The Beatnuts have come to represent many sides of the world of hip-hop. To hip-hop historians, they are a cornerstone of East Coast Latino gangsta rap. To casual listeners and MTV viewers, the Beatnuts are responsible for the catchy “Watch Out Now,” with the beat that nobody can ever whistle on key.
With the promise of a new independent album dropping Oct. 22, the Beatnuts took the stage at Toad’s Place Tuesday night. Even with this newfound freedom from record label influence, however, the Beatnuts will have to work very hard prove that they are still relevant. To some hip-hop purists, the Beatnuts are already a fading memory, now spiraling downward in the toilet of contemporary commercial rap.
The Corona, Queens duo of Psycho Les and Junkyard JuJu — collectively known as the Beatnuts — started making beats for the underground scene in the 1980s. In 1993 the Beatnuts’ released their first recording, the hard-hitting “Intoxicated Demons EP,” and followed it with their classic self-titled album one year later. Both albums featured immaculate production and lyrics that were simultaneously edgy and brilliantly puerile (“I make bitches/ Make me sandwiches/ And scratch my ass when it itches”).
The first few albums by the Beatnuts depicted a time when even the wealthiest rappers couldn’t afford Bentleys, and when MCs and DJs were underground heroes rather than cultural icons. These earlier albums also extended hip-hop’s influence deeper into Latino culture.
When “Stone Crazy” was released in 1997, the Beatnuts already had a cult fan base. “A Musical Massacre,” which came out in 1999, finally broke through into the mainstream, complete with a music video for “Watch Out Now.” The deliriously catchy flute-driven beat lodged itself in the heads of music fans everywhere.
Though still a good album, the Beatnuts’ 2001 release “Take It Or Squeeze It” showed signs of the decline in creativity that plagues a tragically large percentage of successful hip-hop artists. The beats suddenly sounded a bit too polished for the group’s classically gritty sound, and the lyrics sounded more radio-friendly than ever before.
The group stopped by Toad’s on the current tour for their forthcoming album, “The Originators.” Fans were treated to several classics, including 1994’s jazzy “Props Over Here,” as well as recent hits (“No Escapin’ This,” “Turn It Out”). Additionally, the ‘Nuts performed a couple of tracks from the upcoming album. Despite the lack of record industry influence on this new material, the songs performed showed signs of mediocrity and the decay of a once truly fundamental hip-hop artist.
Psycho Les, along with fellow Terror Squad member Triple Seis, paraded around the front of the stage in classic crowd-hyping style. JuJu hung near the back of the stage most of the night, only coming into the foreground for (big surprise) “Watch Out Now,” during which around 20 female audience members were asked to join the group onstage.
This performance was the highlight of the Beatnuts’ brief set as, in accordance with the song’s hook, the group assured the audience that “The girls don’t only love me/ They love you!” Some of the girls may have debated this lyric, most notably the especially young-looking brunette who repeatedly shrunk away from Triple Seis’ advances.
As tends to be the case with hip-hop shows at Toad’s, the opening acts nearly overshadowed the headliners. East Coast sensations 7L & Esoteric were joined onstage midset by Apathy, a Connecticut native. They performed Apathy’s masterpiece of tongue-twisting braggadocio, “Just Begun.”
Special guests Non Phixion came on right before the Beatnuts took the stage. It was evident by the crowd’s reaction that a fair percentage of the audience was there mostly for Non Phixion, whose summer release “The Future Is Now” is perhaps the best hip-hop album of the year.
The show did not disappoint. The Beatnuts demonstrated that, even if their musical progress has dead-ended, they can still keep a crowd’s attention. And for true fans of hip-hop, the acts preceding the Beatnuts’ performance was an exciting display of burgeoning artists to keep an eye on.