After School Special #2: Lord Finesse

After School Special #2: Lord Finesse

On the eve of his “Re-Awakening”, don’t underestimate the Under Boss. Lord Finesse is widely considered one of New York’s most powerful emcees and producers, whose influence resonates within the pulse of countless lyrical masterpieces, helping to shape the sound of a generation.

‘After School Special’ is an ongoing series of articles featuring important artists, events, labels, magazines and more that helped shape the progression of hip hop music.

On the eve of his “Re-Awakening”, don’t underestimate the Under Boss

Hip hop artist and producer Lord Finesse, a.k.a. Robert Hall Jr (a.k.a. the Funky Man, a.k.a The Under Boss) was born on 19 February 1970 and raised in the “Boogie Down” South Bronx. Best known, or at least most notorious, as founding member of D.I.T.C (Diggin’ in the Crates), Finesse is widely considered one of New York’s most powerful emcees and producers, whose influence, as well as his work, resonates within the pulse of countless lyrical masterpieces of the 90s and 00s, helping to shape the sound of a generation.

Photography by: Cindy Baar –

Humble roots

Lord Finesse grew up in Forest Projects, where he dreamed of being a DJ – an ambition shared by many fellow artists who later became his contemporaries. From these humble roots, he took inspiration from the likes of Grand Master Flash, the Treacherous Three and The Cold Crush Brothers and honed his craft working the decks at house parties, outdoor shows and MC battles around the New York suburbs. At the same time Finesse was shipping demo tapes to influential labels in the hope someone would take a shot on him.

His first break came in 1989 when he, together with DJ Mike Smooth, were signed to Wild Pitch Records, where other groundbreaking hip hop artists like Gang Starr, Main Source, Chill Rob G, Percee P and OC were cutting their teeth. The duo’s 1990 debut album Funky Technician featured the hit Strictly For The Ladies”, which saw Finesse hailed for his lyrical ability and punchline delivery. The album featured up-and-coming beat-makers including Showbiz and Diamond D, who would go on to join him in underground crew D.I.T.C, alongside A.G, Fat Joe, O.C, Buckwild and the late Big L –to herald a new era of hip hop.

Inspired collective

D.I.T.C quickly carved a reputation as a collective of DJs and producers dedicated to the true essence of rap music – with original lyrics and resonating vibes dedicated to preserving hip hop purity. Both as a collective and as a variety of breakout acts, the crew was responsible for some of the most heralded underground hip hop albums of the 90s. Finesse returned as a solo artist for Giant Records in 1991 with his album, Return of the Funky Man (featuring “Party over Here” and “That’s How Smooth I am”) in collaboration with Percee P and A.G. This record saw Finesse’s first foray into record production – and he has never looked back. It is with these collaborations for which Finesse’s work is perhaps most widely recognised. His production appearance on Notorious BIG’s Ready to Die in 1994 gave him a global audience and a year later he produced some of Big L’s debut album Lifestylz Ov Da Poor and Dangerous, including the single MVP.

Photography by: Cindy Baar –

Shaping a generation

He next returned as an artist in 1996, with single “Check the Method” and hugely-acclaimed album The Awakening, which he produced himself and guest-featured a veritable ‘who’s who’ in hip hop including O.C, KRS-One, MC Lyte, Kid Capri, Sadat X and Large Professor. The album features the single “Hip 2 Da Game” and hidden track “Actual Facts”. In more recent years, Finesse has focused on producing his fellow artists – including the title song on O.C’s Jewelz in 1997 and the track “Channel 10” on Capone-n-Noreaga’s debut The War Report. He showcased his diversity by providing the anthemic vocal sample on the hook to Fatboy Slim’s Rockafeller Skank in 1998. Finesse’s mixtape Diggin’ On Blue followed in 1999 and he then produced Dr Dre’s “The Message” on seminal album 2001.

Coming home

Returning to the mic in 2004, Finesse features on Handsome Boy Modeling School’s album White People, in collaboration with old-style DJs QBERT, Grand Wizard Theodore and Jazzy Jay. Since then, the entrepreneur has stayed largely behind the scenes, with Funky Man Productions receiving much acclaim for its work with R&B and hip hop talent including Notorious BIG, SWV, Big L, Fat Joe, Jeff Redd and Caron Wheeler. But whether on the mic, at the decks or behind the scenes, Lord Finesse has certainly helped guide the evolution of hip hop music – keeping it relevant while keeping it true.

Photography by: Cindy Baar –

Having collaborated with some of the most inspiring acts of his time, crafted some compelling breakbeats and produced the catchiest of hooks, it’s evident that young boy touting the suburbs of New York for endless MC battles never left. On the eve of his return to emcee, it’s high time Lord Finesse stepped back into the spotlight and redefined the next new era of hip hop.


Photography by: Cindy Baar –