Rhymin & Stealin
IN THIS PHOTO: The Beastie Boys in Chicago in 1987/PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Natkin/WireImage
New York’s Finest: The Beastie Boys’ Eight Incredible Albums Investigated and Uncovered
EVEN though the Beastie Boys...
ended their recording career in 2011, they are still as relevant as ever and over in the U.K. right now! Beastie Boys Book was released at the end of last month and is the story of the trio as told by its two surviving members, Ad-Rock and Michael Diamond (Mike D). The New York band formed in 1981 and, since their debut in 1986, they have seduced and thrilled the world with their brotherhood, wit and incredible rhymes. I love them because of the sampling and how they manage to marry disparate worlds. Although Adam Yauch (MCA) died in 2012; his bandmates are promoting the new book and are keeping the spirit and memory of Beastie Boys alive! Their debut, Licensed to Ill, was released on 15th November, 1986 and I cannot believe it is thirty-two!
IN THIS IMAGE: The cover of the Beastie Boys Book/IMAGE CREDIT: Spiegel & Grau/Getty Images
I remember listening to it as a child and was blown away by this fresh and wonderful sound that was happening at the explosion of American Hip-Hop. In the year, Run-D.M.C. released Raising Hell and it was to lead to a bold and genius Hip-Hop movement that saw the likes of N.W.A. and Public Enemy release generation-defining albums. Make sure you pick up the new book as you get a lot of details of that time and the role the Beastie Boys played in Hip-Hop’s start. I cannot recall the first time I discover the band but it must have been around the time of Hello Nasty in 1998. Maybe it was a bit sooner but, in any case, I had heard nothing like it and still cannot think of anyone who comes near to them and that concoction of sounds. There is more to the Beastie Boys than the songs - there is an entire legacy, past and set of relationships that many of us never got to see!
IN THIS IMAGE: A shot of the Beastie Boys Book/IMAGE CREDIT: Spiegel & Grau/Getty Images
I followed Beastie Boys right until the final album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, and am sad we will never see another record from them! Ad-Rock and Mike D are promoting Beastie Boys Book and it is great to hear them chat about their time and being in one of the biggest bands ever. Rolling Stone looked at the book and gave their impressions. One snippet of their review/assessment struck me:
“Yauch’s loss is deeply felt in Beastie Boys Book, where he’s arguably the most vivid character of all – the snowboarding prankster, spiritual seeker and older-brother figure who pushed the others to new heights again and again. “The band didn’t break up,” Horovitz writes in a heartbreaking chapter on the recording of 2011’s Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. “We didn’t go our own creative ways. No solo project fucked things up to cause animosity. This was our last album because Adam got cancer and died. If that hadn’t happened, we would probably be making a new record as you read this. Sadly, it didn’t turn out that way… Too fucking sad to write about.”
In the hotel room, it’s clear that Horovitz and Diamond are relishing the chance to spend time together, riffing on the old days. “Looking back, it’s like, oh shit, that was crazy – how did we live through that?” Horovitz says. “And look at us now. We’re grown-ups. We have to think about mortgages. I gotta get dog food.” He shrugs. “I’m still alive”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Michael ‘Mike D’ Diamond (left) and Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz photographed at the Bowery Hotel in New York/PHOTO CREDIT: Mike McGregor for The Observer
Make sure you tune into BBC Radio 6 Music from ten tomorrow morning as Ad-Rock and Mike D are talking about the book and recalling memories from their time in the Beastie Boys. It is rare to see a group (or duo, as they are now…) have that optimism and talk about their career when they lose a member. Whilst it is sad MCA is no longer here and part of this holy trinity; they are happy to talk about the old days and there is that endless and unbreakable love. When speaking with Miranda Sawyer for The Guardian, some interesting details came from the interview. It seems like the actual creation of the book was quite intense:
“The book took them four years to complete and tells the Beasties’ story from pre-1981, when Diamond formed a hardcore band with friends, including Yauch. Packed with photographs, diagrams, maps, cartoons, recipes, lists (some great music ones), as well as some brilliant writing from them both, Beastie Boys Book is a delight. But, God, getting either Diamond or Horovitz to talk about it is nigh-on impossible”.
