Lord Finesse – The 730 Interview (The Complete Interview)
The Funky Technician sits down with us to discuss Diggin’ in the Crates’ new album Studios, returning to the microphone, his outlook on music, and more in this classic interview. Scroll down for the complete interview.
You’ve got the new Diggin’ in the Crates album Studios album is done and officially dropping this September. How do you feel about the way it came out?
I’m feeling good about it. I’m definitely feeling good about it from where we started to where it’s at right now.
Did it come out the way you wanted it to?
Yeah. It is what it is. It was supposed to be a studio album. Basically after making it at the studio and with some of the new producers that were coming through the studio, you know, with the help of that and some of the members that came as a collective to get on there, yes. It is what it is, you know?
No doubt. Some of the producers aren’t in the official crew, like Vinny Idol. Do you consider them extended family?
I think it’s more work to put in. Right now it’s just a project. You develop family and close friends after years. You can’t just do it after a project. Okay, they’re family now. It’s a project. But they’re extraordinary individuals from a production standpoint. And yeah, if we continue to work, yeah, I think they will be extended family members eventually.
Why didn’t the Diggin’ producers handle the production exclusively?
What it was was we hold a biweekly session called D.I.T.C. BPM and what we do is we have a networking event where you come in, you send your music to this email and you send in three beats and Drawzilla curates that situation and if he likes it, you’re called in and you get to play your beats among other people that were selected and invited and on top of that, we’ll have a guest of honor. Who knows who it will be. We’ve had Pete Rock and DJ Premier and Kid Capri and Large Professor. Da Beatminerz, Rockwilder, Illmind, Marco Polo, K-Def, Bomb Squad.
So you never know who’s going be at those sessions where they tell a story and the steps they took climbing up in the industry. And you can ask them questions. It’s a unique experience. Producers were picked from that batch, like the Vinny Idols and Super Ugly and Motif Alumni. You got a producer by the name of J. Clyde. So you got new dudes where you get to hear their music on a nice caliber, a nice level.
For you, what does a new producer have to do to really catch your ear?
I mean, being innovative, unique, creative. I’m addicted to funk and soul and jazz and it’s just to hear somebody do something and do it uniquely and know they’re technically inclined and they have a passion for it. That’s what catches my ear.
Was there a challenge in getting everyone in the crew on the project and coordinating the songs?
I think everybody was in work mode, excluding me because I don’t rap as much no more. I don’t even look at it as something that I do heavily now. So I think to have A.G. and O.C. mainly on board, those two dudes…My family’s phenomenal. A.G., O.C., Diamond, and it’s good to have Fat Joe on there. And to have Buckwild and Show on board. It’s great. It’s enjoyable. It’s a great work of art to have everybody involved.
Did A.G. and O.C. quarterback this project being they appear on the most songs?
Nah. I think what it is is they’re more active out of all the members. They’re going in and knocking it out, one, two, three. When you’re in that zone, you know, you knock everything out. I think one has to be in that zone to put in that type of work so for them it was like a walk in the park. Diamond, he’s in Atlanta so he’s not around that much, but he put in work. And to have Joe on there with his busy, crazy schedule, that was unique. We actually linked up in Houston together a few months ago and got some Rockets tickets and kicked it. And as far as me, I don’t rap as much but I had to put something on the project.
It was great to hear you on “Rock Shyt” and to hear you back on the mic, but why have you fallen back from MCing?
I think from the era and the standpoint where I come from, the Midas Era, as I call it. Instead of the Golden Era, I call it the Midas Era. I mean, I was challenged and I liked everything that was going on and you were always pushed when you heard things of such substance. You were pushed to come with it and as the years went by, like when we got into the 2000s, it just got different. My love wasn’t there to do that as heavy as it was in the earlier stages in the late ‘80s all the way through the ‘90s.
I got a different approach. Now I look at it from an artistic standpoint. It has to be advanced for me. I have to feel what I’m doing. I have to love what I’m doing. And at the same time, there has to be a statement behind it. I don’t just do things for a look. I don’t just do things to throw out. Oh, see if you like this. I’m not that type of dude. I have to have a real purpose behind me rhyming.
I get a lot of people that say, “I want you to collab with me and do this” and I still gotta love what I’m hearing. It’s not just you get me on there rhyming. It has to be something that I know when I keep adding on to whatever I’ve done as Lord Finesse, just adding to my legacy and not deluding what I’ve put there and put forth. And I only want to get better. So I don’t rhyme for the hell of it, like, Let me drop some rhymes. I put heavy thought into what I’m going to say.
I think I got one more project I’m going to work on and it might be over. It depends. That’s how I look at it. I don’t look at it like I have to produce four or five albums. I want one more golden piece to my legacy as far as a project and then I’ll hit that fork in the road and make that decision then.
How much thought went into your verse on “Rock Shyt”? Did it take a while to write and did you do a lot of editing?
I still got a book that I write prolific things that come into mind. I try to capture that and write that down because I don’t want to lose it. So it was just me listening to the music and the chorus and coming up with the concept of what I want to talk about – mainly today’s era in a whole and what we stand for and that’s what I wanted to put out there because I think it’s not enough diversity out there when I listen to music now. This is a style, from radio to the internet, they really just ram this one type of thing down your throat. You know, I talk about it and that that’s where that rhyme came from, just talking about it.
