In 2019, the German-based record store, distributor and label HHV started the imprint 90s Tapes. Since then, 90s Tapes have released limited edition CDs, tapes and records of out of print and rare material from underground 1990s artists including Godfather Don, The Nonce, Da Bush Babees and Hard 2 Obtain. Some of these, such as the 2020 Godfather Don release “Beats, Bangers & Biscuits At 535 E 55th St” gave listeners (or those wanting to own physical copies) a brief window to get tracks for retail prices on otherwise prohibitively expensive original 12″ singles – I say brief window, because many of these limited releases sell out quickly and are expensive to buy from resellers.
I’ve been drawn to many of the 90s Tapes releases (and unfortunately slept on the Godfather Don record) but was most excited by the Finsta Bundy anthology “101: The High” released in 2020. Throughout the 2000s Finsta Bundy material has received other limited pressings including Chopped Herring Records’ “The Unreleased Album EP” (2012) and “Demos 1994-1996 EP” (2013) alongside the French label Sergent’s two re-pressings of Finsta’s “Finsta Baby” 12″ single in 2012 and 2014. “101: The High” collects all the previously released 12″s by the duo alongside some of Finsta’s solo 12″ singles. While some of these aren’t too hard to find originals of, others such as Finsta’s “Crush/So Much on My Mind” 12″ (2001) have never been reissued before and are harder to find in record stores.
In 2013, I bought a copy of the 1993 12″ single “Sunnyside/Spirit of the Boogie” from Wax Museum Records in Melbourne. It came in a plain black sleeve with round white tracking stickers stuck along the record’s inner edge by one of its previous owners. I loved the 12″, and the menacing, low-fi style of production paired with the laid-back flows of the MCs – Bundy, rhyming in a quiet, conversational style and usually taking the role of the detached onlooker and Finsta, similarly low-key, but rhyming with an aggressive edge – had me on the lookout for more releases. From that year, each time I saw a Finsta Bundy 12″, I’d buy it without even listening to it first.
The story of the duo’s formation can be found in numerous interviews online, but seeing this is about the anthology, it seems appropriate to provide a little bit of the history of the group. Readers might notice that throughout these stories, Bundy’s voice is missing and that most of the anecdotes come from Finsta. Most interviews I could find about the group were with Finsta, and only one featured Bundy, who didn’t go into great depth about the group’s history. While it’s unfortunate to miss his voice, Bundy’s obscurity seems to suit the advice-giving observer persona he puts forward on his verses, and perhaps as someone who, as Finsta described, “wasn’t much of a party-goer” and referred to himself in an interview as a relaxed “relatively simple type dude”, it makes sense he might choose to play the background.
Walter Giddens AKA Finsta was born in St. Albans, Queens, but was raised and grew up in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Before being exposed to hip-hop, Finsta played music in band classes in both junior high and high school, beginning on recorder, before moving onto playing saxophone. And, it was around the time he played saxophpone that, after his mother sent him to church, Finsta began “to get into the thought of writing and performing”, saying in 2006 that before getting to hip-hop he was “playing the sax, singing in my church choir, and trying to make gospel songs”.
After being kicked out of Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, Finsta started attending Bushwick High School where he met Evil Dee (brother of Mr. Walt and one half of Da Beatminerz) in a band class. Evil Dee made an impression on Finsta, and in interviews he often recalls a vivid memory of seeing Dee playing the drums “like he was gonna kill them, like Animal from the Muppets”. Finsta and Evil Dee soon became friends and after spending time at Dee’s place. After watching Dee DJ and produce, Finsta started making beats on a Yamaha VSS-200 keyboard (with two seconds of sample time) given to him by Dee. While Finsta was making beats, Dee, before devoting all of his attention to DJing and producing, was also rhyming – in a 2018 interview with Brian Kayser, Finsta remembers Dee referring to himself in a rhyme as the “master of gibbersih”. Eventually Finsta started rhyming out of necessity, saying in the Kayser interview: “I wasn’t rhyming at first but I was making beats and I needed somebody to rhyme to the beat so whatever, I just started writing to the beat as well”.
With Finsta and Evil Dee both making hip-hop they decided to start a group, naming themselves High Tech after a clothing store on Wilson Avenue, Bushwick. Sometime before that, the name Unique Image was used – a name that is so incongruous with the sound and style of what would become Black Moon that Evil Dee laughs about it in an interview with Brian Coleman, claiming that they’re going to be “so over” when people find it out. At some point, Dee’s friends Buckshot and 5FT (both dancers at the time) join High Tech as MCs and the name is changed to Black Moon after a production company run by Mr. Walt. The rest is history with Black Moon, but important to this story is Finsta’s departure from Black Moon before the recording and release of their highly-regarded 1993 debut “Enta Da Stage”.
