Happy 20th Anniversary to The Beatnuts’ second studio album Stone Crazy, originally released June 24, 1997.
There are certain names that when invoked during happy hour or water cooler whispers of hip-hop’s Boom Bap Era, are almost assured to gain a special nod of approval. Whether from the former college dorm rap scholar or ex-hustler dropping by his local barbershop, one of the precious gems held sacred, as one of the key passwords that make a “backpacker” official, is the injection of the Corona, Queens and Jackson-Heights duo of Psycho Les and Junkyard JuJu into a hip-hop conversation.
The duo that comprise the legendary production team The Beatnuts gained a strong following in the underground hip-hop circuit during the early ‘90s. The group’s nearly unmatched work ethic since their days within the elite circle of Native Tongues affiliates payed off right before the eyes of their growing fan base, as their already high sound quality seemed to improve every time they emerged on a mixtape, B-Side remix, or in the credits of the standout record on your favorite rapper’s LP.
After earning a street rep for being stalwart sharpshooters with weapons zeroed on the pulse of the street, the group decided to express their passion for the culture on the opposite side of the boards, in the form of releasing an EP entitled Intoxicated Demons in 1993. Holding their own amongst the crowded landscape of talented rappers and producers, the group showed their first signs of brilliance with their freshman outing. “No Equal,” which served as the final single of the EP, displayed the group’s keen ear for music with precise extractions of Willis Jackson’s tenor saxophone from the Harlem Underground Band’s cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
Propelled by their blue collar resume as remix specialists and the warm reception that their inaugural EP received, the Dominican Republic and Columbian connection made further inroads with their 1994 debut full-length The Beatnuts: Street Level, featuring “Props Over Here,” their modest hit single with the sophisticated jazz arrangement.
Now having earned a truly sincere admiration for their war chest and ink pens, The Beatnuts stepped out once again for their third installment, 1997’s Stone Crazy. The album showcased their mastery of their musical sancocho, with the sweet and sour combinations of ‘70s American funk samples flavorfully stirred with their Latin American influence. The sprinkling of humor from cartoon snippets of the Electric Company only added to their distinction and made the album an unforgettable experience altogether.
Leading the charge with “Do You Believe?,” the duo proved themselves in the elite class of formidable, lyrical beat-architects, as their somber recollections of gunplay over the Los Angeles Negros’ “Fueron Tres Anos” made for one of the most memorable underground street bangers of the spring into the early summer of ‘97.
Best known as the introduction for many to the late great Christopher Rios a.k.a. Big Punisher, Stone Crazy scored huge with its second single “Off the Books.” The much needed Latino celebration, which also featured original Terror Squad member Cuban Linx, highlighted The Beatnuts’ signature sound, which for the moment had risen to mainstream status. The duo seized the opportunity with the assistance of Big Pun’s top caliber microphone skills, where he complemented the head-nodding production with memorable bars such as, “Hey yo it's all love, but love's got a thin line / and Pun's got a big nine, respect crime but not when it reflect mine.” Even the video seemed cathartic, as the all-white-garb party featured the Bronx Don Fat Joe and radio queen Angie Martinez joining the festival for the too often overlooked heritage that has enriched hip-hop culture from the beginning. The newfound stardom was a great look for the highly respected tandem, who seemed hospitable hosting the coming out party for the future crowned prince of Latino hip-hop.
The album is a testament to the group’s superior musical savvy and steady lyrical growth, which is explicit in its raw street detailing and sexual extravaganzas. Mostly solemn in its accounts of survival in the borough of Queens, the group’s neighbors from Queensbridge, Hostyle and Blaq Poet of Screwball, drop in for a thugged-out ode to the ruggedness of the native land with “Thinking Bout Cash.”
At the top of my list of groups that proved consistent, covering over a decade of quality music, I often invoke The Beatnuts alongside more widely recognized duos like Gang Starr, Mobb Deep, OutKast, and even EPMD.
Stone Crazy sits right in the middle of an impeccable catalog, as a bridge between The Beatnuts’ early and fun-filled days on the periphery of the Native Tongues collective and their later years when they grew to become more introspective, collaborating with revolutionary acts like Dead Prez.
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