Happy 25th Anniversary to The Beatnuts’ debut EP Intoxicated Demons: The EP, originally released April 6, 1993.
I used to listen to the Beatnuts’ Intoxicated Demons: The EP (1993) so much that people hated me. As a high school senior, I bought the tape at Leopold’s in Berkeley, CA on a Saturday after seeing the video for “Reign of the Tec” and an ad for the EP in The Source during the same week. I put it in my Kenwood tape deck on the way home, and it immediately hooked me.
From that point on, Intoxicated Demons got the Mecca And The Soul Brother treatment from me, in that it didn’t leave my car’s stereo for a LONG time. The tape only left my deck when I went for rides in my friends’ cars, where I always insisted that we listen to it. Eventually they got sick of it. And sick of me for playing it.
And I didn’t give a fuck, because Intoxicated Demons is just that great. I’m comfortable with calling this 25-minute masterpiece the best hip-hop EP of all time. It showcases some of the best beats and production stylings of the era, plus it’s entertaining lyrically. Twenty-five years later, it still holds up damn well.
The Beatnuts, made up of Lester “Psycho Les” Fernandez, Jerry “JuJu” Tineo, and Bertony “Fashion” Smalls, first made their name as producers and DJs. As a two-man operation (Les & JuJu) they’ve been affiliated with heavyweights like the Natives Tongues collective and Large Professor since the late ’80s. They got their start by producing a song on Monie Love’s debut album and worked behind the boards for the Stereo MC’s.
As the Beatnuts’ profile grew, they did production work for artists like Common (Sense), Da Lench Mob, Kurious, and Shazzy. The group enjoyed their first substantial acclaim for producing Chi-Ali’s debut album The Fabulous Chi-Ali almost in its entirety. By that time, they had added expanded their lineup to include Fashion, who wrote Chi-Ali’s lyrics on the album. They eventually hooked up with legendary manager Baby Chris, signed a deal with Relativity Records, and released Intoxicated Demons in 1993.
The Beatnuts were some of the first hip-hop artists to make the transition from working exclusively as producers to building a career as rappers. And they’re top notch when it comes to both rapping and producing. They’ve flourished in both fields over the last quarter century by dropping rugged rhymes over immaculately conceived beats.
The group distinguishes themselves on Intoxicated Demons with their production. The crew were legendary crate diggers, known for raiding record stores throughout the eastern seaboard. The early to mid ’90s were known as the golden era of crate digging, and The Beatnuts were amongst the best in this field. They created their sound sampling obscure funk, soul, and jazz albums and 45s.The Beatnuts definitely knew their shit when it came to soul and jazz; the cover of Intoxicated Demons is a tribute to tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley’s The Turnaround!, a fairly obscure mid ’60s jazz album recorded for the revered Blue Note Records label.
Lyrically, The Beatnuts vibe was pure hedonism. The trio spend most of Intoxicated Demons reveling in debauchery. Sure, they celebrate their crate-digging prowess on songs like the EP’s opener “World Famous,” but “Psycho Dwarf” serves as the mission statement for the group’s entire career.
Over a horn-driven track with a deep but understated bassline, JuJu and Psycho Les present themselves as rowdy shit-starters wading into pools of sin. JuJu leads off his first verse by rapping, “Well, it’s the junkyard n***a with the funk flow screaming / Hardcore, crazy bad breath like a demon / Retarded from birth see I ain’t got no class / I used to fart in church and tell the preacher kiss my ass.” Meanwhile, Les brags that he’s “Flippin’ through loops like a lunatic dolphin / I’m back, reincarnated / Psycho Les runnin’ through the graveyard intoxicated.” The chorus really drives the point home, as they repeatedly chant, “I WANNA FUCK, DRINK BEER, AND SMOKE SOME SHIT!” It doesn’t get much simpler than this.
The first single “Reign of the Tec” is also the EP’s strongest song. The track melds rocking yet psychedelic guitars with warped, fuzzy horns. Lyrically, Les and JuJu are in pure street raps mode, threatening to kill your mother and whacking chumps over the head with a shovel (replete with an amazingly realistic sound effect). JuJu raps, “It’s the gun-slinging lunatic demons outta hell / Intoxicated punks letting off a bad smell / Beatnuts forever, die hard motherfuckers / Low-key deadly, taking out all suckers.”
Fashion had limited presence on Intoxicated Demons, since he was serving time in jail for drug charges during the EP’s creation. He first appears on “No Equal,” the second single and the only track on the EP that features all three members. The trio all contribute solid verses over a melodic vibraphone loop and a meandering trumpet sample, but Fashion is the standout, rapping,” Barely another who can test the cool Fash / Asses I kick into ashes, dumping trashes / So don't riff, ’cause I flow swift like the Nile, son / Tame is for plain Jane fame, I'm a wild one.”
Fashion is the only member of the group to get a solo song on Intoxicated Demons, as he flexes his skills on “A Third of the Trio.” The song is an exercise in twisting and turning his flow, varying and molding his cadences over a solid, drum-heavy track. He teams with Les to close the EP with “Story,” where both contribute extremely raunchy verses about their sexual adventures.
The Beatnuts also demonstrate their exceptional acumen for production on the interludes throughout the album. Even a skit that features their engineer talking shit (literally titled “Engineer Talking Shit”) features a beat that was better than roughly 90% of the stuff other artists were rapping over. “Quality & The Bushmen Off the Top” showcases the freestyle skills of Quality rhyming over an ill trumpet loop. To my knowledge, this is sadly Quality’s only appearance on record.
Intoxicated Demons marked the beginning of an unlikely, storied career for the Beatnuts. They’ve put together a quietly underrated and superior discography that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the body of work of any hip-hop artist. Intoxicated Demons still remains one of their best projects, and probably the one I enjoy the most (along with their first proper album, 1994’s Street Level), and has a ton of replay value. To this day, every time I decide to listen to it, I end up playing the entire thing at least three times. It’s so good that it’s worth your friends’ disdain.