20 Years Ago The Beatnuts, Big Pun & Cuban Link Broke The Bank Off The Books (Video)

Two decades ago, The Beatnuts brought Big Pun and Cuban Link to Wall Street. In the video for the Queens, New York group’s 1997 single “Off The Books,” the men representing various Latin-American identities performed in the heart of America’s financial hub and in so doing made a tongue-in-cheek statement about the economics of race. As the best performing record on Stone Crazy, the track remains a staple for DJs and Heads, thanks in no small part to its featuring the first recorded appearance of Cuban Link, and one of Pun’s earliest features. But less has been mentioned about its visual component.

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In his opening verse, the late Big Punisher raps “respect crime but not when it reflect mine,” at which point the image of U.S. currency flashes across the screen. It’s likely this was done intentionally, perhaps to underscore Pun’s allusion to crimes committed under the guise of government. The song’s very title is derived from the practice of earning income outside of the scope of the law, but the video reinforces the notion that it’s not just the street hustlers who get rich “off the books”; the fat cats on Wall St. and the White House are all doing the same thing. Why shouldn’t a group of Brown men – all dapper in white suits – not be able to show off their wealth in front of majestic buildings in Downtown Manhattan and be ostentatious with expensive jewelry and cigars? It’s a lavish video, one that includes matching wardrobes for the rappers, expensive cars, a cast of dancers, and multiple treatments filmed in various locations. As such, it’s easy to mistake it for just another flashy Rap visual, but a closer look makes it clear there’s more to it, from a conceptual standpoint.

While Fat Joe is credited as Pun’s mentor, this appearance was the crucial setup to 1998’s Capital Punishment. The ‘Nuts (by way of JuJu) produced that historic platinum LP’s first song (“Beware”) and Terror Squad’s menacing 1999 video single, “Whatcha Gon Do?.”

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Twenty years later, The Beatnuts are still working on music. Earlier this year, they hit the road with Rapper Big Pooh and Termanology, while founding member Psycho Les dropped a video with R.A. The Rugged Man. Though official word on the long-discussed Beatnuts album Planet Of The Crates continues to be in a perpetual state of “maybe,” Les is keeping busy. Most recently, he announced a joint venture with Jeru The Damaja.