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'Nuts to You

Beatnuts, Sonar, Feb. 3

Frank Hamilton
REIGN OF MEH: Juju gets the crowd sorta kinda hyped at Sonar.

By Jason Torres | Posted 2/7/2007

The Beatnuts are the kind of hip-hop act that will never do anything other than what they're doing now, musically or professionally. They'll also probably never complain about the size of their audience--they played Sonar's smallish club stage--but if they did, no one but a bunch of neo-backpackers and 30-and-over rap fans would hear them anyway.

And they're good at what they do, which is produce lush, weird, and intricate funk tracks, punctuated with drunken jazz samples characterized by heavy bass plucks and cloudy, looped phrases on the hook. Their most recent tracks have been laced with a more Spanish vibe, which is dope, but most sound like they were produced for a 1993-era hard-core rap record. And lyrically almost nothing has changed for the Beatnuts since '93: Content-wise, the "intoxicated demons" are still all about "take money-money, take money-money-money," getting pussy, and firing pistols, in both English and Spanish.

We're into that. But even as fans we were a tiny bit disappointed by what we saw Saturday night at Sonar. Maybe we're getting old. Maybe the opening acts--Rosetta Stoned, Planet SB, and Real 2 Real--didn't excite us enough. Maybe we like the 'Nuts too much to watch them struggle to get the crowd hyped for the first few minutes of a set. Or maybe the Beatnuts need to tweak their set so it actually grabs us from the get go.

Honestly, we've made Beatnuts mixtapes that were more fun. And as good of a song as "No Equal" is, the hazy bass line, fuzzy A Tribe Called Quest sample, and xylophone plings work better as a groove, an interlude, or even part of an old-school medley than as a set-opening song. Played in its stoned entirety no less.

Eventually we started having fun as the 'Nuts ran through a string of favorites--"Watch Out Now," "Off the Books," and "No Escapin' This"--creating an actual party vibe that resulted in chicks climbing onstage as Psycho Les held down the DJ role with chopped beats and scratched records. Both rappers chipped in on hype-man duty, and Juju moved the crowd at the front, attempting to coax the ladies who "danced" onstage into showing some skin while Les played Bob Marley tracks.

Old-school call-and-response tactics were sprinkled in throughout--"When I say hip, y'all say hop," etc.--and served as a frightening reminder of how long it's been since we were in high school. But it was still a nice trip down memory lane and a reminder of how seriously the Beatnuts take their old-school roots, opting for a chronological song set as opposed to one that would have kept people not at the front from grabbing beers during the middle of the show.

All in all, this show proved to us that we're not that old, that Sonar needs either another pool table or no pool table at all, and that the 'Nuts are some old-school, real-deal artists, which is actually fine by us. "You ain't never heard drums like that before" Juju shouted over a new Beatnuts track, which is allegedly due in 2008, and actually sounded like a perfect evolution of their "junkyard funk" sound--though he may as well have added a "you young whippersnappers" to the end of that statement.

By the end of the evening, we were happy to finally see the Beatnuts live, but it didn't really feel like we partied with them. It was more like being friends with a dude who knows a dude who was known all over town as a legendary party animal, but when you finally get a chance to hang with this guy, all he does is tell you a few stories about his wild days before downing two drinks and disappearing. He's still cool, but you feel a little cheated--and the Beatnuts had to nerve not to play "Reign of Tec."

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