Take It or Squeeze It (Loud)

The Beatnuts' latest outing begins promisingly enough, with "It's Da Nuts," a wiggly up-tempo number featuring ex-Nut (but still nice emcee) Al Tariq. The rhymes flow like water, and the head-nod factor is high, transporting you back to the days of yore when the Beatnuts were making the grooviest tough-guy rap ever -- when you drove around shouting "Reign of the Tec" lyrics, visions of cheap sex and handing out beatdowns dancing in your head, rugged drums and jazzy bass lines pounding your chest.

Well, enjoy that first song while you can, because it's one of the few moments of pleasure you'll get out of Take it or Squeeze It. Another in a long list of groups whose music has declined steadily with each album, the Corona, Queens, duo continues to slide further from the production genius and murderous comedy that made them legendary. Trading in their dusty drum loops for shiny, programmed rhythms and their wigged-out jazz/rock samples for baroque keyboards and seemingly forced Latin sounds, the Nuts have taken a sharp turn toward the commercial. Chock-full of cheesy R&B hooks, songs such as "Let's Get Doe" and "Hood Thang" are easily among the worst the Beatnuts have ever recorded, the latter song being borderline unlistenable. Other numbers, such as "Prendelo," featuring Tony Touch (who should never be allowed to rap, ever), and "If It Ain't Gangsta" are not quite as deplorable, just maddeningly boring -- as is every guest appearance minus the lovable Al Tariq. Bottom line, you know it's a bad sign when you look at a CD and two of 14 songs don't include the phrase "featuring ..." after the title.

But how hip-hop has killed the posse cut is a rant for another day. Meantime, let's rant about the Beatnuts' inexplicable overuse of Greg Nice. The old-school hip-hop pioneer (one-half of Nice & Smooth) pops up twice -- on the otherwise bangin' "No Escapin' This" and the excruciatingly not-bangin' "Yo Yo Yo." Yeah, we gotta respect the old school and alladat, but he sounds like an insane person who stumbled into the Beatnuts' recording session and started shouting at the top of his lungs. God love him -- but get this man off your album.

The most frustrating aspect of Take It is the fact that the Beatnuts are fully capable of making decent music. Evidence of this can be found on songs such as "Contact" and the hard-hitting "Hammer Time." Lines like "Sippin' on some sizzurup/with mozzarella stix for dessert" and references to themselves as "gun-toting maniacs with rotten livers" breathe some life into forgettable verses. And on "Mayonnaise," the Beatnuts manage to sound like their old selves, lazily cracking potty-mouthed jokes over a stoned-out flute loop. "Mayonnaise" is simultaneously enjoyable and exasperating because it makes you wonder why every song on the album doesn't sound as good.

Well, don't expect such improvement anytime soon, chief. An object in motion stays in motion, and the Beatnuts' snowball-of-sucking is rolling down the hill, gaining speed and size. As likable as the Beatnuts are, as much as they're an innovative group with some classic material under their belts, it seems as though they're powerless to impede the brute force of their increasing mediocrity.

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