The interview is definitely worth reading in its entirety...but this is a section that really caught me:
“...Mostly, the interview goes like this: I mention an anecdote, or a particular time in their career, and then they mess around. So, when I ask about Diamond’s late-1980s habit of wearing a Volkswagen badge as a medallion (as he does on the book’s cover), he and Horovitz have a lengthy debate as to whether either of them actually wrote anything specifically about the VW badge/medallion thing. Then…
Diamond: “It was just one of those things that happened… Adam and Adam showed up at my apartment in the West Village with one and they were like: ‘Here, you’re wearing this’”...
“Horovitz: “That’s not really how it happened. Didn’t you steal it? You kind of stole it.”
Diamond: “From you? I stole it from you? Is that what you’re saying?”
In contrast, Horovitz enjoyed the writing (“It was very easy, I really liked it”), and has concentrated on completing a lot of the other legwork: sourcing photographs, tracking people down. Aside from all that, he has a little boy with his wife, Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, and he and Hanna write screenplays together (they sold a pilot to Comedy Central). He’s played bass in Bridget Everett and the Tender Moments and he acts, much to Diamond’s amusement. “Did you know Adam was in a semi-pornographic movie in 1984?”
I am rambling and stepping off of the path at the moment but I have loved learning new stuff about the Beastie Boys and make sure you pick up a copy of the book - as it is an illuminating, comprehensive and deeply personal look inside a magical time when New York’s finest reigned! In honour of some Beastie magic hitting our shores; here are all eight of their albums laid out; a review for each and the choice tracks selected – I have highlighted the definitive cut from each record. From 1986’s Licensed to Ill through to 1989’s Paul’s Boutique; from To the 5 Boroughs in 2004 to the finale, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (2011); it has been a wild and wonderful ride. Reacquaint yourself with their back catalogue and get settled back. They might not be recording anymore but, as their book shows, there is so much more to learn. We have never seen anyone like the Beastie Boys come along and, for as long as any of us live, I don’t think...
IN THIS PHOTO: The Beastie Boys in Greenwich Street in New York City/PHOTO CREDIT: Terry Richardson
WE ever will!
ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images
The Wonderful Beginning: Licensed to Ill (1986)
Release Date: 15th November, 1986
Labels: Def Jam/Columbia
Producers: Rick Rubin/Beastie Boys
“The group originally wanted to title the album Don't Be a Faggot, but Columbia Records refused to release the album under this title—arguing that it was homophobic—and pressured Russell Simmons, the Beastie Boys' manager and head of Def Jam Recordings at the time, into forcing them to choose another name. Adam Horovitz has since apologized for the album's earlier title.
Kerry King of Slayer made an appearance on the album playing lead guitar on "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" and appeared in the music video which is a parody of glam metal. The name of the song itself is a spoof on Motörhead's No Sleep 'til Hammersmith album. King's appearance on the track came about because Rick Rubin was producing both bands simultaneously (Slayer's Reign in Blood was originally released a month earlier on Def Jam).” – Wikipedia
“There hasn't been a funnier, more infectious record in pop music than this, and it's not because the group is mocking rappers (in all honesty, the truly twisted barbs are hurled at frat boys and lager lads), but because they've already created their own universe and points of reference, where it's as funny to spit out absurdist rhymes and pound out "Fight for Your Right (To Party)" as it is to send up street corner doo wop with "Girls." Then, there is the overpowering loudness of the record -- operating from the axis of where metal, punk, and rap meet, there never has been a record this heavy and nimble, drunk on its own power yet giddy with what they're getting away with. There is a sense of genuine discovery, of creating new music, that remains years later, after countless plays, countless misinterpretations, countless rip-off acts, even countless apologies from the Beasties, who seemed guilty by how intoxicating the sound of it is, how it makes beer-soaked hedonism sound like the apogee of human experience. And maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but in either case, Licensed to Ill reigns tall among the greatest records of its time” – AllMusic
Download/Stream: Fight for Your Right; Paul Revere; Brass Monkey
Choice Cut: No Sleep Till Brooklyn
The Misunderstood Follow-Up That Is Regarded as a Seismic Gem: Paul’s Boutique (1989)
Release Date: 25th July, 1989
Producers: Beastie Boys/Dust Brothers/Mario Caldato Jr.
