in Retrospecticus

Retrospecticus: Beastie Boys

Our week of retrospecticuses continues with a look back at the career of the Beastie Boys, who’s Hot Sauce Committee Part 2drops this week.  It’s probably not even the album that comes out this week that I’m most excited about, but still, the last time the Beasties released a proper hip-hop album was during Bush’s first term.  So it’s not like I’m gonna get another chance to do this again anytime soon.

Licensed To Ill (1986)

The Beastie Boys arrived on the scene with a bit of a bang, as their debut Licensed To Ill was the first hip-hop album to top the Billboard album charts, and would end up being the top selling hip-hop album of the decade.  What made the Beasties so accessible to so many people including non-hip-hop fans was that they were willing to mix elements of hard rock with old school hip-hop beats, while infusing a style and attitude that was simply one of a kind.  Also, a lot of the songs are just undeniably catchy, despite their undeniably simplistic and juvenile lyrical content.

Some people even tend to think that this was the high point of the Beastie Boys career, but honestly I’ve never been that huge of a fan of License To Ill, although I’ll admit the album does have a loutish frat-boy charm to it.  And since John’s already done a CAT for this album, I don’t really feel the need to talk about it in further detail.

Favorite Tracks: “Girls”, “No Sleep Til Brooklyn”, “Brass Monkey”

Paul’s Boutique (1989)

It probably says quite a bit about my hip-hop credibility that my favorite hip-hop album of all time was created by a bunch of white jews, but Paul’s Boutique is just that.  Trading in their mix of B-boy hip-hop and hard rock for a smorgasborg of samples ranging from Public Enemy to The Beatles to Bernard Herrmann, Paul’s Boutique was probably the first album that truly turned sampling in to an art form.  Of course, sampling had been around since the inception of hip-hop, but with the help of producers the Dust Brothers, the Beastie Boys created something that was oddly familiar and yet it’s own bizarre entity.

In addition to this sample-fueled sound, the Beastie Boys stepped up their rap game, with rhymes that are considerably more intricate than those of their Licensed To Ill days, and are filled with a plethora of irreverent and often hilarious pop culture references.  Of course, many saw Paul’s Boutique as a bit of a dissapointment in comparison to Licensed To Ill, as it was a complete turn in another direction and was a commercial flop on release.  However, now it’s easy to see that Paul’s Boutique was years ahead of its time and is one of those hip-hop records that you just gotta check out at some point.

Favorite Tracks: “Shake Your Rump”, “Egg Man”, “Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun”

Check Your Head (1992)

After the misunderstood triumph of Paul’s Boutique, the Beasties once again decide to take their sound in another radically different direction with Check Your Head.  This release saw the band abandoning their previously sample-heavy sound for a more organic approach, as most of the album sees the band returning to their roots as a hardcore punk band, as they play their own instruments on most of the tracks.

Though there is an inkling of hardcore punk in the songs on Check Your Head, there’s also an undeniable influence of funk that fuses with a hard rock sound that makes songs like “Gratitude” and “Funky Boss” undeniably bad-ass.  Also, songs like “Groove Holmes” and “Pow” exploring Meters-like instrumentals that show the Beasties displaying a surprising musical prowess in laying down some funky jams.  Also, in addition to being another first rate effort from the Beastie Boys, Check Your Head returned the Beasties to more mainstream success with the stone-cold single “So What’cha Want”.

Favorite Tracks: “Jimmy James”, “Gratitude”, “So What’cha Want”

Ill Communication (1994)

Ill Communication is a bit of an oddity in the Beastie Boys’ discography in that for once the Beastie Boys didn’t really mix-up their sound, as the album has the same dusty funk infused sound that was seen on Check Your Head.  But really, I don’t have any problem with that, and it’s pretty hard to complain when the album features a few of their finest songs.

The most notable song of course would have to be the Beastie Boys’ noisy opus “Sabotage”, a song that probably remains the finest culmination of rap and hard rock that’s ever been produced.  Really the only complaint I have about Ill Communication is that it probably features a few too many instrumental funk jams and not enough of the Beasties’ irreverent rhymes that are seen on songs like “Sure Shot” and “Get It Together”.

Favorite Tracks:“Sure Shot”, “Root Down”, “Sabotage”

Hello Nasty (1998)

This album in many ways saw the Beasties embracing the good time vibes of the late nineties, and it’s just a really fun little album.  Actually little probably isn’t the best word to describe it considering Hello Nasty‘s 73 minute running time, so there’s definitely a fairly sprawling sound to it.

They really throw a little bit of everything in to the album, as there are strains of all the different sounds that the Beastie Boys have inhabited, while they also manage to mix in electronic and lounge music to the Beastie’s already diverse range of influences.  The album also features a surprising amount of singing instead of rapping on songs like “Song For The Man”, “I Don’t Know”, which have a sort of contemporary rock sound to them.  And I think it’s because of this diverse sound that the album really works, as Hello Nasty is almost always entertaining despite it’s lenghty running time.

Favorite Tracks: “Super Disco Breakin'”, “Remote Control”, “Intergalactic”

To The 5 Boroughs (2004)

After 1998’s Hello Nasty, the Beasties went a long time without releasing new music, and in that time a lot had changed in their beloved NYC.  So it’s not surprising that the Beasties paid tribute to New York in the album’s title and throughout the album, especially on the track “An Open Letter To NYC”.

And because To The 5 Boroughs shows the Beastie Boys six years removed from their last album and almost two decades from their debut, the Beasties seem pretty content with embracing their elder statesman of hip-hop persona, rather than trying to be on the cutting edge.  But I think it’s this interest in dancing to the beat of their own funky drummer that has kept the Beastie Boys relevant, when most hip-hop artists stick around for only a few years before fading due to the ever changing trends of the genre.  To The 5 Boroughs might not see the Beastie Boys sounding quite as vital or innovative as in the early days, but it still sees them thriving in the kind of old-school hip-hop that has always been at the heart of their sound, and that’s alright with me.

Favorite Tracks: “Ch-Ch-Check It Out”, “Right Right Now Now”, “Triple Trouble”

The Mix-Up (2007)

I wasn’t really sure whether to include this album since I’ve hardly spent any time listening to it, and I don’t really have much to say about it.  But anyways, on Check Your Head and Ill Communication there were a number of instrumental tracks that sounded heavily inspired by The Meters’ organ-fueled brand of funk, and I guess they decided to pursue nothing but that sound over the course of The Mix-Up.  So if you’re looking for some of the Beasties’ tasty rhymes, this obviously isn’t the album for you since it’s an entirely instrumental album.  I mean it’s fine for what it is, but it’s not really to the type of thing I want to listen to when I’m in the mood for The Beastie Boys.  But with Hot Sauce Committee Part Two coming out today, we finally get to see the Beastie Boys once again laying down some funky fresh rhymes.

Favorite Tracks: “B For My Name”, “Electric Worm”, “Off The Grid”

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