Finsta’s departure from Black Moon was briefly explained by Mr. Walt in Brian Coleman’s book ‘Check the Technique’ – Walt saying that “eventually it just made sense to cut E and Finsta on the mic and just leave rhyming to 5 and Buckshot”. Giving a little more context, in the Kayser interview Finsta talks about deciding to leave the group after his daughter was born – his focus shifting to getting a steady job to be able to support his family. Although he left the group, Finsta maintained a close relationship with Evil Dee and Mr. Walt, continuing to collaborate with Dee throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
Following his departure from Black Moon, and through Evil Dee’s connection with CRACD record label owner Gucci Man, Finsta released his first record in 1991 – the solo 12″ “Finsta Baby/Payday Is Bliss” produced by Da Beatminerz and himself. The recording was done at Calliope Studios in Manhattan and marked Finsta’s first time in a professional studio. In a 2013 interview with The Find, Finsta remembers that “Finsta Baby” and its B-side “Payday Is Bliss” were “basically tracked, recorded and mixed” on the same night. Both tracks are important as perhaps the closest example of what the recorded and unreleased (and maybe never-to-be released) High Tech album Finsta recorded with Evil Dee sounds like.
“Finsta Baby” has a Tribe Called Quest “Excursions” style intro, featuring an upright bass jazz line, chopped and looped in a funky bounce. Yet, instead of Q-Tip’s mellow and familiar “Back in the days when I was a teenager…”, the clack of a lo-fi snare and kicks jump in and we get Finsta’s abrupt rhyme style, delivered with a distinct ruggedness: “Here comes the judge, nudge / yo grudge and smell the fudge / you know the emperor won’t budge”. Notably, the track also features a nice scratched sample of Das EFX rhyming what sounds like “Finsta, baby” from their track “They Want EFX” (according to Rap Genius the original rhyme is “Finster Baby come to Papa Duke” – a Looney Tunes reference). The B-side “Payday Is Bliss” picks up the pace and has a Eric B. & Rakim “Don’t Sweat the Technique” sort of vibe once the saxophone sample kicks in during the chorus. Both are good tracks, but are distinctly different in both pace and style to the later Finsta Bundy material which fans more closely associate with their sound – I don’t think there are any FB tracks as fast as “Payday Is Bliss”. And, while “101: The High” is an anthology, it goes to show there are still FB records worth collecting – the “Payday Is Bliss (Remix)” released on the Chopped Herring Records “Demos 1994-1996 EP” is far superior to the original version and demonstrates a slower rhyme style, and mixture of mellowness and aggression which typifies Finsta Bundy’s later releases and the duo’s strongest records.
After leaving Black Moon and recording the “Finsta Baby/Payday Is Bliss” 12″, Finsta needed a DJ for live shows, and around 1992 was connected with a local DJ Bundy through their mutual friend Evil Dee. Although Bundy credits Evil Dee as linking both of them together musically, both Finsta and him recall going to the same junior High School together for a year, only living one block away from each other in Bushwick and often seeing each other in passing.
Following a show in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in which Bundy performed a routine with Finsta where he moved around from behind the turntables to rhyme, both decided to start a group – Finsta recalling that the pairing “felt natural” to the point that by the time they “got back home it was official”. After the tour ended and the decision had been made to start a group, Finsta had a chance meeting one day in Brooklyn which would shape the duo’s first release. During his shift at the record store Jackpot Records in the Fulton Mall, he was visited by “two tall white boys” looking for records. At the time, Finsta had his “Finsta Baby/Payday Is Bliss” record there and while trying to sell the two guys a copy explained to them that it was his. A couple of months later, one of those visitors to the shop, Rob from Big Willie Records visited Bushwick to speak to Finsta about releasing something. Like Black Moon and its earlier iterations of High Tech and Unique Image, Finsta Bundy first toyed with the name Redrum, before moving onto Finsta and Bundy, even getting stickers printed out saying “Finsta and Bundy Straight Out the Mutha Captown”. For the first Big Willie release, the “Sunnyside/Spirit of the Boogie” 12″, the duo kept the “and” in their name, eventually dropping it and using Finsta Bundy for their later releases.