How much do you keep up with current music and trends?
It’s hard because I like great projects and I gravitate to great projects. I can’t just gravitate to, Okay, you got a great song today. I’m still very passionate about what I listen to so when I find something that’s great, I can run that down for a couple of months depending on how much substance it is. So I can say when I listen to the new era, and it’s crazy because when I say “new era,” the people I like, it just seems cliche. It seems fake.
I love J. Cole because I can get into his work. But that’s like the safe answer people say when you ask them what they listen to. I listen to J. Cole, Kendrick, it seems like the safe answer but that’s substance right there. You know it’s thought and it’s process and you don’t hear them on 50 million things within a month. You know they take time out to put out their work. Another artist I listen to is Rasheed Chappell. I listen to this kid named Illa Ghee. I mean, he’s super-underground but Illa is about that lyrically.
He just keeps getting better too.
Exactly. A good friend of mine too. Jay Electronica. I need substance. If it’s not substance, it don’t elevate me to want to do something incredible. I’ve listened to these dudes and their pen game makes me go, Damn! It inspires you to want to write something because you know that inside you’re just as great of an artist as they are but that motivation can help you pen something phenomenal. When it’s just so diluted and A-B-Cish, I can’t get on that. That doesn’t motivate me. On a bad day with Down’s Syndrome, you’re still going to sound better than most of these dudes. I’m just very passionate about what I do as an artist moving forward.
If you’re not working on music, are there other areas of life or hobbies that you put that passion in?
It’s mainly music. It’s nothing else, really. There’s things I do on the side anywhere from playing billiards to cooking and I’m great at those things, but for the most part, it’s always music. That’s like 80% of my life. It’s music in one form or the other, whether it’s producing, being an artist, whether it’s DJing, doing music consultation for certain things. It’s always music. Some people do music. I feel I am music. I feel like that’s just really all I know.
Do you have a lot of music in the vault?
Yeah. I think it’s different levels to the music I collect, from records to digital files. A lot of beats from the SP 1200 days. All the way from that era to now, I have that, those catalogs. My 1200 beats, the MPC 4000 beats, stuff like that. My Ableton sessions now. I got a ton of music, but I’m just so skeptical. It’s weird. Sometimes I take a survey from people that come through the house and I know when I personally like something. I know it’s very rare that I play it for somebody and they’re not going to like it. So I’m blessed in that way to know that my ear is still in tact.
If I play something, if I’m on it, I know this is crazy. I know the feedback I’m going to get and I’m technical. If I play something to you, within five or six seconds, if you’re not going crazy, then this ain’t it. It has to hit you as soon as you hear it because that’s what music has done for me throughout my life.
When you listen to a Big Daddy Kane and Rakim or G. Rap all the way to the Gang Starr’s, Tribe Called Quest, N.W.A. and Ice Cube’s first album. When I first heard the Runaway Slave album, these are prolific times in my life that inspired me and made me ask, This is what’s here? I gotta do something incredible! The bar was so high. It’s like getting in an elevator and going up a couple stories to see the bar because that’s how high it was. The bar don’t really count now.
If your music doesn’t go over the bar for you, then we won’t hear it?
Nah, you won’t hear it. You just won’t. I mean, it’ll go in a folder. It’ll be there. But I look at it like this. If I did something that I’m not 100% on, like let’s say I did it and I think it’s cool but to me, cool don’t cut it. When somebody says your shit is cool, nah, you need to come better because I don’t think you should settle for cool. So when it’s something cool, you might not hear it. I’d rather you not hear it and me stash it then to know I played it for you and you go, “It’s cool” and I felt that. The only people I hear the “cool” stuff from is the people that’s closest to me. If they say it’s “cool” or “it’s just alright,” then nah, no one else is going to hear it because I depend on my system around me to tell me what they think of my music truthfully.
I don’t like yes-men. When you listen to my music, I would rather you tell me the things you don’t like instead of the things you do like. Tell me what I should change or what could be better. I already feel it’s a certain way, but I want to hear your input. Your input might make me tweak something.
I think it’s really cool that for everything you’ve done, you seek feedback and are open to it because I’ve dealt with a lot of artists that can’t take feedback.
That’s corny if you can’t take feedback. You can’t embrace success if you can’t embrace the struggle. If it comes too easy for you, you’re not going to appreciate it. You get these dudes with these out of the blue hits and they just change. It’s kind of luck because if it wasn’t done by design, when it’s time to create again you don’t even know what you did with the first one. So a lot of things I do is from design. I know. I have a formula, different formulas that I know will work. But first of all, the main thing is you feeling it because I’m from that era when I turned on the radio and that music spoke to me, how it was arranged, the strings, the chords. It spoke to me.
If you’re from that era and you don’t understand that formula that I’m talking about, it starts with chords and the progression of the chords and where you’re going to go with it. I like music when you play it and you can’t predict the destination of where they’re going with it. So on these quantum scales and chords and different things, you’re going, Oh, he went there. If the music doesn’t do that, then I’m lost. That’s why when I listen to the new music, it doesn’t make me feel any type of way.
