The Beatnuts

The Beatnuts with Bishop at Chocolate
(218 Richmond West), tonight (Thursday,
June 19), 11 pm, doors 9 pm. $15 advance,
$20 door. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN

There’s good reason why the Beatnuts are known as the Intoxicated Demons, and you don’t need to see Psycho Les and Junkyard JuJu getting tanked in a strip joint to figure it out. From their first underground party rocker, Psycho Dwarf – whose “I wanna fuck, drink beer and smoke some shit” tag line makes it a shout-along showstopper 10 years on – to more recent brew-hoisting classics like Buying Out The Bar, off The Originators (LandSpeed) disc, the Beatnuts are proud of their rep as the hiphop world’s ultimate party animals.

While their flossin’-friendly contemporaries are busy selling bullshit Lexus helicopter fantasies to project playas, Psycho Les and JuJu are inviting everyone to join them in getting high and getting down. It’s that all-inclusive approach that makes the Beatnuts brand of hiphop hedonism so attractive.

“When I first met JuJu,” recalls Psycho Les from his home in Queens, “we were both kids on the street with nothin’ better to do than drink and drink, mess around with some girls, drink some more and then maybe go out to a party.

“By playing records at those house parties and clubs, we could see what would get the crowds going. So we’d go back to the basement and try to make some party music. We never stopped making party music.

“The stuff we do ain’t for everybody. If you want to hear some socially conscious joints, pick up a record by Dead Prez, Common or the Roots. But if you wanna wild out with some funky beats, then you need to come to us.”

The Track Masters writing/production team appears to be making a career of doing just that. Back in 97, when Will Smith’s Men In Black theme needed to be funked up, they sampled the same Patrice Rushen jazzy disco tune, Forget Me Nots, that the Beatnuts flipped for their righteously raunchy Give Me Tha Ass, released just a few months before.

A coincidence? Perhaps.

But then came Jenny From The Block. The chart-topper the Track Masters produced for Jennifer Lopez was built around a catchy flute loop and beat structure strangely similar to that used by the Beatnuts for Watch Out Now. Yet the Beatnuts aren’t credited as writers or arrangers on Lopez’s This Is Me… Then album.

Psycho Les isn’t convinced lightning has struck twice.

“Because Sony owned the rights to Will Smith’s music and ours, when the Men In Black thing came out they stopped promoting our record and put their resources into pushing his. Whatever, the street knows ours was better.

“Anybody familiar with our music who heard Jenny From The Block knew it was a Beatnuts beat. There’s no getting around it. That’s a straight-up bite. It’s the same drums, the same flute, the same tempo… everything is our idea. If we never flipped that sample, there would be no Jenny From The Block.”

So far the Beatnuts’ attempts at resolving the matter with the Track Masters have been unsuccessful. If the latter had been familiar with Beatnuts’ score-settling narratives like Reign Of The Tec and Let Off A Couple, chances are this matter would’ve already been settled. Who would want to tangle with anyone named Psycho Les?

“Our lawyer was on the speaker phone with Corey Rooney (from the Track Masters), and this Rooney guy just started screaming. When I jumped in and told him to calm down, he started yelling at me.

“I said, ‘Yo, hold up, I don’t work for you.’ But he kept on screaming. So I was like, ‘Whatever. I’ll see you when I see you,’ and he hung up.”

The sample at the centre of the controversy is taken from the song Hi-Jack, originally recorded by the 70s jazz-rock group Barrabas and popularized by Herbie Mann. So some have argued that since anyone could’ve grabbed a copy of Herbie Mann’s HiJack and chopped it, the Beatnuts have no beef.

Only the Beatnuts didn’t use the Herbie Mann version or even the Barrabas take. Psycho Les and JuJu take far too much pride in uncovering obscure breaks to use something as obvious as a Herbie Mann disco joint.

During the course of our interview, JuJu stops the conversation frequently to play me his latest discoveries, the jaw-dropper being a soundtrack record from a Colombian children’s television program.

Their deep-digging diligence was also rewarded with that now-familiar flute loop, which they found on a largely overlooked version of Hi-jack whose performer the Beatnuts would rather not divulge.

“People like Q-Tip and some others have been saying we flipped the Herbie Mann track, but that shit we used wasn’t Herbie Mann’s Hi-Jack it was some other jazzy Project 3 shit. If you listen to Herbie Mann’s version you can barely even hear the flute part. It ain’t even close.

“We’ll have our lawyers sort this out, believe me.”

The Beatnuts, confident they will prevail in any court battle, are taking a break from piecing together their next album, which they say will involve “more live instruments,” to make a rare Toronto appearance tonight (Thursday, June 19) at Chocolate. They’re setting aside time in their schedule for crate research and other leisurely activities.

“I always look forward to coming to Toronto because of the beautiful women, and also because Canada has the best pot in the world,” insists Psycho Les.

“There’s also some great record spots in Toronto,” adds JuJu. “I’ve got a whole houseful of records and probably most of the disco singles I’ll ever need, but the last time I was in Toronto I went to Cosmos and got a copy of Jackie Robinson’s Pussyfooter 12-inch. Oh, man – Pussyfooter? Forget about it. I went crazy.

“For a while I was into the sound library shit, but that was just a phase – I’m over it now. Lately, I’ve been getting into the foreign stuff from all over eastern Europe and South America. I’ve already found some amazing records, so believe me, you’re gonna hear us loopin’ some crazy Polish jazz shit soon. Just watch!”

Compare for yourself

“Anybody familiar with our music
who heard Jenny From The Block knew it
was a Beatnuts beat. There’s no getting
around it. That’s a straight-up bite. It’s the
same drums, the same flute, the same
tempo… everything is our idea. If we never
flipped that sample, there would be no
Jenny From The Block.”

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