August 22, 2012

The Beatnuts - A Musical Massacre (August 10, 1999)

The last full-length Beatnuts album, Stone Crazy, featured our hosts Psycho Les and Juju sticking with their set-in-stone script of party rhymes, excessive drinking and drug use, and frank sex talk, all taking place over sample-heavy (and typically catchy) instrumentals that other, let's just say more lyrical rappers would kill for.  However, a funny thing happened on the way to the opera that the duo appear to be attending on the album cover shown above: the mainstream started knocking on their door.  This was due almost solely to the success of the single "Off The Books", which boasted cameos from Cuban Linx and the then-red-hot Big Punisher (R.I.P.); the song managed to land in the Billboard Hot 100 chart and received a massive amount of airplay on BET, which made it a personal best for the Nuts.

In the two years between Stone Crazy and their third full-length (and fourth overall, if one doesn't count the remix EP and the instrumental album) project, A Musical Massacre, The Beatnuts found themselves rearranged as a part of a label restructure, ending up on Loud Records after having spent many years at Relativity (the parent company to Loud at the time).  In a way, this was actually a pretty brilliant move by the bigwigs: Loud Records was the critically-acclaimed home of such hip hop luminaries such as the Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, the aforementioned Big Punisher, The Alkaholiks, dead prez, Xzibit, and, um, the Cella Dwellas.   Placing The Beatnuts with as fine a company as that could only help boost their career aspirations, a task which they did not take lightly.

In 1999, A Musical Massacre was released, and it was basically their equivalent to Gang Starr's Moment Of Truth: a critical and commercial success released by hip hop elders who proved that they still had what it took to last in our fickle chosen genre.  The Nuts heard their songs played on the radio more often than ever before, their videos were deemed worthy of airplay on MTV (at least once, when I remember seeing one, anyway), and their album was not only flying off the shelf, interest spiked in their back catalog as well.  Of course, Guru (R.I.P.) and DJ Premier didn't write songs about fucking, drinking beer, and/or smoking some shit, so this level of success could only last so long before audiences grew tired of their antics.  

But at least The Beatnuts can say that they were once the hottest act in hip hop, if only for a brief moment before the turn of the millennium.

Anyway, so about A Musical Massacre.

A mostly instrumental affair that appears to showcase the original roots of the duo's breakthrough single “Off The Books”. Do you really need to hear this, though? Naah.

The first song on A Musical Massacre is a banging mission statement driven by a forceful sample from Zulema's “Giving Up” (which was also utilized by Virtuoso for his “Orion's Belt” around the same time). Lester and Juju deliver their threats with the confidence of grizzled veterans who have seen it all and want their goddamn reward already, but that slight crankiness results in an economy of words (as each verse is shared between the two) that makes this short track that much more powerful. This shit was nice as hell back in 1999, and it holds up extremely well today. (Side note: the version of “Beatnuts Forever” that appears on Violator: The Album doesn't feature the same celebratory “You're the best there is” intro, in case you care about shit like that.)

The hook is annoying as shit, but everything else about this track works. The instrumental knocks in all the right places, and guest stars Willie Stubz and Swinger acquit themselves nicely. But the true stars of this posse cut are our hosts themselves: both Lester and Juju spit their threats with a sense of renewed passion, a feeling they extrapolate upon during the outro, where their overall claim of dominance is made. The Beatnuts also goof on the “You're the best there is” intro from “Beatnuts Forever”, which I had completely forgotten about, so it caught me off guard and had me laughing out loud. Nice!

The vocals, from the guest star, dominate the entire track, even though the only three words ever performed in a singing capacity are in the track's title. So that prevents me from ever fully endorsing this song. What a truly poor judgment call. It's too bad, too, because everything else on here was entertaining enough. Lester and Juju trade bars back and forth with playful ease, and that extends to the outro, where The Beatnuts essentially shout-out every single guest star that appears on A Musical Massacre, which makes it fairly obvious that this song was the last one recorded for the project. (Tony Touch's name is so hastily mentioned toward the end that it's also pretty obvious that they added that shit in post-production.)

Yes, you read that correctly: the artist formerly known as Common Sense appears on “Slam Pit”. That collaboration isn't as out-of-left-field as it seems, though, since The Beatnuts performed some early production work for Lonnie, but it's still more than a bit goofy to hear a man who was invited to the White House to recite poetry spitting some pseudo-violent shit. Unsurprisingly, his mere presence outshines everything else about the track, but that's not to say that everyone else coasts: Psycho Les and Juju handle their verses (and the production) well, and former Terror Squad member Cuban Linx, who typically comes through in the clutch, opens the song with skill. “Slam Pit” doesn't hold up quite as well as I had hoped, but I still enjoyed it. Besides, Common's line, “Ain't shit sweet but sixteens” doesn't make complete sense within the given context, but it sounds cool. Just like this entire track.