I was talking to a friend and he equated music to drugs and in a certain era, the heroin took over and certain musicians were on it and you’ve got that type of music. In the ‘80s, people wanted to stay up and it was speed, it was coke, it was crack. The ‘90s, it became weed. You know, weed was the sole thing pushing it and the beginning of 2000, it was ecstasy. So all of these drugs had an influence on music in one way or another and now when you hear about cough medicine and Xanax and all these different pills, that equates to all the music of today. So maybe if you take some cough medicine and pills, the music will speak to you in creating way that it doesn’t speak to me because I don’t mess with cough medicine or pills.
Has drug culture become more prevalent today in the music?
So when you’re looking at the different generations and how these drugs affected the music, you see it. Now it’s a different time because you’re dealing with no limit to music as far as creativity, as far as all the things you can do from a software standpoint, a hardware standpoint. The things you can do with music is just incredible.
But if you ain’t from our era of struggle, you can’t even appreciate the technology you’re dealing with. If you ain’t from my era of rotary phones and things like that, then you can’t really fully appreciate an iPhone. You can’t. You know, if you’re not from my era of hardware like the SP1200 and s950 and that poor bitrate era, you can’t begin to appreciate technology for what it is today because you’re not from that struggle.
People from that era can appreciate all that technology because we know what it is when cable first came out and you had WHT, which was one movie channel, as opposed to cable now, which is hundreds of channels. You would have to be from an era of struggle and limitation to really appreciate technology. Otherwise you’re from this era, you understand the things you got but you can’t appreciate them and look at them how we look at them because we’re looking at them from a whole different angle.
Does that appreciation change how an album like Runaway Slave would be listened to?
I can’t never put all the fans into one batch. You know, I think it’s a difference. I think you have music lovers and you have listeners. Music lovers get into the music. You know, get into the artists. Cult followers. Listeners are just about what’s popular on the radio. But they don’t get into the artists like that. Okay, I liked him this week. Next week I like this guy and next week I like this. Those are listeners.
But you have true fans that really love artists and really love the art of music that will go back and study artists such as myself and Big L. His following is just, damn. His following is just immortal. He’s got an immortal following. There’s people that are still discovering him. That’s why I can’t put all the fans in one batch. You have the fans that will go back but not the whole base of music.
Does it surprise you that Big L has a big following in 2016?
Nah. It surprises me. It does and it doesn’t. It does when the kids of today are telling me, “Yo, Big L is my hero.” That’s surprising. But, you know, I know anybody that listeners to L would listen to his wordplay and his characterization on these records and what he puts out there. L is like drugs. You’re going to get addicted. You’re going to want to hear more. What else? What else? Because he was just that incredible. So I think he’s an incredible icon in that way. It’s the same way people look at Biggie and they look at 2Pac. But I think when you’re looking at the art of wordplay, you’re going to be captivated by someone like Big L or Big Pun because of the style and the wordplay and the wittiness. What is there not to love about these dudes?
Are you guys still doing the Big L remix project?
Nah. I think when his mother died, Pinky passed away, that kind of fell to the wayside because that was one of the main purposes of doing that was for her. That wasn’t for nobody else. It was for the fans too, to do it. And to do it at a certain level. When me and Premier think of a certain picture and what it would be like to bring it back to life with a few other songs and stuff that he had that’s unreleased that we thought would be phenomenal. And to put him with some of the greatest artists like the Jay-Z’s and the Eminem’s and to have them a part of the project, that would have been just incredible but, you know, Pinky was running his estate so when we thought of doing that album and doing it, it was for the estate. So it hasn’t done strictly for the fans, which it would have been done for, but it was done for the estate to keep the legacy alive.
At this point, will most of that music stay in the vault?
Wherever it’s at, yeah. Wherever his music is at, yeah, it’ll just stay there. Let’s get it clear. There ain’t a ton of stuff out there. People always ask how much more stuff. There’s not a ton of stuff out there. Let’s get that clear. Don’t think it’s like 30 songs or a 2Pac catalog because it’s not.
We’re talking more like three or four songs?
Maybe about that. Yeah. Give or take.
And did you guys find any solace, or maybe just you, with Gerard Woodley, Big L’s accused killer, recently being murdered? Was that even newsworthy to you?
Nah. When everything went down, we had no idea what was going down. I know I didn’t. I don’t think anybody knew what was going down or what was going on with that whole situation. And it’s weird to this day when you ask the question why. When if we were childhood friends, what would drive you to want to kill each other because it’s all types of stories going out but, just being childhood friends, what would make you want to kill your friend? I have friends to this day, over 30-plus years, over 40 years, and I love these dudes to death. I could never begin to look at them any other type of way, so I think from that standpoint, that’s just awkward. It’s very awkward.
And like I said, I don’t know detail for detail or what went down because even when L was around, I didn’t hang around his way. I’d come get him and we was off and gone. So, you know, when this dude Gerard Woodley gets killed, I saw it on my timeline and I didn’t have a comment… Certain things aren’t for social media. People on social media, they want to hear everything, you’ve got to think a lot of things just aren’t for social media. They’re just not.
How do you manage your presence online between giving your fans a piece of who you are and what you’re working on versus cutting it off like Method Man?
That’s deep, man, because your life, your private life is your private life. Some people choose to put their private life out there. Certain people don’t want their children or their wife or their family or their close family online. Not for the world to see. Certain parts about an artist should be private. With me, I put certain things there and certain things I won’t put there. If I’m going through something, I’m not going to put my personal business on social media and when I do post, I just try to be inspirational, motivational, and positive so when you go onto my site, I want you to feel great energy, great vibe. I don’t want you to see nothing negative on my site. I want you to learn.
