Lord Finesse is passionate about Hip-Hop and the famed rapper/producer's love was forged in childhood; when he witnessed the culture's earliest days.
The sound and sights of music and performance being crafted in Bronx block parties mesmerized a generation, and was a hotbed of creativity. As a youth watching Hip-Hop unfold firsthand in his community, the young Robert Hall, Jr. was transfixed by the DJs and the b-boys that were crafting a culture in the Bronx. Looking back, Lord Finesse is grateful for what his youthful experiences birthed in him.
"When I think of the Bronx and I think of the musical influence, it's gotta go back to the park jams," says Finesse. "Because being from the projects, not being in the best part of the Bronx, living in the projects was considered lower class. So to be somewhere and to find a culture that I could be a part of and it didn't require money, it just required skill sets and talent and being unique and being special. At that point, I knew it was something I knew I wanted to get into. It was your own unique creativity."
Even as a kid, Finesse could feel that something major was happening. Especially as Hip-Hop moved from the parks to the radio.
"I understood when it started with the Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five," he recalls. "Those are like superheroes to me. When I finally heard [the Furious Five] on record with 'Superrappin'' and hearing The Cold Crush and the Fantastic Five and understanding who Jazzy Jay was. That was a culture. That was a movement."
The foundation was already set when a bombastic MC came roaring out of the Boogie Down armed with an anthem for the borough. Lord Finesse credits KRS-One with lighting a fire.
"KRS kicked the door wide open when he came with 'South Bronx,'" Finesse says. "That was the Bronx theme song. You had that record that came on that you identified with and represented who you were and where you were from. KRS played a major role."
Lord Finesse always wants the pioneers of Hip-Hop and these godfathers of the Bronx to know that they are revered. The impact on his life and career has been immeasurable.
"Grandmaster Caz and Grandmaster Melle Mel—those are the greats. I'm honored to call them my friends and big brothers to me. These are the superheroes. These are the dudes who let you know what it was."
Reverence comes easy for Finesse. And that's even in acknowledging his own lofty legacy. Finesse famously made his debut alongside DJ Mike Smooth with 1990s classic Funky Technician and would go on to become a pillar of East Coast Hip-Hop as a member of the famed D.I.T.C. (Diggin' In The Crates) crew and as one of Hip-Hop's greatest producers. Lord Finesse has laced everyone from Dr. Dre to the Notorious B.I.G. with certified heat.
But even a legend has his inspirations. We're all fans of someone, and Finesse holds icons like Caz, Flash and Kool Moe Dee as the gold standard. The only reason anyone wouldn't celebrate the greats is selfishness and insecurity.
"I think when people aren't secure in their spot and secure with who they are in life, they don't like giving credit to other people," he says. "When I see Caz, when I see Mel, I tell 'em, I love them dudes. I let them know that the love is here. If it wasn't for you, there would be no Lord Finesse. Make no mistake about it."
"It starts with the trailblazers," he says adamantly. "I don't wanna hear about the new thing if you don't know about the old thing."
But when it comes to Hip-Hop's so-called generation gap, Lord Finesse isn't pressed with trying to suddenly appeal to fans half his age. He knows that Hip-Hop is big enough, wide enough and has been around long enough to have multiple lanes. And there's an audience for every lane.
"Let the young people have their lane," Finesse explains. "I'm not trying to be young, I'm trying to be who I am. My favorite analogy: you never had muhfuckin' Al Green worried about New Edition. Al Green was straight; he got his fans, he got his own demographic. Al was good. I don't have to look at these young dudes and worry about fittin' in with them. That's not my lane, that's not what I do."
Lord Finesse isn't insecure about his legacy or his talent. That confidence is why he can both celebrate his heroes and rest easy knowing that those younger than him are doing their own thing. He knows that real recognizes real and Lord Finesse's body of work speaks for itself.
"Either you get it or you don't. I'm still going to move on with life. I'm comfortable with where I'm at. People don't understand: it starts with peace of mind. When you have peace of mind and you're comfortable with who you are, you become free. And that's when the real magic happens. But if you're looking around for validation and [for] people to accept you..."
He pauses, before shifting his thoughts.
"Some of the greatest battles you're going to have to fight by yourself. If you ain't willing to fight those battles by yourself, then just give up now."