When The Floorwalkers ended their fruitful Wednesday night residency at Ruby Tuesday last year, Tony "G. Finesse" Haslett and his hip-hop band, the N.S., took over. They've since moved to Thursdays.

When The Floorwalkers ended their fruitful Wednesday night residency at Ruby Tuesday last year, Tony "G. Finesse" Haslett and his hip-hop band, the N.S., took over. They've since moved to Thursdays.

After hearing that this crew brings the house down, I headed to Ruby's last week for the latest installment of Hip Hop and Soul Thursdays. I soon learned some crucial elements of the usual experience were missing.

Normally the band provides free pizza, but they didn't get around to it this time. Strike one, G. Finesse! Trombone player Evan Oberla was on tour with Mojoflo, so no brass blasts blared until a saxophone player showed up around midnight. Though not Haslett's fault, technically this is strike two.

Batting behind the count is difficult business, particularly on a night when the crowd is sparse. These guys were scrappy, though, and they weren't about to let the less-than-ideal circumstances keep them from swinging for the fences.

The most obvious reference point is The Roots. The comparison sticks in part because Haslett raps with the same coarse delivery as Black Thought and in part because the rest of the band skitters across genre lines without sabotaging their funk and soul foundation.

Even The Roots sometimes delve too deep into jam band hell; the majority of their disciples live there all the time. G. Finesse and the N.S. managed to stay in the outer rings, usually more concerned with dusky grooves than lengthy solos.

Any group of this ilk that covers Fela Kuti is a few notches above average. On the other hand, that befuddling moment when they conjured the schizoid funk-metal of early Incubus started a vicious fight between me and 15-year-old me.

Haslett was a fine ringleader and a passable rapper. His rhymes were standard fare, but he was always a presence, even when just rocking out. His soul singer mode worked just as well for him.

He was pretty funny too: "Better not be lacking the funk I want that s--- to smell like an old shoe ..."

All in all, they managed not to strike out, but let's not call it a home run either.