After a successful run of Deez Nuts, the Sascha Jenkins penned musical theater performance based on their lives and music careers, Psycho Les and Junkyard JuJu of The Beatnuts have added theater to their extensive entertainment resume. Birthplace Magazine‘s Steven Ortiz spoke with the Nuts on the final night of their performance at the 2009 Hip-Hop Theater Festival, about their history, new- versus old-school music, Big Pun and Mr. Magic.
What made you get into production vs. rapping initially? Cause you guys have always been about beats…
Psycho Les: First we started off as DJs. That was my first love. I always wanted to be really a radio DJ cat, but sampling started coming out and I liked beats so I started making my own beats little by little and that led to production. Next thing you know, they calling me a producer, so I’m like fuck it.
Junkyard JuJu: When I was younger before I even had turntables, I used to rhyme. My name used to be Eazy C, when I was like 13, 14 years old and at that time it was like you kinda did everything, all the five elements, DJ, MC, breakdance…
You used to breakdance?
Junkyard Juju: Hell yeah!
You still breakdance today?
Junkyard JuJu: No, I don’t breakdance anymore, I could still do it, but I probably be in the fuckin’ hospital, but I could still do it.
How did you get into rap music? What made you get into hip-hop?
Junkyard JuJu: Where I grew up in Corona, there were a lot of sound systems. There was a sound system called ULS and we had Stay High Crew and used to do park jams at PS 116. The Disco Twins are also from Corona. It was just amazing to me to see these niggas with these huge speakers, man. You would hear the fucken thump from a mile away. You know what I mean. Then it was like these rare grooves that you couldn’t hear on the radio. It was like undeniable. That was the spark for me.
Back when you guys first came out, it was cassettes, CD’s and LP’s. Now it’s downloads. How has the digital age affected you guys?
Psycho Les: It’s actually working pretty good because I got my own independent label now so I’m right up there with them getting all the digital sales and all that shit. It’s called Pit Fight Entertainment. We doing good. We about to release this new album through there independently. We get all the money. It’s better man. Dealing with these fuckin’ labels, they fuckin’ end up taking all the money.
Junkyard JuJu: It’s easier now to get your music out there. How’s it’s affected me? It’s really all new to me. I’m not really used to that shit, but it’s something you just have to learn to work.
If you talk to an eighteen year old and you ask him about The Beatnuts or A Tribe Called Quest, they’ll answer, ‘Who?’ Who’s fault is it that today’s kids don’t know a lot about the old school?
Psycho Les: Well, I think it’s really radio and TV because they think it’s their job to play what they want to play, really. They playing all that bullshit, that’s what the kids gonna listen to.
Junkyard JuJu: I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault really. Obviously, the powers that be: radio and everything. They have a big influence on what gets put out there. I think it’s more the responsibility of the media too. Like represent and show respect for the pioneers of this if you want them to learn it. But it’s like everybody and their mother now is a rapper or producer, especially with the home studios, and I think kids look at it more as a way of getting paid than an actual love for the art form.
The beats back in the 90’s and in the “golden era” were some rugged shit. There was a lot of jazz based sampling… Why is it that the beats today don’t hit like they did back in the day?
Psycho Les: You gotta remember man, back then, the motherfuckers that were doing the music were really street killers. We were really the street motherfuckers, stickup kids and drug dealers so this music was our way to get off the streets. Nowadays kids are born with laptops and they’re a rapper now. They have no experience in the streets. So that was the difference from back then. It was the real killer motherfuckers in the studio doing the music. Nowadays, I don’t think nobody’s really digging anymore. Everybody’s scared of samples. That took a lot away from the music ‘cause now you got a lot of non-playing motherfuckers that play corny shit. And they love it, because you know, it’s corny. Nobody really wants to take that time out no more to go digging and find good quality music.
They just want to throw something together…
Psycho Les: …quick. As long as it sounds loud and you got big 808’s and snares… Fuck that.
