Review Summary: Pete Rock's fourth solo release sees a slight change in his sound, looking for more of an aggressive edge which succeeds but plagued a bit by mostly mediocre guest appearances.
Hip-hop after the early 2000's changed drastically, with the South starting to gain momentum with numerous artists making it like Lil' Wayne and Future. While the West Coast still had guys like Snoop Dogg and Dre creating hits, it just wasn't like the days of the golden age of hip-hop in the '80s and the '90s. The same can be said for the East Coast, while guys like Ja Rule were making hits it wasn't like those times either. The sounds were different, directing more towards a more aggressive approach and setting more of a darker tone to its tracks. Pete Rock was one of the only veteran hip-hop producers still around in the industry at the time of 2008, with legendary producer J. Dilla passing away 2 years earlier and others either retiring or pursuing other interests like Dre with his insanely-popular headphones/earbuds company with Beats. He hadn't released a studio album since 2004's "Soul Survivor II" and he left BBE in 2004 for Nature Sounds Records based in Brooklyn. Considering the massive change in sound and production, you had to wonder if Pete was gonna join up with the rest of hip-hop society or stick to his original style. Rock would release "NY'S Finest" in 2008, and the album featured once more of the jazzy grooves that he is well-known for, while also adding a more aggressive feel to it. While it will never live up to his previous material like the excellent "PeteStrumentals", this release by Rock still comes out as another success for the acclaimed producer and shows that he is indeed New York's finest.
Pete Rock has been adored by many in the hip-hop community in the past, for his jazz-heavy sampled beats and groovy undertones. While it is still up and going in "NY'S Finest", you can obviously hear that Rock overhauled his sound a little bit and it works out well. It is very prominent throughout the album, as highlighted in the track "We Roll" with Jim Jones and Max B on the mic. You can tell that it certainly isn't the relaxing, laid-back beats that Pete has done in the past with it's more up-beat production. It isn't a problem at all, as Rock drops some pretty nice beats with "We Roll" and other standout tracks like "914". Fortunately for the fans who obviously didn't expect this slight change in sound, Rock at least brought back the essence of his previous musical material with one standout track in "That's What I'm Talking About". The soulful, laid-back vibes of old Pete Rock in this certain track is absolutely one that will please those who were wishing for more of the material that got Rock huge recognition as a producer. "Bring Y'All Back" with Little Brother on the mic is another standout track, reverting to the new direction of sound that Rock made prevalent throughout the record. The track has a certain dark, sinister feel to it and it works out well especially with Little Brother's rapping that does the beat justice. Pete even goes down a different route with one track in "Ready Fe War", with a reggae flavor to it that is pretty solid. The fact that he can pull something like that off truly shows the immense talent and musical ability of Pete Rock, and that he also isn't afraid to try new things.
Unfortunately, "NY'S Finest" has some problems which isn't the first for Pete, since "Soul Survivor II" was a major disappointment four years earlier. The beats aren't the issue here, as the producer does show that he can still kick it after almost twenty years. In "PeteStrumentals" he featured only "The U.N" in his album with two tracks, which with their lyrics and rhyming were pretty impressive. In "NY'S Finest" Rock brings an entire roster of artists to rap on his beats which is unexpected especially from him, and most of those features range from mediocre to pretty lackluster. If he was gonna do more of an abundance of guest features, Rock should've stuck with the guys who made the two tracks with vocals on "PeteStrumentals" memorable. Alot of these guest features are guys the industry hasn't heard from in quite some time, ranging from guys like Nerfuville from Zhane to Chip Fu from the Fu-Schinckens. "We Roll" had some slick beats of course, but the rhymes from Jim Jones and Max B were absolutely terrible and puts the otherwise fantastic beat to shame. Rock even tried to slip in some rhyming in his track, which he has done before in the past with his sampling in tracks like Nas' "The World Is Yours" and some of his solo material. Unfortunately he hurts himself with his sub-par rapping, putting to waste some of his own beats himself with "Don't Be Mad" and "Til' I Retire" as examples. The reggae-infused track "Ready Fe War" with Chip-Fu and Nerfuville should've probably not been in the final product, as the sound is totally out-of-place compared to the rest of the entire record even though the sound is refreshing and enjoyable.
"NY'S Finest" definitely isn't Pete Rock's best record but it doesn't disappoint either. The beats he drops on this record is still impressive, and while he directed his jazz-heavy sampled and acid-jazz beats towards a more aggressive approach to stay in par with the rest of the hip-hop community he manages to pull it off. Pete also manages to keep the urban atmosphere and essence that he is critically-acclaimed for in this set of material, and while there is more of a modern vibe to it this still stays true to himself and to the Big Apple. The numerous guest features were mostly unneeded, like in "We Roll" with Jim and Max but some of the features were quite decent like Little Brother did in "Bring Y'All Back" and Stylz. P in "914". Alot of these tracks are definitely better off by itself with Pete's beats doing the talking, and fortunately he has released a version that is merely doing just that. If you want quality hip-hop material, this is one that should be on your priority list preferably the instrumental edition. The standard edition of this record aside from a few tracks is a bit of a let-down, but with the instrumental edition out it still comes out as another success for this man out of Mount Vernon, New York. It will be really in interesting to see if he either sticks to the style that was in "NY'S Finest" or to his original ways in "PeteStrumentals" and "Soul Survivor", with his next records in "PeteStrumentals II" and "Soul Survivor III" scheduled to come out soon and pegged as his comeback material. Hopefully we'll see a good amount of both, and it'll be great to see how he further evolved in those two records since this 2008 release.