By 1994 The Beatnuts had strongly established themselves as one of the best east coast production teams in hip-hop by producing tracks for several different artist (Common, Da Youngstas, Chi-Ali and Kurious just to name a few, and the list would only continue to grow). The trio of JuJu, Fashion and Psycho Les were so respected as producers that they were able to parlay their clout into a record deal with Violator Records, releasing their debut project Intoxicated Demons: The EP in the spring of 1993 (read my thoughts on that project here). The EP didn’t do major numbers, but it was well-received by the hip-hop community and set the stage for The Beatnuts first full-length album, Street Level, released the following year.
Other than two tracks, The Beatnuts would handle all the production duties for Street Level. What may come as a surprise to some is that the trio would handle all of the microphone duties, with only two guests stopping by to contribute cameos. Like their debut EP, Street Level received favorable review with only modest album sells.
But forget sells, it’s all about the Street Level reaction. Right?
Intro – The Nuts kick Street Level off with a decent hard backdrop that ends just in time not to get annoying.
Ya Don’t Stop – Lucien (yes, the same Lucien that ATCQ’s “Luck Of Lucien” was written about…Tribe Degrees of Separation: check) hooks up a dope xylophone loop and builds this ill dark instrumental around it. Each of the trio spit a verse and manage not to embarrass themselves, but you’ll definitely enjoy the backdrop.
Props Over Here – This was the lead single from Street Level. The trio lay down a smooth groove with a dope bass line underneath it, as each of them spit a verse. JuJu, who is easily the best rapper out of the three, outshines his buddies and sounds comfortable spitting over the mid-tempo backdrop. Despite the lazy hook, this song still sounds great 25 years later.
Hellraiser – The Nuts hook up a (no pun intended) fire instrumental for this one. Again, you don’t listen to a Beatnuts’ album for their stellar lyricism, you listen to it for stellar instrumentals, like this one. As the song fades out the instrumental for the original version of this song plays (you can easily find that version on the web or streaming sites). I actually like the subdued vibe of the O.G. version, but they made the right decision putting this version on the proper album.
Are You Ready – Can I get a question mark for the song title, please? Anyways…Grand Puba stops by and joins JuJu and Les on the mic as they each spit a verse, and Puba easily out performs his gracious hosts. Unfortunately, the V.I.C. produced instrumental is too boring to waste a Grand Puba verse on.
Superbad – Well, I wouldn’t say it’s super bad, but it was mildly unenjoyable.
Straight Jacket – The Nuts beautiful instrumental sounds like a little taste of heaven, and the Ol’ Dirty Bastard vocal sample on the hook was a nice added touch.
Let Off A Couple – The fellas lay down an extremely pretty instrumental and do exactly what the song title suggests on the mic. As usual, JuJu outshines his intoxicated companions, but the instrumental is the true star of this one.
Rik’s Joint – This is my favorite song on Street Level. Fashion and Juju each spit verses and don’t say anything worth quoting, but every time I hear this smooth instrumental it stirs my emotions and feels so damn good.
Fried Chicken – I love fried chicken (living up to stereotype), but this batch could stand to cook in the oven a little longer.
Yeah You Get Props – Not to be confused with “Props Over Here”, even though it does recycle a part of that song’s hook for the hook on this song. This is clearly filler material (which really isn’t necessary for a 17 track album), but it’s still decent.
Get Funky – The Nuts steer the ship back in the right direction with this one. They build the smooth instrumental around a laid back funky guitar loop, and like most of Street Level, they spew nonsense over it.
Hit Me With That – This shit is hard. The Nuts hook-up rough drums, lay a thick bass line and sprinkle the illest xylophone loop I’ve ever heard (at least this week) over it. This one is super sick.
2-3 Break – A la Gang Starr’s “I’m The Man” and “Speak Ya Clout”, The Beatnuts hook-up three different instrumentals and each take one of them to spit a verse over (with JuJu being the generous guy and sharing his verse with Gab from Triflicts). But unlike Guru, Jeru and Lil’ Dap, The Beatnuts (and Gab) fail to delivery lyrical or musically.
Lick The Pussy – Fashion goes dolo and speaks about one of his favorite pastimes. Props to Fashion, as most rappers in the pseudo masculine hardcore hip-hop world that was the mid-nineties would never admit to taking part in this sexual delicacy. But even more tasty is the Nuts instrumental, which is built around a sexy loop from Tyron Davis’ “In The Mood” (which was also the source material for MC Eiht’s “All For The Money”, released later the same year…but I digress). Listening to this was almost as enjoyable as…eating pussy.
Sandwiches – This is Psycho Les’ solo joint. Over an instrumental that sounds a lot like something Muggs would have created, Les spits one lone verse filled with complete and utter nonsense (at one point he brags about having an “ostrich size dick”). This was super juvenile and pointless.
Psycho Dwarf – This was also included on the Intoxicated Demons EP, and it sounds just as trash as it did the first time around.
On Street Level The Beatnuts give you exactly what you expect from them: Passable rhymes over a quality batch of beats. Like most albums, there are a handful of tracks that should have been left on the cutting room, but the majority of Street Level will keep your face screwed and your head bobbin’.