“Derided as one-hit wonders and estranged from their original producer, Rick Rubin, and record label, Def Jam, the Beastie Boys were in self-imposed exile in Los Angeles during early 1988 and were written off by most music critics before even beginning to record their second studio album, Paul's Boutique. Following the commercial success of Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys were focusing on making an album with more creative depth and less commercial material. The group's previous album had been enormously popular and received critical acclaim among both mainstream and hip hop music critics, although its simple, heavy beats and comically juvenile lyrics led it to be labeled as frat hip hop. The group signed with Capitol Records and EMI Records.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the sampling for Paul's Boutique was cleared, but at dramatically lower costs compared to today's prevailing rates. According to Sound on Sound, most of the samples were cleared "easily and affordably, something that [...] would be 'unthinkable' in today's litigious music industry." Mario "Mario C" Caldato, Jr., engineer on the album, said that "we realized we had spent a lot of money in the studio. We had spent about a $1/4 million in rights and licensing for samples."This type of sampling was only possible before Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., the landmark lawsuit against Biz Markie by Gilbert O'Sullivan, which changed the process and future of hip hop sampling” – Wikipedia
“Twenty years later, nobody’s asking that question. Paul’s Boutique is a landmark in the art of sampling, a reinvention of a group that looked like it was heading for a gimmicky, early dead-end, and a harbinger of the pop-culture obsessions and referential touchstones that would come to define the ensuing decades' postmodern identity as sure as “The Simpsons” and Quentin Tarantino did. It’s an album so packed with lyrical and musical asides, namedrops, and quotations that you could lose an entire day going through its Wikipedia page and looking up all the references; “The Sounds of Science” alone redirects you to the entries for Cheech Wizard, Shea Stadium, condoms, Robotron: 2084, Galileo, and Jesus Christ. That density, sprawl, and information-overload structure was one of the reasons some fans were reluctant to climb on board. But by extending Steinski’s rapid-fire sound-bite hip-hop aesthetic over the course of an entire album, the Beastie Boys and the Dust Brothers more than assured that a generally positive first impression would eventually lead to a listener’s dedicated, zealous headlong dive into the record’s endlessly-quotable deep end” – Pitchfork
Download/Stream: Shake Your Rump; Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun; Shadrach
Choice Cut: Hey Ladies
The Critics Were Firmly Back on Board: Check Your Head (1992)
Release Date: 21st April, 1992
Producer: Mario Caldato Jr.
“Check Your Head is the third studio album by American hip hop group Beastie Boys, released on April 21, 1992 by Capitol Records. Three years elapsed between the releases of the band's second studio album Paul's Boutique and Check Your Head, which was recorded at the G-Son Studios in Atwater Village in 1991 under the guidance of producer Mario Caldato Jr., the group's third producer in three albums. Less sample-heavy than their previous records, the album features instrumental contributions from all three members: Adam Horovitz on lead guitar, Adam Yauch on bass guitar, and Mike Diamond on drums.
In contrast to their previous album, Paul's Boutique, the Beastie Boys returned somewhat stylistically to their punk roots on Check Your Head, playing their own instruments for the first time on record since their early EPs (although they did provide live instrumentation on at least two songs on Paul's Boutique). Hence, photographer Glen E. Friedman's idea to shoot photos with their instrument cases (one of which became the cover). Supposedly, a trading card with Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. from a set of Desert Storm trading cards was the inspiration for the title” – Wikipedia
“This all means that music was the message and the rhymes, which had been pushed toward the forefront on both Licensed to Ill and Paul's Boutique, have been considerably de-emphasized (only four songs -- "Jimmy James," "Pass the Mic," "Finger Lickin' Good," and "So What'cha Want" -- could hold their own lyrically among their previous work). This is not a detriment, because the focus is not on the words, it's on the music, mood, and even the newfound neo-hippie political consciousness. And Check Your Head is certainly a record that's greater than the sum of its parts -- individually, nearly all the tracks are good (the instrumentals sound good on their subsequent soul-jazz collection, The in Sound From Way Out), but it's the context and variety of styles that give Check Your Head its identity. It's how the old school raps give way to fuzz-toned rockers, furious punk, and cheerfully gritty, jazzy jams. As much as Paul's Boutique, this is a whirlwind tour through the Beasties' pop-culture obsessions, but instead of spinning into Technicolor fantasies, it's earth-bound D.I.Y. that makes it all seem equally accessible -- which is a big reason why it turned out to be an alt-rock touchstone of the '90s, something that both set trends and predicted them” – AllMusic
Download/Stream: Pass the Mic; So What’cha Want; The Blue Nun
Choice Cut: Gratitude
An Evolutionary Leap, Rather Than Sabotage: Ill Communication (1994)
Release Date: 31st May, 1994
Labels: Capitol/Grand Royal
Producers: Beastie Boys; Mario Caldato Jr.