Social media, you’ve gotta learn there are two steps to do, you know, block and delete. Those are two things you gotta know how to do. Some people want you to feed into that negative energy. You can’t do that. They want that bad. You know, you’ve gotta starve them. Delete, block. Block, delete. Because you’ve got somebody with 30 followers trying to pluck your nerve and you might have over 100,000 followers. Why give them that energy? Why give them that time?
Did that happen more to you during the Mac Miller sample lawsuit you were involved in?
Yeah. At one point, I had to just leave that alone and step away because, I mean, more so with that, when people are reading stuff and they don’t know the actual evidence and they’re just coming to you based on hearsay, it’s hard to ignore it because you’re being attacked on hearsay. They don’t know every detail of what’s truly going on and they only know what’s being read and what’s being put out there and what’s being copied and pasted versus people really digging in and doing their own research and that’s crazy that somebody could print something tomorrow that’s bad about you. True friends will find out what’s going on. Other people will just go, Damn, that’s fucked up. That’s kind of crazy. So yeah, I had to learn that. That definitely taught me something different, definitely.
Would you handle the Mac Miller lawsuit any differently today?
Certain tweaks and details. The approach would probably be the same because, well, I can’t talk about the case but certain things that people don’t know took place, did take place, and, you know, I would approach certain things different. I think certain things would be different because I can’t really go into details of what I would have done, but certain things would have been done differently. I just think people wasn’t as informed as they think they were. So I would have had to find a better way to better inform people of what was going on. But it is what it is, man. You live and you learn.
There are no Party Arty verses on Studios. How do you remember him today?
Wow, man. Party…ah, man. Wow, man. P.A. I mean, Party was, I’m trying to find the right words to describe Party. He was just, he was an energy. He was like, his energy on records was like no other. You know, when you listen to him rhyme, his style, his approach, his approach was just so aggressive, so, so, ah! So beastly the way he used to just handle things like that. Wow. I can’t even, man. Arty. Arty was just a phenomenal artist. And some people might be like, Who are they talking about? Party Arty? Party was dope. He was lyrical but when it comes to a voice, I think his voice was rougher than DMX’s. His voice is like no other. He was just a monster, voice-wise, but he was still lyrical. I think I would compare him to DMX from a voice standpoint but his voice was deeper than DMX. But lyrically, he was somewhere else. He was super-lyrical.
And he had the charisma on records too.
Definitely. Yeah. Definitely. There’s certain artists, when you hear them, you can kind of close your eyes and picture what you picture this dude to be like versus, you know, you gotta wait ‘til you see them on the video or whatever. Certain people, you’re like, I wonder what this dude look like or I wonder where this dude is from or What makes this dude write the things he writes?
Do you feel like whatever’s in the vault with Party Arty’s music will stay there too?
Party is different. His thing is different. With L, it was complicated because Pinky was solely in charge of the estate so when she passed away, there is nobody in charge of that estate. I don’t know what’s the situation with Arty. It’s different because if A.G. and the family was to get together, they can do anything right now. They can jump right now. With L’s situation, that’s way more complicated and deeper than that.
A big move for Diggin’ in the Crates was getting Fat Joe on the records. For years during interviews, everyone said they didn’t know if he would do it and Joe would tell me he wanted to do it, but it never seemed likely that he would rhyme with you guys again. What do you think got him back on board for the Studios project?
Probably time. Time. They say time takes care of a lot of different things, from healing, whatever. It’s time. I think a lot of things, when you get older and you look at certain things, you know, certain things you say, you let certain things go. You don’t let them imprison you no more. Certain things can imprison you and I can speak for me, I can’t speak for a lot of other dudes. As you get older, certain things just change. It’s not worth holding onto certain things. You don’t forget a lot of things, but as far as holding on to them, why hold on to them?
Was there animosity in the group with Joe and him going to the majors and not featuring artists from the group on his projects?
Animosity is more of a big word. I don’t like to use that word. I wouldn’t say animosity. I think it was different challenges. Different…everybody was always doing their own projects. If you ask different artists from D.I.T.C., every artist has their own projects that they’re doing.
My take on it is that if we’re going to get together, let’s do something big. Let’s tour. I don’t want to just do music. That’s stupid to me. That’s my take. I can’t speak for nobody else. I just feel like if you tour, it’s a movement, it’s something big. And if you’re not going to go all out with it and if you’re not going to roll up your sleeves and tackle the world, then why do it? That’s my take, I can’t talk for nobody else. And that’s how I looked at it. If you’re going to do it, do it big. I don’t want to do something for a little or to say, “Hey, we’re back” and to get your fans all riled up and they never get to see you onstage.
You know what it would be like to see a Diggin’ show with everyone on stage? That’s some people’s dream, man. Why not give that to them? If you’re not going to give that to them, then why do a project? That’s just how I look at it. Like I said, I can’t speak for the other six members. I just know that’s how I look at things and just time and era, if you’re going to do it, there has to be an end goal. There has to be a destination. There has to be a plan. If you’re just throwing music out to throw music, you might as well just release everything on YouTube. Why go the extra length? That’s just how I look at it.
