Hey, you're still here. That's awesome. I'm going to let you in on a secret: I'm as sick of that picture from the previous post as you are. So as a reward for sticking around, today I'm running a review that I actually meant to run sometime last year, but never did, as I wasn't really inspired to finish listening to the album until now. Whether that's a signifier of my overall feelings of the fourth full-length album (and sixth project overall, counting EPs, but skipping instrumental discs) from The Beatnuts, Take It Or Squeeze It, is something you'll have to wait until the end of the write-up to see. Or skip ahead, I don't give a shit; they all count as page views anyway.
Apologies for the weird spacing throughout. Oh, that Blogger has a mind of its own.
Take It Or Squeeze It was the second album released by Psycho Les and Juju through their deal with Loud Records, home of Mobb Deep, the Wu-Tang Clan, the late Big Punisher (a former collaborator on one of their biggest-ever songs, “Off The Books”, which still bangs today), and the Cella Dwellas. It came two years after A Musical Massacre, the duo's most successful and most consistent project to date. Realizing that they had a lot to live up to, The Beatnuts spent the two years in between polishing their beats and rhymes to a nice shine, all while watching their previous label, Sony, release the first of three greatest hits compilations, World Famous Classics: 1993-1998, as a quick cash-grab. How The Beatnuts somehow deserved three separate greatest hits albums I will never know. It's not like that have all that much in the way of output: there are several songs that appear on all three projects.
Take It Or Squeeze It minimized the scope of its predecessor significantly: if A Musical Massacre was aiming for a global impact, Take It Or Squeeze It was satisfied making that one dude at the corner bodega happy. Juju and Lester's writing focused on the same material as it always has (read: they're not the greatest rappers in the world, but when they're on, their energy can be infectious), and they continued to dig in their crates to find only the silliest and most obscure of samples (a lot of people don't remember today, but the name The Beatnuts is actually a reference to the group wanting to search for the perfect beat and not a ridiculous sex reference, although you're forgiven if you based your observation on having heard either man lewdly rhyming about sex). They also called all of their friends to contribute and/or pad the album running time as needed. Somehow this resulted in there only being two tracks (out of fourteen) that don't feature any guests, and one of them is just the intro, so that doesn't count. “Worrisome” doesn't even begin to describe it, especially when you read the names on said guest list: I thought the 'Nuts had more famous friends.
Take It Or Squeeze It managed to debut at number fifty-one on the Billboard chart, and its two singles, “No Escapin' This” and “Let's Git Doe”, both received minimal airplay. Allegedly, it was also very well received critically. However, I don't know of anyone that will cop to actually having this in their collections, and not even diehard Beatnuts fans are willing to defend it. I remember purchasing it back in 2001 off of the strength of its predecessor, listening to it once, and banishing it to one of the boxes I had that held drink coasters, and I found those singles to be pale imitations of what worked well on A Musical Massacre.
Let's see if I made the right decision by retrieving it from its doom.
Okay, seriously, how do you think I felt about this rap album intro?
2. IT'S DA NUTS (FEAT. AL TARIQ)
Eschewing the sample-heavy compositions from A Musical Massacre, The Beatnuts choose to rock over a simple drum beat on the first actual song, one that is reminiscent of their earliest work. Which may help explain how they convinced former Beatnut
Kool Fashion Al
Tariq to contribute a verse alongside his brethren for the first time
since 1996 (when they guested on his solo album God Connections). The three verses are isolated from one another, so there
is very little interaction between Psycho Les, Juju, and Tariq, but
all three rappers sound in top form over the uncomplicated
instrumental. An interesting way to throw off an audience seeking A
Musical Massacre II: The Secret Of The Ooze.
3. PRENDELO (LIGHT IT UP) (FEAT. TONY TOUCH)
I don't remember “low energy” being the overall theme of Take It Or Squeeze It, but here it is again on this, the second real song of the evening. The instrumental moves things along, but not as nicely or as smoothly as it should, given the title of the track lending itself nicely to an amped-up M.O.P.-esque hook that never happens. Instead, the listener is presented with Psycho Lester, Juju, and guest star Tony Touch delivering verses that are technically proficient, but what audience were The Beatnuts exactly aiming for here? When I listen to the 'Nuts, I'm not looking for rap music to fall asleep to, but alas, that's what we get on here, which is strange.
