The Stuyvesants deserve more recognition. Ripped off by Jaden Smith’s track “The Coolest” without attribution for their beat, they responded gracefully with a simple request for credit. Surrounded by industry figures using their stacks of cash as bragging rights, they made each album free to stream on their website. Living in a world where musical genres constantly accelerate forward at the speed of sound, they found their niche and therein settled snugly.
The fact that Fine draws its title from past Stuyvesants projects The Finer Things and Refined demonstrates this duo’s tendency to stick to their guns. In this case, those pistols entail instrumental hip-hop constructed from carefully selected samples, the only vocals present being the chopped singing from performers of the past. There are no guest features, autotuned ballads, explosive verses, or other modern trappings of hip-hop to be found here. This record is dedicated exclusively to the smooth, simple sound of soulful beats made from a reverence for the past. Listen to the title track, “Ice Breaker,” or “Come To Me,” and you’ll know exactly where these guys are coming from.
An adherence to their own tradition also finds the Stuyvesants satiating Fine with a fat selection of lean cuts. Only two of the 20 tracks on Fine go past two minutes and thirty seconds, and even those stay well away from the three-minute mark. This less-is-more approach to pacing is one of the album’s greatest strengths; if a particular beat isn’t giving you the fever, it won’t be long before it’s escorted away and replaced with the next offering. It also helps that many of these songs rely on loops that would become excessively tedious if stretched for too long. Structuring behest the duo’s vision, rather than conforming to standard song lengths, kept most all these records as fresh as green produce.
Still, despite the snappy cadence, Fine can feel a little stale if you’re listening for the long haul. The Stuyvesants have made significant progress over previous efforts in their sample selection techniques, but the core tenants of their music remain largely the same. If you’ve heard either volume of The Finer Things or Refined, you probably possess a reasonable idea of what you’re in for. Sample-based hip-hop that consistently draws from a particular era has a tendency to stick to some familiar sonic textures, to the point in which you could probably sneakily place songs from Remixes or Brooklyn’s Finest in this record’s tracklist and successfully convince someone they belong there. To some, that familiarity may be the album’s saving grace, a nostalgic trip down the memory lane of hip-hop’s roots. To others, it may project a feeling of complacency, a lazy rehash of past ideas that fail to push the genre forward in any interesting ways. I stand in the center of these two extremes; these beats feel like classics down to their very core, but a larger presence of defining elements like the chugging percussion in “Shakers & Movers” would have gone a long way in making each track memorable.
The phenomenon of fantastic beats losing their appeal when played back-to-back-to-back isn’t exclusive to Fine, however, and the proof of its quality can be found in the way each song sounds divine in isolation. “Synthetica” sulks along the lit path of a smoky groove, “Come To Me” sounds like the echoes of a night long gone, and “Sounds Like The Sun” closes out the proceedings with an ear-meltingly gorgeous groove. The Stuveysants might not have an abundance of new ideas, but the ideas they’re using still work just as fine as they need to.
4 out of 5
You can purchase Fine here.