Junkyard JuJu: Back in the day, it was a little different. We really didn’t have niggas that knew how to play instruments. They were around, but it was a different vibe. It was more about sampling and the music, the art form itself was new. It was in the experimental stages. It was more exciting than what it is now. Like I said, everybody got freaking computer programs, Fruity Loops and all this shit… cause it all goes back to the music and the digging and the history of the music.
There’s definitely a different sound. The stuff you hear today, there’s very, very few tracks that you can say, ‘that’s decent’. A lot of it is just garbage.
Junkyard JuJu: That’s because it’s synthetic. There’s no real soul. Everybody talks about sampling like it’s a crime, but niggas like me and Les, we digging up these freaking rare grooves that you would never hear unless either us or our peers had sampled it and it’s music that was created with feeling and it’s live instruments and when we put our spin on it and chop it, that’s a lot of emotion goes into it, even the sounds. Because keyboards and all that shit- granted, there’s a lot of dudes that can rock that shit- but there’s nothing like a sample that carries that feeling.
How do you feel about Mr. Magic’s passing?
Psycho Les: He’s a legend. Definitely one of the pioneers that started the hip hop on radio. I was recording the motherfuckers every night, Magic and Red Alert going back from station to station.
Junkyard JuJu: It’s terrible anytime somebody like that passes away. Those are the guys that paved the way for this shit. Really, you wouldn’t be hearing a lot of shit if it wasn’t for Mr. Magic and the mix shows back in the days. Just the way that they received new artists is something you don’t see today. A lot of people became famous because of guys like that. Giving them a break to break in new records and shit like that. Because now you got radio programmers that, it’s just that- radio programming. If you don’t got the money to get your record played. It’s bullshit.
How did the relationship with the Native Tongues come into play?
Psycho Les: We ran into Jungle Brothers and we just started rolling up to the sessions. All them classic albums, we was there for that shit. We was giving them a lot of input and bringing beats to them sometimes.
You also produced Chi-Ali’s first album The Fabulous Chi-Ali. A lot of hot beats on that.
Psycho Les: That was our way to get into the game. After we finished that album, the label was like ‘Beatnuts produced and wrote this shit. Who are these motherfuckers? Let’s give them a deal’. So that’s how we got our deal.
So you got the deal off the Chi-Ali?
Psycho Les: The Chi-Ali was like our demo. After that we were like fuck it. Let’s slap a little EP together and threw it out. That EP, Intoxicated Demons, was the first EP. One of the first projects that really came out where more than a couple of beat heads that put this album together. It was like real serious beat diggers that put this shit together. We wasn’t playin’. We was coming with that shit.
You guys are still touring? I saw you guys at the Big Daddy Kane show last year. The anniversary show.
Psycho Les: We running’ around still. We got a new album coming too.
You’re going to be doing shows and promotion of that as well?
Psycho Les: Yeah, of course. The people want it man, so we have to bring it.
What are your thoughts on Big Pun and the legacy he left?
Psycho Les: He’s one of the best. One of the best to ever grab the mic. He was a real lyricist. That’s all he thought about and everywhere he’d go he’d have a little notebook with him and he’d stay writing rhymes nonstop.
Junkyard JuJu: He was amazing. That shit doesn’t surprise me. You’re lucky if you meet one person like that in your lifetime. The dude was an amazing talent, an amazing person, an amazing father, amazing brother. It’s just that shit is heartbreaking. I feel like there was so much more for him to do. Same applies to Biggie. It’s just sad when you lose somebody with so much talent, so soon.
Pun was amazing. He came on the scene and he just killed it.
Psycho Les: Yep. That’s what’s it about. And to me that’s why he had something to do with us, because we always- I don’t know if you notice- that we always come out with motherfuckers before they blow up.
Yeah, because that was one of the first tracks he was on.
Psycho Les: Yeah, That’s really what blew him up- that song. And a lot of people like that. When we did a song with Carl Thomas. Nobody knew who the fuck Carl Thomas was, but we rocked with him and the list goes on.
And so do The Beatnuts.