Lost & Found

Artist: Pete RockTitle: Lost & FoundRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Jason Newman

Remember back in ’92 when you first heard the first few bars to “T.R.O.Y.” and you instantly thought, “This is one of the greatest beats I’ve ever heard!” Then you purchased Mecca and the Soul Brother and thought, “Is it possible for Pete Rock to make a bad beat?”

It’s an understatement to say that in ten years, the hip-hop landscape has changed. That sentence is a different essay altogether but suffice it to say, some of the best hip-hop you’ll hear this year comes from two Pete Rock-produced, mid-90’s gems recently released by BBE/Rapster. To kick off their Lost and Found series, BBE Records, the UK label responsible for such seminal series as Funk Spectrum and Soul Spectrum, has released INI’s Center of Attention and Deda’s The Original Baby Pa. While neither album was officially released by a label, the former has been bubbling around the underground since its completion in 1995. The latter, completed in 1996, was permanently shelved and only now have heads been given the chance to hear it.

Any questions concerning what Rock was up to after he broke up with CL Smooth are answered with these albums, as he continues to create jazzy, mellow beats focusing on piano, horn and xylophone samples with above average, yet not stellar, MCs. Not much of a change from his CL Smooth days, true, but with Pete Rock’s production being what it was at the time, you’d forgive him for following the “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it” formula. Like the best Pete Rock & CL Smooth cuts, many of the beats immediately hit you, as Rock still clearly knows the difference between “relaxing” and “boring.”

On Center, tracks like “The Life I Live” and “Center of Attention” revolve around a basic drum pattern and short sample (saxophone and piano, respectively), yet both songs immediately capture the listener’s attention more than most overproduced beats in modern hip-hop, which subscribe to the idea of throwing as much as you can against the wall and hoping something sticks. "Fakin Jax'," the only single released from the album and now-certified underground classic, starts off sounding like an altered version of Jeru the Damaja’s “Whatever” before settling into a mid-tempo beat that could easily be on Tribe’s Midnight Marauders. Rock’s beats have always been more suited to the lounge than the club, but when he does make party beats (Read: same as a normal PR beat with a sped-up drum) as on “To Each His Own,” it works, not the least of which is due to guest appearances by Large Professor and Q-Tip.

The mid-90s Pete Rock was never known for working with great MCs and these albums are no exception. No one can knock CL Smooth for his consciousness upraising, but let’s be honest; will he ever make anyone’s Top 10 MCs list? INI, made up of Rock’s brother Grap Luva, Rob-O and Marco Polo, are certainly competent enough MCs to lace smooth flows that match Rock’s beats, but there isn’t a single verse one would call mind-blowing. Ditto for Deda, a MC whose harsh delivery can best be compared to an early Fat Joe.

It’s this harsh, at times irritating, delivery that may lead Pete Rock lovers to keep INI in their stereo and only break out Deda once in a while. Even critics of INI's MCs can't deny their smoothness and affability; the worse you could say is that they can be boring at times. But boring MCs, as long as the beats are good, just decrease the quality of the album while retaining its listenable stature. Irritating MCs may lead to an automatic album shutoff regardless of the beat.

Deda is skilled enough on flow, but his threatening style may be too much for people who buy this album expecting a laid-back vibe on all aspects of the track. Rock’s beats on Baby Pa, from the fusion-sampled horn on “Baby Pa” to the upright bass that anchors “I Originate,” feel like throwaway beats not used on the CL Smooth albums. Still solid, but when compared with begging-to-be-a-single songs "Everyman" and "Blah Uno," one can't help feeling slightly shortchanged. It’s a testament, however, to Rock’s skills that these b-side beats still sound better than most beats made then or now.

With the consistent quality of Rock’s beats on the two albums being what they are, though, all you really need is an average MC to make the overall sound better than almost anything else released (Put a great MC over these beats and you have “near classic” status). The major difference between the two albums is the faster tempo on Baby Pa, presumably to match Deda’s quicker rhyming style.

Lost and Found is required listening for any fan of Pete Rock or 90s classic albums such as Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory, Digable Planets’ Reachin’, or Gang Starr’s Daily Operation. No, it does not hit the levels of these classics vocally or beat-wise, but both aspects are strong enough on Center of Attention and Original Baby Pa to further solidify Pete Rock’s place as one of hip-hop’s greatest producers.