May 27, 2009

The Beatnuts - Street Level (June 21, 1994)

Street Level is the second album (and first full-length effort) from the three-man collective known as The Beatnuts. It's also sometimes referred to simply as The Beatnuts, because the actual phrase "street level" is printed in a font much tinier than the artist's name, making it appear as though it was an afterthought or a special promotional stamp intended to differentiate this version of the album from those labeled "air level" and "ninth circle of Hell level".

Juju, Psycho Les, and Kool Fashion (and occasional Beatnut The Mighty V.I.C.) headed into this project with the same motivation and fervor that marked their previous release (the word "hedonistic" is used repeatedly to describe the work of the crew on Wikipedia). This resulted in a slightly more successful turn on the charts for The Beatnuts: Street Level actually managed to break through the Billboard 200, even though nobody in mainstream America could name the singles that were released. After Street Level, Kool Fashion ended up leaving the crew, changing his rap moniker to Al Tariq and embarking a solo career. Juju and Psycho Les still do business as The Beatnuts to this very day.

I've always considered The Beatnuts as the East Coast answer to Tha Alkaholiks, two rap crews who try to have fun with their work, preferring a party lifestyle filled with drinking, drugs, and women, instead of mundane day-to-day life. Juju and Psycho Les, however, are both producers, for themselves and other people, whereas E-Swift is the only producer out of Tha Liks. The Beatnuts are also more likely to fuck you up if you ruin their day, whereas Tha Liks are usually too stoned and drunk to bother with the violent acts: somehow, their inebriation helps refine their lyricism, though, as both J-Ro and (especially) Tash are capable of ripping shit alongside the best that ever did it. And Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest) is down with both groups. So why is it that the former Everyday Street Poets (the original name of Tha Liks) have never seen fit to collaborate with their New York brethren, the Beat Kings of yore? (I read that Beat Kings was the crew's original name, but they were rechristened as "Beatnuts" by the Jungle Brothers because, while they were truly awesome at digging in the crates for ideas, the three members of the crew were fucking crazy.)

Anyway, here's Street Level in all of its glory.

I wasn't impressed with this mostly instrumental intro.

Although the “hook” (really just a few vocal samples) sounds incomplete, this song is still pretty fun. The lyrics don't really go much father than “I like to fuck, drink beer, and smoke some shit, and if you get in my way, I'll kill you, or at least throw my crumpled-up Taco Bell wrapper at you” (except a tad bit more charming than that), so consider yourself forewarned.

The first in a two-part series stressing the importance of “getting props” for your hard work and dedication. The instrumental is simple, and it engages the listener to such a degree that you won't actually mind that Fashion is the only rapper on here that sounds like me may actually have a future in the craft.

Somehow the energy level manages to rise to even higher, um, heights (until the end of this track, in which a smooth instrumental abruptly appears and plays out until the next song starts). The hook is grade school horseshit, and it even gets repeated as part of a verse at one point (I guess the Beatnuts needed to fill some dead air), but the song as a whole isn't that bad.

I liked this track, but nothing really stood out to me. Which is odd, considering the guests involved.

Not a terrible song (far from it), but the title alone made me want to watch the Michael Cera – Jonah Hill Superbad. You know, the intentionally funny use of that title.

I found this to be boring as shit. Folks don't usually look to the Beatnuts for subdued production. The Ol' Dirty Bastard vocal sample was a decent touch, but it doesn't tip the scales one way or another.

Short and sweet, although Juju's verse ends abruptly, right when you're getting into it.

I thought the female vocals were a nice touch. However, I still didn't like this crap, so the crew's love for their many fans is rendered moot by a pointless track.

At first, the blunted beat recalls some early DJ Muggs-type shit, and the three rappers rhyme about a bunch of nothing, albeit commendably (Fashion and Juju especially). Then you realize that the beat remains stagnant for the full length of the song, and it drives you fucking nuts. Although if I were stoned right now, I probably would crave some actual fried chicken, so that's cool.

Part 2 of a two-part series describing the historical significance of “getting props” and retaining said props. You'll probably want to skip this and, instead, watch that months-old last season finale of Entourage that you've been putting off because all of last season was entirely underwhelming. Or maybe that's just me.

Welcome back to the world of entertainment, fellas. The Beatnuts give up on there needless quest to “get props” and decide to create a song that is wholly satisfying, which, coincidentally, earns them props anyway. Who knew that was how that worked?