“Sunnyside/Spirit of the Boogie”, released by Big Willie records in 1993 is the first and one of the best Finsta Bundy 12″s. Both tracks were recorded at Mase Base studios in Brooklyn and produced by Finsta, who after making the beats at home on his Yamaha VSS-200 with a Tascam 4 track, used the studio’s Akai S900 alongside other equipment to re-produce each beat. “Sunnyside” consists of sparse piano notes, punctuated by a rough drum loop and the ghostly repetition of voice calling out in the background. On “Sunnyside”, Finsta Bundy are offering advice to those trying to “front hard”, immersed in a life of violence and crime. The first verse from Bundy demonstrates his style of detached observer, recounting a scene in which he looks on as a gunfight erupts and police swarm the area: “Always play the corner / watch the others pull a heist / the gun barks, shit now / they’re off in the breeze / victim on they knees / I be up in the treetops / watching jake make it / hot for everybody”. Although Bundy is providing advice for those to stop the violence (“They shoulda listened / when I talk)”, he isn’t completely damning of their actions, instead presenting a scene and lamenting the ramifications of a life in which people try to “front hard” but are “fragile like a straw”. Finsta, “the slim black dreader / paragraph wetter”, takes a similar approach on his verse, advising “lame brains out for fame” to “save all that drama”, and to focus on creative pursuits such as rhyming or writing, staying home and playing with “pronouns and adverbs”.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Finsta Bundy is that all of this positive, advice-giving rhyming sounds just as gritty and sinister as the sometimes-violent rhymes of their contemporaries such as Black Moon and OGC. In this style, the group is similar to frequent collaborators and fellow Bushwick group Da Dysfunkshunal Familee, who on tracks like “Slippin” and “B.O.U.N.D.A.R.I.E.S.” pair positivity and life-lessons with a gritty atmosphere. Restating the connection between the groups, in a 2007 interview with Pawel Kumiszcze, Finsta states that he and Bundy were “always hanging out with DF, so a lot of time we would vibe off each other”. It’s important to note too, that Dysfunkshunal Familee’s DJ, DJ Primetime eventually joined Finsta Bundy as the DJ and third member.
Two years after the “Sunnyside” 12″, the “Who I Be/Bomb Shit” 12″ was released through Big Willie Records. Recorded again at Mase Base Studios, Brooklyn “Who I Be” and its “Part 2” version were produced by Finsta and are a continuation of the spooky, gritty style of the “Sunnyside” single. The “Who I Be” beat consists of a repeated voal sample calling “you” and the echoed chorus of Finsta calling “Who I, who I be” over a drum loop which sounds like the snare and cymbals are being played under felt mats and a thick layer of dust. When I first listened to it, I remember it being one of the slowest beats I’d heard. Tapping it out, I’m guessing it’s around 80 bpm (forgive me if I’m a bit off). In the current era of incredibly slow tempos in underground hip-hop by producers such as Sadhugold, Camouflage Monk and Daringer it doesn’t seem out of place, but if we consider a recent DJ Muggs interview in which he refers to the change from 1990s bpms to the current ones – “A slow tempo used to be fucking 89, fucking 90 was retarded slow… now it’s fucking super-fast” – it feels ahead of its time.
Finsta provides the first verse and threatens for others to “move quickly / or become fuckin’ sickly”, advising listeners to “check Bundy on the relay”. And Bundy comes through with an excellent verse starting it with an Ice-T/Biz Markie/K-Solo spelling style: “The B-U-N-D-Y / don’t even try / the red stay in my eye / like the blind ask why” and then he’s off doling out threats, advising others against “fakin’ jacks” and lamenting violent, sometimes artificial gangster styles: “Every time I listen / they all want to glorify / the do or die / why not survive?”. Yet, it’s not always the most profound lines which hit the hardest, like Bundy’s verse on the “Mr Cee Freestyle Shit EP” (“What the fuck she doin’ in the ghetto? / Hope she got a burner or a sharp ass stiletto”), he has the ability to say something technically simple, but paired with his reserved delivery and relaxed flow, make it sound incredible – for example his line on “Who I Be”: “If I could then I would / but I can’t / drop some mystic shit / that make every motherfucker stop and glance / at the Finsta Bundy aura”. It’s a striking line and the sort of spiritual and metaphysical theme the group sometimes move into on tracks like DJ Krush’s “Supernova” in which they riff on the future and the reign of righteousness over negativity.
Instead of an instrumental version, we’re given “Who I Be Part 2″ at the end of the A side on the original 12” which is included on “101: The High”. It’s the same dusty drums and echoes of “Who, who, who”, yet paired with a reflective run of piano notes. The chorus features a reference to Super Cat’s “Nuff a Man Dead”, with an echoed voice singing “Who I be? I’m not sure anymore…” – a line that would be referenced again in Black Moon affiliates Heltah Skeltah’s 1996 track “Sean Price”, Sean Price starting the track with “I’m not sure anymore, more / who is knocking at my door, door”.