Can we see a D.I.T.C. tour with everyone?
I think if the schedule allows. Before I would say never. It can happen. It won’t happen tomorrow, but it’s to a point where it can happen. Now it’s to a point where I can honestly say it can happen. You will see certain things that you probably wouldn’t have seen before, even us recently shooting a video. You’ve never seen us shooting a video together. Well, all the members weren’t there, but there certainly wasn’t a Diggin’ video. Certain things is changing and I believe certain things can happen if the schedule allows and if the price is right.
Will Studios set up a Diggin’ renaissance?
I definitely believe that. I definitely believe between getting together, recording music, between Joe having his hit, congrats, Joe, I always tell him that. Congrats to doing “All the Way Up.” To show that an artist from the Midas Era can still do something incredible should be nothing but inspirational to any artist from that era. It shows that it can be done. And I think that should inspire people to do things and to move on in their endeavors and whatever they’re inspired to do. I think if this single don’t do it for you, I mean not just Diggin’, but artists from our era, to see Joe do what he do. He’s making it look easy. It should be inspirational.
I love what you did with your SP1200 project. Do you see yourself releasing more instrumental albums in the future?
Well, that was off of mainly taking a page out of Joey Bada$$’s book. To see him rhyme on certain things that he’s done and people are always asking me for that type of style and knowing that I’m sitting on a box of over 100-something joints like that, it just inspired me to do an album like that. It’s incredible because it’s like to dig in the past and bring that era now, musically, where it sounds like it’s from that era, the Midas Era. I ain’t really try to make it too modernized, just clean it up and made it what it is, the SP1200, and it was successful and it was all right. And you still got artists from all over that will call me or they’ll hit me on the email and they’ll want that type of style and I’m working on two projects right now that want that. It’s like me giving you the ‘94 to ‘96 Lord Finesse. And it sounds just as good, if not even better, through technology.
Because it’s a lot of things you can do with technology that you couldn’t do back in the day. We wasn’t able to put our hands on things, just software and certain plugins and certain things that can really get your sound right. And even with cleaning up tracks, like when I’m working in Ableton, to see certain things and to pinpoint certain things and to get it clean and perfected the way you want it, yeah, nah, it’s easy to do that stuff. And I enjoy doing it because it brings back so many memories.
Does the SP1200 still enhance your production today?
Well, I sold mine. At one point it was sitting in the closet and I just felt bad with it sitting in the closet so I kind of got rid of it. But now with technology, with the 1200, I still love the drum programming capabilities more than anything. People thought it was the sound. It was never the sound. It was the simplicity of being able to work that machine. It was so user friendly, but it was instant, programmed funk. Everything just sounded in place. The way you’re programming your kicks and the way your hi-hats are swinging, it just had its own algorithms. The MPC doesn’t have that. I don’t want the sound. I want that swing. Any professional SP1200 user understands perfectly what I’m saying. If you don’t understand what I’m saying with the algorithms and the swing, then you haven’t been on the SP1200 that long and need to do some more research.
Do you mainly work off the MPC today?
It starts with Ableton. Ableton and an MPC Renaissance. That’s the two things that I use, the two weapons of choice. The Ableton, man, is probably one of the greatest software programs ever. And I can say this and I’m going to do some tutorials soon because people always ask me what’s incredible about the Ableton because when you go to YouTube there’s always some German person telling you about Ableton but it doesn’t even remotely touch on what you would do from a hip-hop standpoint. I’m showing people from a hip-hop standpoint.
When they see that, they’re like, Damn, you made it look easy. I didn’t know it did this. I didn’t know it could do this. It’s crazy. I tell people it’s never the software and it’s never the hardware. It’s the creativity that you bring to these things that enhances it. And if we’re on the same page, certain things I’m going to do are going to grab your attention. It’s going to inspire you and it’s going to motivate you because it can just lighten your workload to just damn-near nothing.
Does it speed up your production process too?
Yeah. I do work very fast now. It allows you to work fast and move on so if something is not working, you’ll know within two or three minutes that something is not working and you move on to something else. That’s how fast you know. Before, with the hardware, you would have to break everything up and quantize it and you would put so much time into it that you would make it work, force it to work, because you’ve been working on it for an hour and a half.
With Ableton, I can start something and within two or three minutes see if I’m going to keep it or scrap it and move on. There’s no sweat no more like, Damn, I’ve been working on this all day. No. I throw it on there, I chop it up, and whatever I have planned in my mind, I can find out in two to three minutes. If it works, it works. If it don’t, I move on. And that’s the difference with working on hardware because if you gotta sample it and chop it up and quantize it and sequins it and let me see if the drums match. Nah. Too much.
What’s a productive day look like for Lord Finesse?
I sleep in three to four hour intervals. I don’t get eight hours sleep. I take naps. I take naps through the week because sometimes I’ll get up anywhere between…Let’s say I get up at 4 in the morning and okay, I might stay up until 8, 8:30. I might get up 9:30-10. It depends on what I’m doing. Let’s say I get up at 10. My day starts at 10. Now I’m up for the whole day. Maybe between 9-11, I might fall out and go to sleep and then I’m up within three to four hours and start all over again. So I just try to maximize time. Time is one thing you can’t get back and I don’t want nobody to waste my time either. My schedule is very, very situated. I don’t like to do things at the last minute unless it’s very important or it’s worth it to what I’m trying to do. Otherwise if you ain’t on point, your lack of preparation don’t consist as an emergency to me.
