Having been heavily back into the first Beatnut’s full-length over the last fortnight or so, I realised that I’ve actually rarely touched upon their work here at FDB. This strikes me as somewhat bizarre because despite only coming around to their material after devouring the more obvious production big-hitters, they still hold a special place in my heart as one of my favourite crews to ever do it behind the boards. OK, so they’ve ended up falling off post-2000 (who hasn’t?), but I still generally find their more recent music to be more enjoyable and imaginative than other outfits who have managed to maintain that same balance between underground respectability and mainstream success (see Dilated Peoples), and that’s saying something given that the inaugural Intoxicated Demons EP dropped in 1993. It’s probably no surprise to you that Street Level has endured as my favorite album from their back catalogue, and so it is that ‘Straight Jacket’ finds itself under the figurative digital microscope today.
What I’ve learned to appreciate about the Nuts since getting into the sample side of things is that those boys dug deep in the quest for funky musical fodder (perhaps that should be ‘dig’: there’s supposedly an album coming next year). Although looking over some of their sample credits reveals a lot of familiar names and breaks, there are also a few bits and pieces nestled in there that demonstrate an individual, artistic approach to the art of digging that is made even more impressive by a handful of songs that will be immortalised as their own unique find (here’s a decent example). Of course this is a quality shared by pretty much all of the production greats, but there’s something enjoyably kooky about some of the Beatnuts’ samples choices that I find endearing as it seems to communicate a passion for unearthing something truly original before transforming it into a very different beast (see corresponding example).
Although in terms of aesthetic The Sons’ ‘Boomp Boomp Chop’ may not seem that obscure a choice – it does after all conform to the standard smooth jazz formula that so many producers turned to during the era – the record itself has proven incredibly difficult to research. It’s not helped by the fact that the album is self-titled and that the name of the group is particularly generic, but I can’t help but feel that this is also an indication of this record’s scarcity and therefore highlights the Beatnut’s originality in its discovery. And the reason for the difficulty turns out to be down to a swift name change by psychedelic west-coast rock outfit Sons of Champlin for their second LP (shouts to reader eons for the info). The sample is easy to spot as it serves as the opening four bars of the main groove in the source material, a beautifully atmospheric mix of electric piano and guitar licks, and despite being pitched-down a little this is just a straight loop. I feel like I’ve said it hundred times before by now, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Any information on The Sons or the record from which this is lifted would be much appreciated.
For drums the selection is similarly astute. Although Harry Nilsson isn’t exactly a small player in the history of music, he doesn’t come to mind immediately when you think of hard-hitting snares, and yet it is from his song ‘Rainmaker’ that the Beatnuts source the percussion that propels ‘Straight Jacket’ forwards with such ferocity. As with The Sons’ groove this also appears to be looped, although extra snares add the necessary detailing and the step up in pace makes this a break to be reckoned with: in some ways I’m surprised that it hasn’t been used a little more widely. The album from which it is taken entitled Harry comes from the earlier stages of his career, released on RCA in 1969, and although I’d like to make some comment about how this work fits into the Nilsson catalogue in all honesty I haven’t got a clue. Yet another musical avenue to explore at some stage…
The ODB vocal sample as hook works wonderfully well, but there are so many other small nuances to comment on here that certify this is a masterfully executed chunk of mid-’90s hip hop music. The running water that disappears after the first eight bars makes the drop into drums all the more glorious, and the use of an unidentifiable high-pitched chirp that intermittently appears throughout the song adds another layer of interest which despite being relatively subtle adds real character to the beat. Then you got the switch in the main groove into the bass heavy riff and some tastefully placed sax to take into account and what you’re left with a beat that is at once perfectly simple whilst masking an underlying complexity.
I’m on a serious Beatnuts tip at the moment so I wouldn’t be surprised if they crop up again in the near future. They have got the funk, after all.