they don’t even mention Pun like Biggie and Pac, and he was a double platinum artist. They don’t mention the late great Trouble TROY, Scott La Rock and Cowboy. There are so many slain and fallen rappers and this year I just want to celebrate Big L, and I want his Mom to come out and celebrate. This’ll be her very first time speaking, and her first event, so this is gonna be incredible.

Who are you looking forward to seeing tonight?

Ahhh man! There’s more artists coming than were on the original list. You got DITC, Black Rob, Large Pro, Grand Puba, Immortal Technique, Shyhiem, Wordsworth, McGruff, and CL Smooth.

Is Primo gonna be making an appearance?

Uh, no- Primo mixed his dates up, so he’s still in San Francisco. He thought it was on the 17th, when it was actually on the 16th. Same thing with Fat Joe- he’s still locked in Miami. Special guest tonight is Rakim! Nobody knows that. That’s the icing on the cake, the gravy on the rice and the syrup on the pancake. It doesn’t get any bigger than that.

What are your memories of L?

A lot of funny memories. He could be funny without being funny y’know? He could just liven up any type of atmosphere. He’d be in the studio cracking them jokes to break up the boredom. It was crazy.

What’s your favourite Big L track?

Wow. Ummm. Lemme think. I got about two or three- ‘Devil’s Son’ because we thought that he was crazy when he did the track, ‘Ebonics’ because he showed the world how versatile and talented he could really be when he put his mind to it, and ummm…wow…he got too many. Lemme think of another track- I would say ‘Lifestylez of Da Poor and Dangerous’, that type of track from his first album, because he was just crazy. His attitude, his persona- what he thought about when he wrote it was just crazy.

What message are you trying to bring to tonight’s show?

It’s more than just an L tribute. It’s a tribute for hip hop- a tribute for the golden era, to let people know that there’s still good music and great artists. We got a lot of artists from the golden era representing tonight, and I think hip hop is losing its swagger in New York, because I don’t think we support each other enough. One thing I wanted to do organising tonight’s show was to support my fallen brother. At the same time I want people to just come out and enjoy good music, enjoy HIS music, while giving a shout out to Old Dirty, Pun, Jam Master Jay. I wanna really salute all these people tonight y’know? I think when they do these nights, they tend to only focus on one person.

What are you currently working on?

Ha ha! Everything. I’m trying to finally finish up this ‘Funky Technician’ remix project. It’s a long story, but it’s taking a while. I’m gonna focus and finish that, while working on my last album and doing a DVD at the same time. I’m trying to work out whether to master the DVD with the album, or whether to put it out separately. I got footage on there from ’88 to the present day. Enough to make a movie y’know? And I wanna make a soundtrack to the movie. And I don’t think it’ll be just me on the soundtrack. It’s a crazy idea. Footage to show me in ’88 all the way up to ’05. I wanna let the action and pictures speak for itself. Let the video page speak for me.

Do you ever feel like hip hop’s best kept secret? Especially after producing tracks on ‘Ready To Die’ and ‘The Chronic 2001’?

I’m humble. I don’t wanna tell everybody what I did. Nowadays, people do things and they wanna blow it up like “he did this, and he produced this…” I’m not the type to blow my own horn, and tell everybody I have a hyped crew like yoooooo! I’ve never been like “You don’t like that beat, yooo! That’s crazy!” I’m just laid back and humble. When it’s all said and done, God will tell me I’m blessed. I just don’t want somebody to sit back, watch, and get more props, thinking they’re the first to do it. I see people saying “I was the first to do this” and I think that’s the only thing to aggravate me about these artists- they don’t acknowledge the golden era. I felt Rakim. I felt G Rap. I felt KRS One. I felt Kane. If it wasn’t for those artists, they’d be no Lord Finesse, because they gave me a focus and a motivation to be the person I am. Now if I see people being asked what motivated them to do the rap thing and they say “Ohhhh, I was just tired of hustling, and started to do rap”, You had to be motivated by someone, and with me, it was those brothers, and Doug E Fresh, Slick Rick. That’s what inspired me.

Are those guys your definition of underground hip hop? How would you define it?

I wouldn’t know how to define underground hip hop. I’d love to do music that got massive love of course, but my music reaches a certain level, and I got a problem reaching beyond that. I didn’t wanna be underground- it was a situation and place I was put. But I love that- it means there’s no limit and a place I gotta reach. I think when you sell twelve million records, there’s nowhere to reach- you just gotta look down. I think right now, I got so much upsizing to do, Its just gonna get better and better.

What do you think of freestyles being dropped by artists who are just spitting pre-written rhymes?

Freestyle is open to definition. Some people think it means off-the-top, some people say pre-written, and for some people it’s a mixture of both. Like my earlier stuff was a mixture of both- there’s stuff I’m looking around thinking of, while what I’ve got written is mixed up in everything. I think freestyle is always pre-written, even if it’s coming off the top of the head, it’s still pre thought-of, and that’s what people gotta understand. To start off the top of your head, you gotta think of the first word you’re gonna say, and once you think of that it creates a pre-notion, because this is how I’m gonna start it. For me, freestyling was the art of putting a rhyme together that never had a serious subject. You would just talk about anything, and make it dope. For me some of my best freestyles were written because y’know, you could really focus on the depth of the rhyme that I was gonna say. With off-the-head rhymes, the fist eight bars might be dope, but after that it gets a little corny. And those first eight bars are dope because of the pre-notion. If the guy behind the camera has a white shirt on, I’ll be planning how to mention that shirt, so I’m planning those first eight bars. That’s why those opening lines will be the dopest. It gets corny ‘cos it ends up as,
“you your crew/look at the wall it’s blue/and this is what I do”
And that’s cool, but it gets a little silly. I think when you say some shit, and you’re thinking of a rhyme like,
“I don’t stunt/to make some extra digits/I don’t do subliminals/I just call your name and tell you when to expect a visit/Lord Finesse, yeah that dude’s exquisite/I be travelling like when you bounce that ball/then you move your pivot”
That’s a freestyle. But there’s thought, it’s funny and there’s a wit to it. And those three things make a freestyle that much more incredible. If you say,
“I used to coach the team/I’mma bet on the mic/you’ll find an ace up my sleeve/never on the dice pushing the 2004/If you shout and you stare/I’m sittin’ on a hundred and ten/that’s if you countin’ the spare/see you out your mind trying to face the God/your rhymes’ like an empty prison- a waste of bars/we don’t ask for shit/we just take what’s ours/see the name Finesse/you know that’s powerful/ niggas think they on fire/till we slap the flames outta you”
See, you could think of stuff all day, but the wittier you get- that’s what makes it extraordinary. The ABC thing is cool, but if I put together a twenty bar rhyme, you could come with the most incredible off-the-head rhymes, but I know my twenty bars is gonna smother you because I know that after eight, you’re gonna be floundering. It’s like fighting Tyson, ‘cos with him you gotta take him and lay the rounds. It’s the same with the off-the-top thing, ‘cos you know you gotta go in and lay the rounds, and the off-the-top thing ain’t gonna go the distance- without preparation they’re gonna get pounded out the ring. That’s how I look at it. But you got great off-the-head people like Craig G, Supernat, Wordsworth, Jin. Don’t get it twisted- I respect these dudes, that’s why I’m saying their names, but you got a lot of dudes who really have no business doing it, and it kinda dilutes the culture when I see ciphers with dudes talking this shit who actually think they nice enough to enter the rap industry. They deluded.