Are you the type of producer who spends a lot of time on one or two beats or do you turn out four or five in a day? I’ve talked to platinum producers who take both approaches.
I think it depends on a frame of mind. I think if I’m in that zone, if I have something placed to the side, then I can do two, three with no problem. But if I’m doing something specific, sometimes that takes a while. Sometimes I’m looking for the right sound and it’s going to take a minute. But sometimes just working from an abstract standpoint, I could do three, four, five, but when I’m specifically going for something, sometimes that’s going to take a while. It’s not going to be as easy. I don’t like the beat to do one thing. It has to have change-up. It has to have turn-arounds. The beat has to do some things. It can’t just do one thing with me and that takes time.
How do you know when your drums are programmed the way they need to be?
Oh, wow. Different ways. When they right, they right. I can’t even put a signature on it. I just know when they’re cracking, my layer game is tight. It complements. There’s two ways I do it. If I’m programming an Ableton, that’s more from a composer standpoint. I can tuck my drums so tight on Ableton that you can think that it’s all one until I minus the loop and you go, Dag, I didn’t even think those drums were there. That’s how tight it is on Ableton. And when you’re sequencing on a Renaissance, it’s the human touch. It’s not going to be perfect.
When I’m using the mouse on Ableton, I can see what I’m doing and I can tuck that snare so sharp behind the loop, same with the kicks, that you won’t even know that it’s there. With the Renaissance, you’ll have to kind of program that. So the drums are more dominant when it’s the MPC. On Ableton, it’s more of a composition where everything plays a part.
Do you think if you were to play different beats for fans or your team that they could tell the difference between an Ableton and MPC beat?
Nah. It depends. Ableton stuff is so tightly knit, it’s just like I can’t even explain it. It’s hard because you won’t think it’s no drums to the loop until I break things down. Yeah, you’ll notice a difference because on the Renaissance, the drums will be more dominant. And the snare’s got a crack. When I’m hearing a program, the snare is very important. Feeling the kicks is very important.
How has your production process changed over the years as well as your approach to making music if you were to go back to the late ‘80s to today? How would you describe your evolution as a producer?
I would think I have seven or eight different approaches now versus I was limited with the 1200 and 950 so there is only so many approaches I could have. With the Ableton and the Renaissance and the things you could do with software and the plugins, the approaches and the contact, the approach is just, when I listen to a record now I listen to it six different ways where before, once again, with the limited technology, you would listen to it one way because there was only one way you could listen to it.
Now when I’m listening to it the speed doesn’t matter. Certain things just don’t even matter. With me, if I like the loop and the sounds and the sound doesn’t even sound right, it doesn’t even matter. So many things don’t even matter no more when you listen to the music because the technology helps you get around all those things that you may not like.
So my approach is just, wow, it depends what I’m working on. If I’m doing a remix, then my goal is to make somthing match what I’m remixing and if I’m working from an abstract standpoint, it’s more experimental because I want to see if this works and if it works, then it’s going to be great. But it’s no sweat where if I got this record and it’s just not doing it. I can’t even explain it. I would more so have to do a video and show you the different approaches.
In looking at that, you said you could manipulate sound more now. Do you find yourself sampling records today that you wouldn’t have touched in ‘93 or ‘94?
Definitely. Definitely. Because you can stretch, you can manipulate, you can convert audio to midi. There’s so many different things you can do with something that wow, it helps your sampling game more than ever. So when I hear people say, “Well, I don’t sample because of clearing,” look, you don’t know how to sample. If you know how to sample, chop, and manipulate certain things, then that shouldn’t be a worry to you. If you only know how to loop something, then yeah, I would advise you to stay away from something. But if you really know how to chop some things up, then you shouldn’t be worried. Why are you worried?
When you look at all the tools at producers’ hands now, is the production game super-innovative or do you hear a lot of room to still grow and improve?
Nah, I think there’s definitely a lane out there. I don’t think we get those albums no more with A Tribe Called Quest or De La or Gang Starr with interludes and the way it was constructively crafted. You have song, song, song, song, song. Most albums sounds like compilations. Okay, here’s my three strip club records. Here’s my three radio records. Here’s my keep it real on the block records. And here’s my four collaborations. It’s more of a compilation. It’s not like you have an interlude that goes into the next song. It’s not like a crafted piece of art. It’s just, Let’s put this together and put that and let’s just throw it together.
I’m listening to Midnight Marauders and that’s one of my favorite albums. Same thing with Main Source Breaking Atoms. The craftsmanship on those projects is just…When you look at Pete Rock Mecca and the Soul Brother album, when you’re listening to Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most album or Gang Starr Daily Operation, I could go on and on with albums that were carefully crafted and you just don’t get that nowadays.
There’s a fanbase that would love album like that nowadays, but they just don’t get it. People cater to the young but you gotta cater to your base, your people. You gotta cater to your demographics. My demographics could be anywhere from 25, 26 and older. I can’t cater to a younger demographics because I’m a grown man. That doesn’t make sense to me. But I can’t cater to an audience that’s not even my generation.
Was your fanbase expanded with Joey Bada$$ using your beat on “Funky Ho’$” on 1999 and the Mac Miller situation?