An instrumental interlude.

This is probably the only serious song in the entire Beatnuts catalog, and for a good reason: the duo isn't fully up to the challenge. Lester's bullshit rantings (performed at the exact same time as Riley's contribution, for some reason, which makes for a difficult listen) eventually morph into something resembling a life lesson, but it's too fucking late, and Juju's attempt at clarity is marred by how he rhymes “kids” with “kids” during his first two bars. His first two bars! This is a shame, because unlike some of the tracks I've written about above, every goddamn thing on “Look Around” except for our hosts is fucking great. dead prez's and M-1 deliver fantastic verses (and a pretty decent hook, too) over a vanglorious instrumental. “E” for effort and all that, but nobody really cares about how The Beatnuts feel about society's ills. It is what it is.

Juju and Psycho Les step aside to allow mixtape deejay extraordinaire Tony Toca into the booth, and I say “extraordinaire” because the man can actually fucking spit. The beat is simple, but it'll get your head nodding, and Touch manhandles the microphone as he usually does, which is supposed to be a compliment. The presence of our hosts is missed, but if you look at “Cocotaso” as the interlude it really is, the pain won't hurt nearly as much. This was enjoyable.

Juju sits out another one, so his partner in rhyme delivers two verses in an attempt to explain his place in hip hip history: he admits that he goofs around a lot behind the microphone but puts his all into his beats. The fact that he says all of this throughout two of the best Psycho Les verses ever written is just a bonus. The song itself quickly turns into an excuse for Lester to play around with the beat by quickly switching things up toward the end, and the track's overall short length allows for such playfulness without it sounding intrusive or forced. This was pretty awesome.

Semi-amusing, but this was still a skit, and a mostly useless one at that.  (British readers: apparently you guys don't have this track on your version of A Musical Massacre.  Trust me, you're really not missing all that much.)

A curious artistic choice: a weed song that's really about fucking. At least that's what Juju's lone verse will lead you to believe, right before it abruptly ends after a seemingly random Dru Hill reference (maybe he got in a fight with the now-defunct R&B group sometime during the last three tracks? He had to be doing something during that time, since he sure as hell wasn't rapping.) This leaves Lester (and an uncredited guest singer, who lifts directly from Love Unlimited's “Under The Influence Of Love”) to pick up the pieces, which they do as best as they can over the soothing instrumental that, nevertheless, wasn't the best fit for the subject matter. Sorry.

After a goofy interlude, we get into the B-side of the “Watch Out Now” single, a catchy number that features Greg Nice just often enough for him to not completely get on your nerves with his repetitive chants. Lester and Juju lend energetic verses and threats (my favorite was Juju's “We don't even like to smile like that” (emphasis mine)) and then get the hell out of the way so their invited guest can play. Not the greatest song in the world (this isn't even one of my favorite Beatnuts joints), but still rather good.

Both Beatnuts take a backseat in favor of their weed carrier crew Nogoodus, who deliver an unnecessary ad-libbed intro and a dope fucking verse (from Gob Goblin, I think, although liner notes and the Interweb aren't quite as clear) over a beat that sounds much darker than it should. Very little is known about the Nogoodus online, so I can't confirm who the guy is who actually spits the verse (I've officially listened to far too many rappers and now can't tell them apart, apparently), but kudos to whoever he may be, as he goes the fuck in on “Rated R”.

An instrumental interlude that segues into an answering-machine interlude. Overachievers, those Beatnuts.

If Patrick Blazy actually appears on this track, he must either sound exactly like or is Psycho Les, since that's the only voice I remember hearing on this, an ostensible sequel to “Story (Pinky In The Twat)”, a track that comes all the way from the first Beatnuts project, Intoxicated Demons: The EP. (I really don't use the word “twat” enough on this site.) The fact that the phrase “Niagara Falls” is rhymes with “Viagra balls” tells you everything you need to know about “Story 2000”. This story doesn't really go anywhere.

The first single from A Musical Massacre, which is also one of the finest compositions The Beatnuts have ever conjured up in their entire career thus far. (At least Jennifer Lopez thinks so, as her “Jenny From The Block” infamously swiped its beat from “Watch Out Now”, a topic of discussion that still pisses these guys off today.) This track is hyper-contagious, thanks to the bouncy instrumental and perfectly-selected samples, and both Lester and Juju drop one verse apiece that match the energy level of the music, their boasts-n-bullshit (patent pending) flows fitting the proceedings like a glove. This shit was just awesome. That's all I got: just go listen to the fucking thing if you don't believe me.