Of the two members of the crew that remain, I've always regarded Juju as the more talented (okay, that may be pushing it...let's just say, consistent) behind the mic, and this song may be one of the reasons why. This track would rock even without the Method Man sample in the hook: this is just pure, unadulterated hip hop especially for fans of our chosen genre.

14. 2-3 BREAK (FEAT GAB)
The idea of this song is pretty fucking awesome. The individual members of the crew all rhyme to their own beat. However, Gab jumps onto Juju's verse, and Psycho Les threatens to crash this car into an oncoming train with his terrible lyrics. Well, at least the thought was admirable. (And yes, I realize that nobody buys Beatnuts albums for the lyricism, but do you remember my comments about Ras Kass and his hot lyrics but poor production, and how that combination does not make for a good product? It works both ways.)

For a sex rap, this is about as boring as how Paris Hilton looked in her sex tape. Do people really find the idea of banging a blond chick who shows no interest whatsoever in the events transpiring in or around her mouth even remotely sexy? Clearly they do, because her praying mantis-looking ass is still making money. Sigh.

A really good beat punctuates this corny (but good) one-verse wonder from Psycho Les. I knew he had it in him.

Ending your album with one of the better tracks from your debut EP is pretty cool, if you even have a debut EP to draw from. Even if it does end with a loud burp.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Street Level is a mixed bag. The Beatnuts manage to capture lightning in a bottle only a handful of times, with a perfect marriage of (usually inane, admittedly) rhymes and sample-laden blunted instrumentals. The problem I have with Street Level is that most of it sounds boring as shit today. This album won't garner the crew any new fans, and it certainly won't help retain the few that picked up the Intoxicated Demons EP. I respect the fact that this disc was made to satisfy the needs of Juju, Psycho Les, and Fashion, but the fact that it won't appeal to anybody else is a concern. The Beatnuts have much more potential than this.

BUY OR BURN? Burn this shit. If you ignore the lyrics of Juju and (especially) Psycho Les (Kool Fashion is actually pretty damn good) and treat this as an instrumental effort, you'll still find it as dull as a doorknob, but at least it will be a brightly-painted doorknob.

BEST TRACKS: “Get Funky”; “Hit Me With That”; “Ya Don't Stop”


The Beatnuts – Intoxicated Demons (EP)


  1. I have to counter Max’s recommendation and encourage a buy. Buy it used; it's worth the $7.99. The album was entertaining and original and was definitely a hidden gem in 1994 (to me at least). Even today, it’s still underrated.

  2. Oh, yeah. I forgot. For all you sample professors out there, what is the name of the Spanish excerpt at the end of Get Funky? Been trying to figure it out since 1994.

  3. AnonymousMay 27, 2009

    burn this shit , but buy a copy of the twins album. hmmmmmmm

  4. This is review is way, way off.

    This album is great, and if you consider yourself a fan of "real" hip-hop(whatever that is supposed to be) you need to get this ASAP.

    "Rik's Joint" is tremendous and "Lick The Pussy" is a classic whose beat has been sampled a million times since, never again so effectively.

    RL- the sample at the end of Get Funky is the song "Burrito Sabanero" by La Rondallita.

    It's an old Spanish Christmas song that me, Psycho Les, Juju, and every other Puerto Rican and Domincan heard a million times when we were kids.

    God I love The Beatnuts. Check the album, you won't regret. Max is moody.

  5. You definitely don't by a Beatnuts album to hear top of the line lyrics but their beats are normally pretty good. I have to disagree with you on "Rik's Joint"...I always love that beat and it still sounds good today!

  6. AnonymousJune 04, 2009

    Yeah, sorry Max, fuck you, this album is great.

    As far as "weak" lyrics, come on, the Nuts are nowhere near as atrocious as, say, the Group Home, and at least they're entertaining and don't take themselves seriously at all.

    And man, "Rik's Joint" is hot. Was your copy accidentally replaced with a Young MC b-side?

  7. Psycho Les is the better lyricist of the 3 on this album. His subject matter may be weaker but his flow is much more engaging to the listener. Stop knocking Les!

  8. This review is way off point, this is an all time classic hip hop album, nuff said!

  9. rik's joint - a pointless track ? A pointless critic as well.......