4. CONTACT (FEAT. MARLEY METAL & CHRIS CHANDLER)
Alongside guest star Marley Metal (terrible rap name, by the way) and some uncredited female vocalists, The Beatnuts attempt to wake the audience up from their slumber with a weed rap that is only remotely interesting because of some of the musical choices our hosts make toward the end, fucking with the otherwise-repetitive beat. The fact that a ridiculous and unnecessary sex skit is laid over the mutated instrumental piece is immaterial: at least The Beatnuts were still taking chances and testing their boundaries back in 2001. While it's too bad that “Contact” wasn't better as a song, at least it proves that Lester and Juju weren't always operating on autopilot while recording Take It Or Squeeze It.
5. YO YO YO (FEAT. GREG NICE)
Given their successful work in the past, it was a foregone conclusion that Greg Nice (of Nice & Smooth fame) was going to cameo on this project. What surprised me back in 2001, though, is how indifferent I was to “Yo Yo Yo”, and in revisiting the album today, I now remember why: because this song sucks. The beat is bland and boring, and having Greg channel his inner Busta Rhymes during the hook is as silly a move as one could imagine. All of the verses leave something to be desired, although Juju does his best to hurry up and get the fuck out of the booth, almost as though even he realized this shit was awful and wanted to quickly wash his hands of it. Ugh.
6. IF IT AIN'T GANGSTA (FEAT. BLACK ATTACK & G-WISE)
Not sure what our hosts were aiming for on here, since this song is decisively not gangsta: the beat is too subdued to incite any real interest, and the verses were dull at best. I've officially lost faith in Take It Or Squeeze It, as I didn't remember this album sounding this terrible.
7. NO ESCAPIN' THIS (FEAT. GREG NICE & CLAUDETTE SIERRA)
The first single from the project attempts to be the street corner found at the intersection of “Off The Books” and “Watch Out Now”, with a dash of “Turn It Out” thrown in for good measure (as Greg Nice forces his way back onto the album for this track). However, “No Escapin' This” suffers by not being as instantly catchy as those other three tracks I just named. Regardless of what I wrote during “Contact”, it's now blatantly obvious that Psycho Lester and Junkyard Juju are, in fact, phoning this shit in. Groan.
8. WHO'S COMIN' WIT DA SHIT NA (FEAT. WILLIE STUBZ & ANGIE)
The 'Nuts finally wake up and apologize to the listener for being less than engaging for the past five tracks, choosing a pretty catchy beat to serve up their trademarked brand of jokes, praise (for themselves, mostly), and casual threats, and the results work out well, as da shit is pretty entertaining na. The hook is elementary at best, but culminates in the titular phrase, which is contagious. The way Juju says, “You don't know me, homey”, is much cooler than it has any right to be, too. Willie Stubz guests.
9. LET'S GIT DOE (FEAT. FATMAN SCOOP & ZHANA)
The presence of a shout-happy Fatman Scoop, whose entire existence must be on the cusp of a catchphrase of some sort, renders “Let's Git Doe” to be the biggest, most obvious cash grab in the entire Beatnuts catalog. (Now that I think of it, I don't think I've ever heard Scoop not shouting commands at people. That's a depressing and lonely way to live, son.) It doesn't technically sound terrible (Juju, especially, sounds inspired, weirdly), but, and this will sound strange, the radio-friendliness of the entire affair (I'm discounting the cursing, obviously) turned me off completely. I want the radio to start playing Beatnuts songs: I don't want The Beatnuts creating songs for the radio. You two know what I'm trying to say, right?
10. HOOD THANG (FEAT. MISS LOCA & CHRIS CHANDLER)
A sex rap so corny and awkward that the hook actually includes the phrase “Have sex with me”. That wasn't a joke. Had the chorus been erased from the master recording, this wouldn't have been awful, as Psycho Lester and Juju sound delightfully depraved, and female rapper Miss Loca wasn't terrible (although she vanishes almost as quickly as she appears, and I'm not talking about on “Hood Thang”, I meant from our chosen genre in general). It's so bad, though, that this song would be kind of hilarious were I not so upset that I wasted money on Take It Or Squeeze It back in the day.