“Bomb Shit” is produced by Rich Blak (“As Blak hits the fuckin high hat / figure that”) and is far less dusty and lo-fi than Finsta’s production. Aside from Finsta’s production on 1995’s “Feel The High/Where Ya At?” 12″, “Bomb Shit” seems to mark the group’s step away from a really lo-fi sound – one that probably wasn’t intentional and most likely due to Finsta’s equipment restraints. “Bomb Shit” features a chorus, which seems like the most radio-appealing chorus the duo had up to that point, and one that I could imagine delivered in a posse-style chant: “Who got that Bomb Shit / Brooklyn with that Bomb Shit / Who got that Bomb Shit? / Bushwick got that Bomb Shit…” Finsta rhymes with metaphysical themes, starting off his verse with “Someone want to call the coroner for me? / Tell em’ the ghetto shines through the blinds of a ghetto mind”, going on to “My thought is an illusion / I close my book / just to get my breath took / as the earth got shook”.
Over the next few years Finsta Bundy would release a series of 12″s under Big Willie Records’ new title Tape Kingz including production from Evil Dee, Finsta and Rich Blak alongside guest features from MCs Brain Dead and D-Rock from Bushwick’s Dysfunkshional Familee. These tracks are presented in chronological order on “101: The High” and include 1995’s “Feel The High/Where Ya At?”, 1997’s “Feel the High Pt II” and 1998’s “Don’t Stress Tomorrow” and “Boogie Spirit/Izm”.
1998 marks the final date for 1990s material released under the Finsta Bundy name. By that time, the group were recording a full-length album at the famous D&D Studios completely produced by Da Beatminerz. Like the unfortunate stories of many other underground hip-hop acts, the album wasn’t released at the time, Finsta recalling that “the people putting out the record claimed they couldn’t afford to finish it”. While none of those tracks are presented here, they can be heard on the Chopped Herring Records “Unreleased EP”, and it’s important to note how exciting the time was for the group. Reflecting on their time at D&D, in the Kayser interview Finsta recalls peeking his head in on DJ Premier or Gang Starr recording sessions, happy to be rubbing shoulders with artists he looked up to.
One of the most exciting post-1990s inclusions on “101: The High” is the 2001 Finsta 12″ single “Crush” with its B-side “So Much on My Mind”. It’s a 12″ I’d been waiting to appear in a local record store for eight years, before finally getting a copy from Tokyo’s Disk Union in 2019 (where, seemingly most records you’ve searched for are on the shelf like new releases). “Crush” is produced by Evil Dee, and in true Beatminerz fashion, he’s filtered the hell out of a loop from Donovan’s “Get Thy Bearings” (also used by Biz Markie on “I Told Y’all”) to draw the bass forward, booming over most of the track. The deep bass line is the main element, and it’s the first thing we hear, complemented by crackling drums, each beat sounds coated in record static. The Donovan sample catches him singing, “Get your bearings / know your time”, and it repeats, like a mantra throughout the track – an instruction for Finsta to stay in the pocket, or a reminder for wack MCs to listen and learn how it’s done. Finsta starts his “Crush” verse with a call out: “People are you with me, where you at? / Throw your fists up / in comes the rougha / with enough styles to mix up”. It’s a simple point to set off from, and from there, he’s working on accelerating scales of greatness: “Anointing your mentals with potentials and their essentials / herbs are galaxies away / I multiply by exponentials”.
If you’re not already convinced by “Crush”, in the third verse, Finsta briefly switches his style, to deliver the quick and roughly delivered line “Notice, the nitwit / spit liquid”. It’s hard to emphasise how strong this line is in writing. Maybe it’s the slight pause before the delivery, allowing the shorter phrase to hit on beat or that Finsta briefly switches into this abrupt style, as if to say, “Look what I’ve been able to do this whole time and it’s easy for me”. It could be the half rhymes of nitwit with spit and liquid, or simply the image – Finsta asking you to notice him, the rough nitwit, spitting liquid rhymes with little respect for inferior MCs. It’s a line I’ve loved since I heard it, and have scribbled it on the backs of notebooks, or along drawings for years. While not as good as “Crush”, it feels important to note that the B-side, “So Much on My Mind” shares a very similar chorus to Pusha T’s 2011 single “Trouble on My Mind” featuring Tyler, the Creator. I’m guessing it’s a coincidence, although it’s nice to think of Pusha T referencing (even in an obscure way) the Finsta track.
“101: The High” is the first anthology to collect most of Finsta Bundy’s 12″ singles including six instrumentals together into a single release. And, as is the nature of anthologies, reiterates the importance of the group’s music in hip-hop, specifically in relation to 1990’s underground hip-hop and the foundation of Black Moon. When asked by Brian Kayser if he’d have done anything different with Finsta Bundy’s music, knowing what he knows now, Finsta takes a holistic approach stating, “However it came out and touched the world, I just remember it that way and embrace the music”. Like Finsta’s willingness to give multiple interviews over the years, “101: The High” is one of many important releases keeping the legacy, story and music of Finsta Bundy alive.