It was in 1987 that a teenaged Pete Rock first began astonishing New Yorkers with a now-legendary stint as DJ for Marley Marl's In Control radio show. Pete wasn't merely skilled behind the decks; he had an impeccable ear for what made a song interesting, teasing listeners by replaying the same ten seconds of a Soul II Soul or EPMD song over and over, until it sounded like a massive event. As he and partner C.L. Smooth ascended in the early '90s, it was Pete's attention to these details that distinguished them: the way he used interludes to stitch their albums together; the unique, filtered sound of his bass lines; the sleigh bells that would ride along with the beat.
Pete's latest solo album is a surprisingly strong return to basics. There's no grand narrative here, just a steady queue of meticulously assembled tracks that yearn for the low-stakes glory of rap's adolescence. The playful “We Roll” blisters along with a chopped-up synth line, as a lackadaisical Jim Jones pumps Marvin Gaye and discusses which car corresponds to which day of the week. “914″ — the area code for Yonkers — is a rugged anthem built on the Golden Age's rawest materials: Skull Snaps drums and extraterrestrial squeaks courtesy of ESG. The track also boasts agile verses from the Lox's Sheek Louch and Styles P, with the latter vividly threatening to slice comers "like a pizza." “The PJs" is a true gem, all twinkles and Wu-word association, Raekwon and Masta Killa going hand-to-hand over a severely drowsy, early-80s Fantasy 3 sample. While NY's Finest probably won't restore New York to a position of rap supremacy, its throwback beats and proud rhymes are a stirring reminder of what the city has symbolized to rappers young and old.