11. HAMMER TIME (FEAT. AL TARIQ, BLOODY MOON, MERLEY METAL, & PROBLEMZ)
A perfectly serviceable Beatnuts posse cut, featuring their ex-bandmate and two of their record crate carriers, is hindered tremendously by a goofy “hook that announces the track's title, which disrupts the flow so badly the first time it happens that the song never fully recovers. Too bad: aside from that bit of nonsense, this wasn't a bad track so much as a horribly misguided one. And when a hip hop album fumbles the ball on a fucking posse cut, you know you have a problem on your hands.
12. U DON'T WANT IT (FEAT. TRIPLE SEIS)
Regardless of the attempt at a slightly darker sound, “U Don't Want It” not only left me nonplussed, it also correctly guessed how I would feel about it. Not many rap songs have proven psychic abilities, so this impressed me much more than it should have.
After nearly a full minute of false starts, Psycho Les delivers a quick single verse that fails to enchant, entertain, or hell, even enrage the listener: I was left feeling completely indifferent to this shit. The music underneath was repetitive, and Juju hardly factors into the track, even though he makes you think that he's about to jump in with a verse. The entire song sounds like a practical joke played on the audience, but one that the participants gave up on about halfway through. There's no reason to ever subject yourselves to this tarted-up interlude.
14. SE ACABO (REMIX) (FEAT. METHOD MAN)
Take It Or Squeeze It ends with a remix to one of the finest songs on A Musical Massacre, a mostly Spanish-language composition entitled “Se Acabo (It's Over)” that not only closed out that previous effort, it also pushed The Beatnuts to new heights in this rap shit, proving their versatility while still managing to retain older heads. So of course this English-language remake (not an English translation, mind you) abandons all of that goodwill in favor if accessibility. The instrumental still bangs, as it is the exact same as the original, but both Juju and Psycho Lester sound bored out of their goddamned minds to have to revisit this well so quickly. (This remix was originally released as on vinyl way back in 1999, back when the original version was starting to take off. So yes, our hosts just got away with putting a two-year old song on the album and passing it off as “new”.) Guest star Method Man, who inadvertently becomes the biggest star on the project, even trumping The Beatnuts themselves, seems game for anything, as he tends to be, but he doesn't quite mesh with the beat, and the end result is a dull throbbing headache right behind your eyes that ibuprofen doesn't seem to knock out. What a waste.
FINAL THOUGHTS: As A Musical Massacre at least had the potential of being a (mild) crossover hit (I still contend that it's the duo's Moment Of Truth), it makes sense to me that The Beatnuts would try to avoid all of those trappings for their follow-up, so as not to alienate the fans that had stuck around up to this point. However, Psycho Les and Juju forgot to make Take It Or Squeeze It an entertaining experience: most of these songs just land with a thud, taking up valuable space until someone hopefully comes in to sweep all of this shit off of your hard drive. The Beatnuts still love their crate digging, and their lyrics mirror the same subject matter (drugs, drunks, girls, fucking you up, and the like) as they always have, but that formula just doesn't click this time around, as Take It Or Squeeze It is the duo's worst album I've written about thus far. It's mystifying to me that the duo could finally land on a winning formula with A Musical Massacre and then completely cock up the follow-up, but it just happened, and now I'm a tad bit upset about it, because bad music makes me indifferent, but squandered potential makes me sad.
BUY OR BURN? The fuck do you think?
BEST TRACKS: “It's Da Nuts”, but only if I'm feeling generous and if the sun is aligned with Venus
ALSO: Let me use this space to talk about what happened in the comments section of the previous post. As I expected when I included all that Brand Nubian Reader Review shit in there, it quickly devolved into both juvenile name-calling and a question of my own integrity as a critic (read: guy who writes a blog that two people read, yet still holds enough influence to piss you all off as necessary), in that I seem to only address the homophobic content in rap songs when it suits me and my argument, and that I somehow believe it to be okay when people like Ghostface Killah or The Notorious B.I.G. say incredibly fucked-up things in that vein.
