Who Flipped It Better? Lord Finesse vs. Joey Badass
The Sample: Tom Scott and The California Dreamers – ‘Naima’ (1967)
Tom Scott is a saxophonist, composer and bandleader who covered John Coltrane’s ‘Naima’ for his first album, ‘The Honeysuckle Breeze,’ on Impulse! Records. Covers seem to be his thing — you might recognize his rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Today’ in ‘They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)’ – though he also wrote songs for ‘Family Ties’ and ‘Starsky and Hutch’ in the 70s and 80s.
Needless to say, he doesn’t play with the gravity that Coltrane does on his classic original, but that’s what makes the cover so fun. ‘Naima’ is a slow, passionate ballad named after Coltrane’s then-wife, Juanita Naima Grubbs. It appears on the momentous 1959 album ‘Giant Steps,’ recorded roughly two weeks after Coltrane finished sessions for Miles Davis’ ‘Kind Of Blue.’ It was the only song to feature the entire rhythm section from the Miles Davis Quintet (Paul Chambers on bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums, and Wynton Kelly on piano) and Davis’ business manager Harold Lovett even negotiated for Coltrane to release the album on Atlantic Records.
The original is warm, lush and enveloping as Coltrane shows a slower side of his genius. There comes a point in every Coltrane listener’s life when you hear the spirituality of ‘A Love Supreme’ and you feel the ‘Ascension’ that’s ingrained in every note he plays. It’s a message that’s best communicated via his pained tenor sax. Scott’s version is lighter, almost playful, reflecting the innocence of the album cover.
Flip 1: Lord Finesse – ‘Speak Ya Peace’ (Feat. Marquee, Diamond D & AG) [Prod. by Myke Loe] (1995)
D.I.T.C. will forever be the greatest production crew to ever grace the shores of East Coast hip-hop. Peace to The Beatnuts, but how can you compete with Lord Finesse, Diamond D, Buckwild and Showbiz? Four years after his first solo album, Finesse doubled down on his legacy with ‘The Awakening’ in 1996 and came up with yet another classic. His sound and legacy are foundational for artists like Joey Bada$$ and, believe it or not, Mac Miller.
Myke Loe pitches the horn up a bit over layers of vocal samples from Deda The Original Baby Pa and Biz Markie on the chorus. Then he drowns the loop to the bottom of a lake, next to the bass, during the verses. It achieves a blunted effect, like when you lay back listening to music and the sounds start to melt in your mind as you slip into sleep.
Flip 2: Joey Bada$$ – ‘Wendy N Becky’ (Feat. Chance the Rapper) [Prod. by Thelonious Martin] (2013)
Thelonious Martin uses the other half of the sax phrase that Finesse leaves out at a slightly slower tempo. It’s hard to imagine Martin getting this idea from anyone other than Lord Finesse, and considering Joey Bada$$ has rapped over a Lord Finesse beat before, the sample is probably a conscious nod. Martin lets it breath with dusty, slumping drums, and even leaves the faint drums, keys and bass of Scott’s track under the beat.
It’s not much competition, though. Myke Loe’s flip veers into Pete Rock’s hazy territory where voices and instruments morph through filters to become new sounds. D.I.T.C. laid the blueprint for a lot of producers, especially in terms of samples and drums. Without ‘Speak Ya Peace,’ there would be no ‘Wendy N Becky.’ It’s funny how Joey sampled from an artist that he clearly admires and is influenced by, yet it’s the one song on the album that isn’t produced by Finesse.
So this week goes to the OG punchline wizard and the guy who also did ‘Beyond Understanding.’ Revisit ‘The Awakening’ to celebrate, and remember – a carbon copy is never as strong as the original.