You still have to be in tune with who a Lord Finesse is. It’s not just doing a beat for somebody or rhyming on their project. You still have to have some type of knowledge for who this person is. Otherwise you go over people’s heads. When you look at Joey Bada$$, I’ll work with Joey Bada$$ in a heartbeat. That’s no problem. But it has to kind of compliment both of us. It can’t just be for his fans. We have to do something incredible that’s just dope. Don’t put no limitations on this where I’m hoping his fans will like my stuff. No. Do something dope regardless.
Are you open to working with most artists if that’s the vibe and chemistry?
I’m always open to working with artists. They just have to have an understanding. I’m an artist so when you’re doing a project, most people make the mistake when they see me, Yo, ‘Nes, we need to work. We need to work. My first thought is, Who the fuck are you and what am I going to gain working with you? Understand business. Are you putting something out? Do you have a vision? What’s your angle? What are you trying to do? Do you have a budget in place? Don’t tell me, “Let’s work” because I’m going to look at you retarded. That’s like the stupidest thing you could tell me if I don’t know you. You know, introduce yourself and tell me what you’re trying to do. Tell me what’s your goal and tell me what’s your vision but understand that I’m not going to stop doing what I’m doing that’s monetary for me to work with you for free. That don’t make no sense.
You’ve gotta be willing to invest in your career. If you’re talking about you love your career and you ain’t willing to invest in it or you don’t got the funds…Look, if you could afford Jordans and you can afford running around doing all these other things, then you can put a budget together for your career. I don’t know how artists talk about how you got all this money but you don’t pay your producers. That’s weird to me.
So I’m always open to working with artists if the situation is right and if I’m digging from an innovative and creative standpoint of where the artist is going, then I’ll work. I got a couple of artists that I’m going to work with. I’m not going to talk about it now.
But there are a couple of artists that I”ll work with and I’m working with a couple of artists from overseas. I can say this dude, he’s dope and he’s from Germany and his name is Retrogott. And there’s another artist from Denmark. I’ll work with artists when it makes sense. When it makes sense and I like the approach that they’re going, then I’ll do that.
But Let’s work. I’m so and so. You got beats. I got rhymes. And then a lot of people will say, “I got beats for you.” Well, first of all, I don’t really take beats from the outside new dudes. I have to know you. I have to sit down and have a concentration and I have to understand where you want to go with it.
Nine out ten times I’m not going to sit down and listen to beats, especially if I’m working on my own stuff. I don’t want to do that because the world is small, so if you give me beats and I do something and it’s something that might sound similar to yours, what’s the first thing you’re going to think I did? Oh, he took my beat! So if I don’t hear your stuff and I just come out with something and you say it sounds like what you did, well, I ain’t hear your music. But when it’s time for me to work I don’t want to listen to other dude’s music.
That makes sense. Do you find artists overseas have a different approach and perspective to hip-hop?
Overseas artists appreciate their worth and want to work with you. They’ve got their own little situation for distribution. It’s business and arranged out there. Where out here, it’s, We need to work because I need to throw out a mixtape. Okay, what are you going to do with it? Oh, I just want the people to hear it. I’m not about to waste my time with that. It’s gotta be something going on. And I just think with independent artists, if you’re not ready to roll up your sleeves and promote who you are and promote your brand, I’m not going to waste my time with you either. If you’re looking for hood fame and you just want notoriety locally, man, just leave me off your list ‘cause I don’t do it for locally. I want to do something globally.
That’s why you build your name up.
Yeah. But I’m very open to working with new artists. It’s just that most expect a career with nothing. And like I said, there should be a risk factor. If you spend money and invest in your career, you’re going to push it because you spent your money. If you do it for free, you ain’t spend nothing. At the end of the day, it’s, Hey, man, it didn’t do well. Let’s do another one. Nah. You gotta be a risk taker and you gotta be willing to invest in your situation.
With the ear for quality music that you have as well as so many other producers from your era, should major labels look at you and other producers like Large Professor as A&Rs who can sign quality artists and cultivate new talent?
Well, I just think it depends on if you’re dealing with people who want to do something innovative and trust your experience and knowledge. Then those things can open up. But when you’re dealing with certain labels and certain entities and they want to deal with whatever’s the flavor now, they’re not going to call us. They’re going to call whoever can manipulate whatever’s out there right now and you know, that’s the thing about that.
But if you’re looking to do something innovative and different and you got a vision and you know the knowledge and the history of certain things and you want to work with this producer or you want to work with Large or Tip because you got a vision and you know what you want to get out of working with these producers, then it’s different. But how many people have this mindset where they’re thinking they want to do something innovative and they want to capture that and they want to capture this? Nah. Everybody wants to capture what’s out right now. You rarely got any risk takers nowadays that believe in something and they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is.
With how digital everything is from the internet to the iTunes store, do you find a lot of your samples online or do you still dig for records?
Nah, there’s certain sites online that I’ll go to and they put up great albums. A lot of them I got already but I know the person’s tastes just by what he’s posting. Wow, he’s a digger. And certain things I’ll take just to have digitally. But I’m still very much into vinyl. I still go to record stores if I know that they bring in a surplus of new records but I’ll still go to Discogs too because I know I’ll find a great amount of my Discogs stuff just sitting there because when you got something in your mind that you’re looking for and a lot of people ain’t up on it, you can find that shit sitting up on Discogs for $5 or $10, but if it’s a very sought-after record, it might go up in the hundreds, depending on how rare it is.