Here's the deal: it's not okay for ANYONE to do it. Not Tyler, the Creator: not Biggie; not The Beatnuts; not Eminem; not Necro; not Jay-Z; not Lord Jamar. All of this homophobia in hip hop is an extension of playground childishness, where little kids call each other fucked-up names without understanding the true meaning of what they are saying, which then evolved into teenagers calling others “faggot” and “queer” merely because they couldn't come up with another way to chastise someone for acting differently from them or “being gay”, whatever the fuck that means. Hip hop, in its very nature, is antagonistic, aggressive, and more than a little bit childish, so, unfortunately, this way of thinking of course found its way into our chosen genre. And it saddens me whenever I hear ANY rapper, not just the ones I like on that list that doesn't exist, resorts to that kind of name-calling, because a healthy percentage of the time they just couldn't think up some other clever insult and chose to take the easy way out, probably not realizing the scope of what it was they were actually saying. It is encouraging that there appears to be an overall shift in tone within hip hop currently, but we still have a long way to go.
I do tend to gloss over this content throughout my reviews because my blog simply isn't about that: it's about trying to accept the music as a whole, not the sum of its parts, and there are plenty of things about even some of your favorite artists that you can't fucking stand, and yet they're still your favorite artists. This is why people still watch Woody Allen or Roman Polanski films, and why people still purchase Chris Brown's or R. Kelly's albums. If I decided to pick apart every objectionable line in every song I ever listened to, this blog would take on a much different tone (and each post would be much longer, but not necessarily better), one which doesn't interest me, as I don't like being preached at while listening to something I enjoy or second-guessing whether I can or should still like a product or not. Also, the posts would be boring as shit, as I would constantly find myself saying the exact same thing, and this site wouldn't be long for this world. As such, the only reason it seems that I pick and choose when I get offended by this is merely because I don't always mention those lyrics in my posts. That doesn't mean it slips past me: I'm just trying to see the forest for the trees. One could use the same argument against the rampant misogyny in hip hop, or the excessively violent content, or the constant use of the (misspelled version of the) n-word to such a mind-numbing degree that it doesn't even mean anything anymore (which somehow gave other races the justification they needed to start referring to their own members as such, which is some stupid shit I will never understand, given the actual, correctly-spelled version and what it continues to represent to this day), all of which are standard traits of the genre and must be tolerated, if not fully accepted, when you listen to as much of it as I have in my lifetime, but if you nitpick on every single thing that is wrong with hip hop, then how could you ever enjoy it? Or anything? Yeah, I realize some of you can turn that statement against me and my criticisms of the dumb shit I continue to see in music trends, but you wouldn't still be reading this site if you didn't agree with me at least a little bit.
As for those of you trying to turn this into some sort of freedom of speech bullshit: I'm not taking any rapper's decision to hate gays and lesbians away. They can do whatever the fuck they want, and believe whatever they want, as long as they're not infringing on anyone else's rights. If Lord Jamar really feels that way to this day, fine; there's nothing I can or will do about it. Those are his beliefs, and he can say whatever he wants. If Necro wants agree with him and also refer to Macklemore's output to the degree mentioned in that infamous comments section, which I'm not reprinting because it's a really goddamn juvenile attack, so be it. These are his opinions. Whatever. I could give a shit. He can say whatever he wants. But that doesn't mean that he's correct with each and every opinion of his: if that were the case, they would be called “facts”. This blog is chock-full of my own opinions, which I believe are the correct in some cases and the only logical way to view things in others, but you may not feel the same way. Such is life. We're going to disagree. But getting back to the main reason this rant started, in the grand scheme of things, what is really going to affect you the most in your lifetime: knowing that there are gay people out there, some of whom want to legally be together and who never fucking bother you, or, say, knowing that the government is infringing on your right to privacy? Everyone who is still upset about all of this should pick their battles more carefully: there are much more important, frightening things going on in this world, and boosting your ego by trolling a hip hop blog behind the mask of your computer screen and calling me out for not being consistently offended (at least as it shows in my writing) by the same objectionable content, regardless of the vehicle, is not only shortsighted and missing the entire point of this site, but it also makes you look like a fucking child. Which you probably are, but still.
TL:DR: Fuck you. Thanks for reading!
You're still here after all that? Shit. Well, there's more to read on The Beatnuts if you click here.