With over three decades in hip-hop behind him, veteran rapper-turned-producer Lord Finesse continues to find ways to bring new flavor to both the culture and his craft.
Motown State of Mind is the Diggin’ in the Crates [D.I.T.C] collective founding member’s latest reimagining of classic Motown hits peppered with a couple of rare grooves. He picked his favorites from the iconic Detroit label and figured out how he could update them for a new generation.
“I lived with the songs and studied them,” the Bronx, N.Y. native born Robert Hall, Jr. said. “I wanted to take these songs and make bangers out of them. I got in a zone and kept going. I’m proud of all of it because everything has a different feel. One song will make you curious as to what the others sound like.”
Set for digital release on June 26 along with a physical box set featuring seven 45 RPM vinyl singles to come out on July 24, Motown State of Mind is a remastered, drum loop-free musical conversation between the “Return of the Funky Man” and “Actual Facts” emcee and his musical ancestry. He gives Switch’s sensual 1978 breakout single “There’ll Never Be” a heavier dose of boom bap drums with head nodding fingersnaps while breathing blistering rhythms into both Marvin Gaye’s seductive 1976 ballad “I Want You” and Michael Jackson’s infectious 1972 ditty “I Wanna Be Where You Are.”
Concentrating on making sure frequencies fit each song, the intentional rapper known for delivering concise lyrical summaries in verse challenged himself when he put his spin on DeBarge’s smooth 1982 hit “I Like It” with a funkier, more uptempo rhythm.
“That record is perfect,” the avid vinyl collector says with his nasally, laid back East Coast accent. “If you were to listen to it and never heard it from back then, you could’ve sworn that record was done just now. It gave me a whole ‘nother infatuation with music.”
Lord Finesse dusted off and enhanced the live drums on Sister Love’s 1970 operatic funk gem “Now Is The Time,” which was featured in the 1973 blaxploitation classic The Mack. He says he would’ve tried his hand at updating Willie Hutch’s “I Choose You,” another staple from The Mack, but couldn’t get the clearance to add it to Motown State of Mind.
“I wanted to speed up the tempo and bring that song to life,” he said, calling “Now Is The Time” “a special treat.” “I wanted to take you back to that time, give you that feel, put a drum break in there, and build it back up into the song.”
Known throughout the world as the “Ace of Trades,” the hardcore New York rapper behind souful sample-driven albums like 1990’s Funky Technician and 1996’s The Awakening produced for both late rappers The Notorious B.I.G. and Big L, Dr. Dre, Brand Nubian and Capone -N-Noreaga. Managed earlier in his career by Ice T’s Rhythm Syndicate imprint, the fearless, self-sufficient creator also owns a production company, Funkyman Productions; co-owns another production company with his business partner, Bossman, LLC, and heads two record companies, the hip-hop label Underworld Label Group for hip-hop and Soul Estates for R&B.
“I have passion for music,” Lord Finesse said. “It doesn’t hurt me to sit in the background. I got the power to step on-stage and do whatever I want when I want. When you know who you are, it doesn’t matter what nobody else says. I don’t care about attention; I care about doing great music. That’s it”
Motown State of Mind came to fruition as the world was experiencing both the coronavirus pandemic and global Black Lives Matter protests. Sheltering-in-place gave Lord Finesse the time, he says, to reevaluate his priorities. A homebody anyway, Lord Finesse landed into a funk, not recording or doing anything musical-related.
“A dark cloud was hanging over me,” he reveals. “It came from looking at the news and thinking everyday this can’t be real. Once I got settled in at home, I had moments where I didn’t feel like doing anything. I did music when I felt like it.”
Lord Finesse got his mojo back once he started DJing on Instagram Live. “Putting together those sets and going through music sparked and forced me back into production, digging in the crates, and playing things my listeners haven’t heard,” Lord Finesse said. “It rebuilds the motivation.”
Thinking about this grim moment in America prompts Lord Finesse to regret he couldn’t add Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” to Motown State of Mind. Another song he mentions based on its relevant subject matter is Diana Ross’s uplifting “Brown Baby” from 1973. “It’s one of my favorite songs,” Lord Finesse says. “What she’s singing about is so relevant right now. People are going through what they’re going through because of skin tone.”
Lord Finesse continues: “Motown State of Mind is perfect for the climate we’re in right now,” he says. “Whatever you’re going through, this music will distract you in a great way. You’ll sit there, vibe out, have a drink, and take your mind off COVID-19 and protests for a second. I’m not trying to make you forget; this is something to help you heal.”
Making projects like Motown State of Mind give Lord Finesse peace of mind. Recently turning 50 in February, he’s an international favorite and far from allowing trend changes in hip-hop or radio formats to determine his shelf life. Joking that “he doesn’t feel a day over 32-years-old,” he prefers to not hinge on any of his past successes and failures.
“I don’t get caught up in remembering when,” Lord Finesse proclaims. “That means your best days are behind you. Nobody can tell me if I’m relevant or not. If you don’t know how great you are, you’ll get lost. It’s an honor to be in the game this long, still do what I do, have the love for it, and still be respected for it.”
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