Finale may not be as critically acclaimed as such fellow Detroiters as Eminem and Black Milk. But if you bring his name up among musicians and Detroit rap heads, you wouldn't be able to tell: Most of them, in fact, will tell you that Finale is one of the best emcees to hail from the Motor City. And with his new disc, A Pipe Dream and a Promise, the Motown veteran proves his worth.
Finale's not a "punch line" emcee, but his unpredictable flow and his rock-solid lyrics keep things changing, interesting. Aside from an appearance from close friend and frequent collaborator Invincible, a hook or two from some singers, and spoken interludes by rap legends Awesome Dre and Prince Whippa Whip (of Cold Crush), A Pipe Dream and a Promise is a solo affair. He doesn't have any problem moving things along on his own, though. "Style" and "One Man Show" see him boasting about his individuality and his self-reliance. His personal statements are equally potent. He uses "Brother's Keeper" to comment on familial woes, and he ends the stressful "Issues" by plainly stating: "It's not real when it's rappin'; it's real when the shit really happened."
Although Finale doesn't use his great reputation to snatch up cameo appearances here, he does take advantage of it more wisely — the list of producers behind the soundbeds on this disc reads like a who's who of indie hip-hop beatmakers. Fellow Michiganders such as Black Milk and Waajeed make strong contributions, but it's the producers from outside of the Mitten whose offerings stand out the most. The aforementioned "Brother's Keeper" is fueled by a glum sample and trudging horns by the Virginia-bred Nottz. Producer Oddisee, of Washington, D.C., offers a soulful, multilayered backdrop for the album's title track. And fledgling Los Angeles producer Flying Lotus produced "Paid Homage," the mellow album-closing tribute to deceased Detroit rap icon J Dilla.
Finale's off-kilter delivery may intimidate some, but dedicated listens will reveal a filler-free album from one of Detroit's current best.
William E. Ketchem writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.