The Beatnuts take Biz Markie to the circus, which is a bit too easy given the song's title, but whatever. Thankfully Loud Records never commissioned a clip for this track, or else hip hop would have been subjected to a bunch of drunk, violent clowns and children would have been scared shitless (because, let's face it, clowns aren't funny, so what other emotion could they possibly evoke in children?). Aside from the unintentionally horrific imagery (I've officially seen far too many horror movies and now can't tell them apart, apparently), this track delivers, as the attempted playful vibe ultimately comes across in the lyrics, especially those from the diabolical Biz Markie, who relishes his role as a hip hop icon by choosing not to take everything so goddamn seriously.

Once the novelty of hearing R&B crooner Carl Thomas singing about smoking weed wears off (which is insanely quickly – I mean nobody giving a fuck about Bristol Palin's execrable reality show after the first episode-quickly), there is little left to recommend about this boring-ass affair. “California Love” parody aside, you can walk away from this explosion in as slow a motion as you want, just to show off how many fucks you truly give about it. The instrumental interlude at the end wasn't bad, though.

After the sounds of a woman faking an orgasm, because this is a rap album, after all, A Musical Massacre ends with its biggest gamble: a track performed almost entirely in Spanish. (I realize this may not seem like much of a stretch for my overseas readers, but apparently hip hop heads in the United States can only accept their rap music in a single language at a time. I'm only halfway kidding.) The Beatnuts pull it off swimmingly, since the beat fucking knocks and everyone sounds at the top of their game (even though you may not understand most of the lyrics – I'm pretty sure Juju says something about a jacket, though). Google translator is not necessary for you two to actively enjoy this piece of music, especially since both Psycho Les and Juju commit fully to the concept (neither of our hosts is the guy who swerves back and forth between English and Spanish toward the end). This song holds up surprisingly well today (and yes, I'm aware of the English-language remix, but I'm going to tackle that at a much later date). A Musical Massacre then ends with a reprise of the skit that opened “Turn It Out”, which sounds about what you would expect.

FINAL THOUGHTS:  A Musical Massacre may have constituted a major (if short-lived) breakthrough for The Beatnuts, but that doesn't mean that the music suffered: in fact, the project features some of the most potent strains the duo have ever managed to sneak past their label offices.  The more commercial-sounding hits successfully prove that artists don't have to change their own sound to find an audience; sometimes, the audience will come to you.  (Whether they'll stick around is a story for a whole other write-up, though.)  The many guest stars on A Musical Massacre do grate a bit on the nerves, but they don't steal the focus away from Psycho Les and Juju, who both manage to turn in entertaining performances despite neither man being a literary genius or anything.  It seems that Loud's marketing push and seemingly larger budget caused our hosts to become the change they wanted to be in life.  Would it last, though?  Nope!

BUY OR BURN?  A Musical Massacre is a worthy addition to your hip hop library.  Grab it cheap while you can.

BEST TRACKS: “Watch Out Now”; “Se Acabo (It's Over)”; “Monster For Music”; “Beatnuts Forever”; “Slam Pit”; “Cocotaso”; “You're A Clown”; “Turn It Out”; “Rated R”




  1. Nice review.
    Common ripped it on "Slam Pit" even though "it's still more than a bit goofy to hear a man who was invited to the White House to recite poetry spitting some pseudo-violent shit."

    WHO YOU'RE FUCKIN' WIT sounds like some 70's -ish porn music but it's pretty good (funny how they threw an ODB vocal in the instrumental).

  2. Hey! I liked the Cella dwells.
    Great writeup as usual

  3. djbosscrewwreckaAugust 22, 2012

    Entertaining and fair review. Nice one.
    It's a shame The Beatnuts didn't hook up with Tha Alkaholiks in the 90's - they would have killed it.

    1. I'm still kind of looking forward to their collaborative album, mainly because I still think Tash is underrated as fuck.

  4. Nice review Max. Informative, and entertaining. That's all i got

  5. By the way Max, what do you think about reviewing "Let's Get Free" from dead prez?

    1. Eventually. Let me get through some of this "finish what I started" stuff first. dead prez have been in my pile for a long time.

  6. When you gonna review virtuoso's WW1: The voice of reason (ever??) one of my favourite albums, just thought i'd ask since you mentioned him in the review.

    1. I won't say "never", but it may be a long while.

  7. I remember an interview in a German magazine with The Beatnuts, where they were threatening to beat up and rape J.Lo for using the beat and not receiving any royalties. Thought it was hilarious back then.

  8. Hey Max. Are you ever gonna get to a J-Live review?