Many DJs and producers in mainstream hip-hop today sound more like self-promoting hype men than musical composers. You know you?ve already heard them on that latest remix, hollering their names over booming 808 drums, thumping bass and scaling synthesizers. Although it?s important to recognize that styles do change in music, it is reassuring to hear some of those classic East Coast joints, too. Legendary producer Pete Rock brings that traditional sound back with his first non-instrumental album in four years, NY?s Finest, and proves to us once again why he?s one of the best behind the boards.

No one samples jazz-based horns better than Rock, and he demonstrates this from the outset with ?We Roll? by tweaking a saxophone loop to perfection. Meanwhile, rapper Jim Jones waters down his only verse of the track with a proliferation of adlibs. The second bad rapper in as many songs graces ?914,? as Styles P pays homage to his ?hood in New York.

Even early in the album, all the trademarks of a typical Pete Rock record ? soulful sampling, impressive scratching and his signature instrumental interludes ? are in full effect. New to NY?s Finest, though, is Pete Rock rapping more than ever. Though he?s not the most qualified artist to touch a mic, Rock has improved noticeably at rhyming over the years.

?Till I Retire? effectively uses a Run-DMC vocal sample, and Rock holds his own lyrically: ?People wanna know, Pete, when your album drop/ When hip-hop?s heart supposedly stopped/ More bars than Alcatraz, just call me the Rock.? Rock?s ego expands more on ?Don?t Be Mad,? as he proclaims himself the poster boy for the MPC. Fortunately, he?s right, and a quick YouTube search will verify his wizardry on the beat-making machine.

Additional standout appearances from Redman, Little Brother and Raekwon help make some of the best songs on the album. However, what is truly impressive about this CD is how cohesive it is. Pete Rock incorporates a variety of artists into NY?s Finest and gives it a natural flow that you can only get from Soul Brother Number One.

Pete Rock is also obviously a perfectionist. The majority of his beats are extremely complex, yet all the separate elements of his songs blend together into one complete unit. The album also strikes an appropriate balance of smooth and jazzy songs, club bangers and dark, introspective tracks. The only song that doesn?t belong is the reggae-inspired ?Ready Fe War,? which sounds like a poor Damien Marley impersonation.

But as a whole, NY?s Finest is a thorough effort. It has all you could ask for from a Pete Rock LP and will be well-received from diehard fans. Pete Rock has earned respect and acclaim from rappers and critics alike, and, though his work might not have the ubiquitous nature of today?s mainstream radio and ringtone rap, he has cemented his status as one of hip-hop?s finest producers.

3 1/2 stars out of 5