“Ill Communication is the fourth studio album by American hip hop group Beastie Boys. It was released on May 31, 1994 by Grand Royal Records. Co-produced by Beastie Boys and Mario C., the album is among the band's most varied releases, drawing from hip hop, punk rock, jazz and funk. As with their prior release Check Your Head, this album continues the band's trend away from samplingand towards live instruments. It features musical contributions from Money Mark, Eric Bobo and Amery "AWOL" Smith and vocal contributions from Q-Tip and Biz Markie. The Beastie Boys were influenced by Miles Davis' jazz rock albums Agharta and On the Corner while recording Ill Communication” – Wikipedia
“By 1994, the Beastie Boys were a lot closer to 30 than they were to 20, and it's not much of a stretch to interpret their fourth album as a growing-up phase of sorts. Where Check Your Head was a jam session turned venting process turned crossover success, Ill Communication is the album that let them infuse their turn towards sincerity with a renewed sense of playfulness, solidifying their transition from the gleefully exaggerated bad-boy anarchists of their first two albums to a trio of (slightly) more mature, trend-setting enthusiasts. It's as if they took stock in their history, realized they were past the point of having to prove anything, said what the hell, and decided to throw their whole repertoire into the album. Considering the record was assembled over a comparatively brief six-month span, it's an ideal, condensed snapshot of the Boys' genuine interests and cultural obsessions, whether they were spiritual (Buddhism), musical (late-60s/early-70s soul-jazz) or recreational (no less than three members of the 1993-94 Knicks get shout-outs). It's the Beasties at their most lifestyle-savvy, though they came across less like opportunistic youth marketers and more like the idiosyncratic hipsters they'd always been. (Remember, this was in 1994, before "hipster" was a pejorative.)” – Pitchfork
Download/Stream: Sure Shot; Root Down; Heart Attack Man
Choice Cut: Sabotage
A Wide-Ranging Masterpiece: Hello Nasty (1998)
Release Date: 14th July, 1998
Producers: Beastie Boys; Mario Caldato Jr.
“Hello Nasty was released on July 14, 1998, four years after the band's previous album, Ill Communication—and marked the addition of DMC champion Mix Master Mike to the group's line-up. "I Don't Know" features Miho Hatori on vocals, and "Dr. Lee, PhD" guest stars dub musician Lee Scratch Perry on both vocals and percussion. Hello Nasty also marked Eric Bobo's last appearance as percussionist in the band, as well as the last time the Beastie Boys worked with a co-producer.