But sometimes it could be a rare record that people could think is crap and it could just be sitting there waving at you for $5 and you could get that. But I’m very much into all aspects. I’m sitting on two or three terabytes of digital files that I’m still going through. Yeah. I’m an avid collector when it comes to music.
Do you have an order for how you go through your samples?
What I try to do now is when I get time, I listen and if I hear something, I got a thumb drive that’s categorized and I put it into categories – melodic, dark, hard, soundtrack. I drop it into these folders and when it’s time for me to work and I’m looking for specific things, I’m going to these folders and find something, mess with it, and that’s how it goes.
I’m excited for this Studios album and hopefully it gets us more music from you guys. Do you see yourself getting back on the SP1200?
I could always get my 1200. I think you will see me back on the 1200. I got an idea to do something with it just based on the feel of the drum programming part of it. It’s crazy. Yeah, you’ll see another project. Not right now. Right now I’m trying to focus on doing something brand new so you won’t see archival Lord Finesse stuff out. I’m kind of putting that on the back-burner for now as I focus on doing something new.
And that’s what you said will be your last album. Have you started it?
Well, I just need to get certain things off the plate. I got a few things on my plate and that’s something that I definitely want to do. I don’t know what I want to do exactly, personally, I just know that I want to do something new. I want to do something new.
Do you ever go back to your old music like The Funky Technician or The Return of the Funky Man?
I constantly go back because when I perform, I’m listening to that stuff and can say, “Okay, this is what I’ve done. What haven’t I done yet?” And I look at things like that. I was just talking to Large Professor and I was just talking to him about creating a hip-hop album that’s dope. Not like, I’m doing this old school shit. Nah. Doing something that can compete musically and sonically with today’s music. That’s how I look at it.
I always loved the chemistry you and Percee P had. Would you ever get together on anything?
I spoke to Percee, man. I gave him a concept to do a project. I don’t know what he’s doing but I told him if he wants to do it, let’s do it. That’s on him. We speak a lot. I spoke to Percee. That’s on him. I gave him the perfect idea to do a project so I’m just waiting on him. But I got a lot of ideas. I don’t want to talk about what I did because if the people aren’t thinking about it, they’ll be like, Oh, I’ll do that. But that’s the thing about doing interviews and ideas. You want to keep it to yourself until you push the green light on it.
You’ve worked on so many classic albums from Ready to Die to Lifestyles Ov Da Poor & Dangerous to 2001. What are you most proud of accomplishing in your career up to this point?
Working with Dr. Dre was a dream. That’s like the master chef. So that’s number one. Working with Biggie, that’s probably equal. Those were probably the top two things in my career. But I’m getting better. I don’t feel like I’m in a decline. When you feel like you can still do things at a high level and you’re not in decline, that’s a blessing. But I would say just to produce for Dre and knowing him and what he means to the game, you know to come up with something that he likes and have something phenomenal on his project, that’s an all-time high right there.
Especially with 2001 being considered one of the greatest albums ever made. Was Dre as meticulous and detail-oriented as he’s rumored to be?
Very. Very. Very. I mean, I was out there in 2013 with him for five months working and man, that dude, he’s very detail-orientated, especially when it comes to music and you could think something is phenomenal and he’ll still think, Ah, that’s okay and you’re looking at this dude like, What does he see that I’m not seeing because what he’s playing right now is incredible. He’ll play something and say, “You like that?” I’ll remember sitting in a session with him and he’s playing some phenomenal songs and I ain’t even talking about the Compton stuff that came out. He played some other stuff that was just off the hinges and I’m like, Yo! And he’s like, Oh, you like that? That’s okay. By the time he got to the fifth or sixth beat before he could say anything, I said, “Let me do this for you. That’s ‘okay’ too, right?”
Did you guys get any new work done while you were out there?
We did work. That dude, I thought I was a collector. He’s got me topped. He’ll do a ton of stuff and he’ll just hold it in the vaults. We’ve done some things that, you know, I know is hot. What is he going to do with it or if he ever uses it, that’s something else. I don’t know.
It sounds like there’s a lot of different irons in the fire and it’s all about being strategic right now.
Yeah. I just think you should have a plan for what you’re doing. And if you don’t have a plan, then why are you doing it? And that’s how I look at music. When I look at great music, they wasn’t rushing. Maybe I’m taking way longer than them dudes, but you know, they wasn’t rushing to put a project out. They thought of something that they felt would be a masterpiece and they pressed on with that. But they wasn’t just trying to capture the moment. This is what’s happening now. I need to capture it now! Nah. You work on something that’s a masterpiece and great music and classics don’t have an expiration date.
So if it was hot a year ago it’s going to be hot tomorrow. That’s how I feel. I got beats that I’ve probably got in the chamber for a couple of years now but I get the same result when I play it. Oh, shit, what the fuck was that? And that shit still works and it’s probably a beat that was done three years ago, but it works. It works. When you’re worrying about the moment, then you’re worrying about a certain time. Your shit is like milk. It’s got a certain expiration on it. If you don’t use it in a certain time, you lose that. I don’t look at music like that. I look at music as being incredible.