The title for the album was allegedly inspired by the receptionist of their NY-based publicity firm Nasty Little Man who would answer the phone with the greeting "Hello, Nasty". The cover art depicts all three members (Horovitz, Yauch and Diamond from left to right) wrapped in an aluminium sardine tin and getting baked in the sun. The band makes a reference to this in the song "Body Movin'", in which the lyrics goes, "MCA, where have you been? Packed like sardines in a tin”” – Wikipedia
“On the surface, the sonic collages of Hello Nasty don't appear as dense as Paul's Boutique, nor is there a single as grabbing as "Sabotage," but given time, little details emerge, and each song forms its own identity. A few stray from the course, and the ending is a little anticlimactic, but that doesn't erase the riches of Hello Nasty -- the old-school kick of "Super Disco Breakin'" and "The Move"; Adam Yauch's crooning on "I Don't Know"; Lee "Scratch" Perry's cameo; and the recurring video game samples, to name just a few. The sonic adventures alone make the album noteworthy, but what makes it remarkable is how it looks to the future by looking to the past. There's no question that Hello Nasty is saturated in old-school sounds and styles, but by reviving the future-shock rock of the early '80s, the Beasties have shrewdly set themselves up for the new millennium” – AllMusic
Download/Stream: Song for the Man; Body Movin’; Three MC’s and One DJ
Choice Cut: Intergalactic
Entering a New Century – and a New Creative Phase: To the 5 Boroughs (2004)
Release Date: 15th June, 2004
Producer: Beastie Boys
“To the 5 Boroughs is the sixth studio album by the Beastie Boys. The album was released on June 14, 2004 internationally, and a day later in the United States. The album debuted #1 on the Billboard 200 with 360,000 copies sold in its first week and is certified Platinum by the RIAA for sales of over 1,000,000 in the U.S.” – Wikipedia
“To the 5 Boroughs” is the Beasties’ first all-new CD since 1998’s ”Hello Nasty” and thus has the feel of a bona fide event. As might be inferred from the title, ”Boroughs” is the group’s gift to their hometown in the post-9/11 era. ”Dear New York, I know a lot has changed/Two towers down but you’re still in the game,” Mike D raps on ”An Open Letter to NYC,” the album’s anthemic centerpiece. The track includes a ton of New York-specific shout-outs (”I remember when the Deuce” — 42nd Street and Times Square to you out-of-towners — ”was all porno flicks,” raps Ad-Rock wistfully) and prominently samples the Dead Boys’ ”Sonic Reducer.” It sounds so rousingly righteous you don’t even mind that the Dead Boys were from Cleveland.
Sonically, the disc falls somewhere between the Beasties’ two best efforts, ”Licensed” and 1992’s ”Check Your Head,” minus the latter’s weird, megaphone-like vocal effects. The beats — by Mixmaster Mike and the Boys — are simple and effective, with a welcome lack of distracting bells and whistles that made ”Hello Nasty” feel overstuffed. It’s also the globally aware group’s most politically charged album to date. ”Is the U.S. gonna keep breaking necks?/Maybe it’s time we impeach Tex,” raps MCA on ”Time to Build,” one of several instances in which George W. is given a lyrical smackdown” – Entertainment Weekly
Download/Stream: C-Check It Out; Triple Trouble; Oh Word?
Choice Cut: An Open Letter to NYC
Great but Not Essential: The Mix-Up (2007)
Release Date: 26th June, 2007
Producer: Beastie Boys
“On May 1, 2007, an e-mail sent to those on the Beastie Boys' mailing list revealed the album is all instrumental. On June 21, 2007, a legal stream of the entire album was released on BrooklynVegan.com. Drummer Mike D said that "even though The Mix-Up is a 'post-punk instrumental' album, the Beasties have no plans to ditch vocals for good. In fact, they are currently planning another version of the album that will feature collaborations with 'a pretty wide array' of 'mostly newer' vocalists." Two singers speculated to be featured on the vocal version were Jarvis Cocker and M.I.A.” – Wikipedia
“This is a fusion of sounds -- cool organs, elastic guitars, loping basslines, rolling rhythms -- where all of the elements are integrated together, turning into a style that's recognizable as uniquely, undeniably the Beastie Boys, even if they don't utter a word on this record. As always, they're more about feel than instrumental acumen, but they've sharpened as players, creating tighter, assured grooves and seamlessly blending their fascinations with funk, dub, soul, and Latin rhythms. Even if the instrumental interplay is tighter, the overall atmosphere is alluringly warm and friendly: it's music that flows easily and it's a perfect soundtrack for a slow summer afternoon. Most of all, the Beasties sound relaxed and comfortable, enjoying the process of making this music, and if you're on the same wavelength, it's hard not to get sucked into it too. The Mix Up is not a major statement, but that's the nice thing about the record: it's as personal and idiosyncratic as any old funky soul-jazz LP that you'd find deep in the crates of a second-hand record store. It's easy to enjoy and it's indelibly stamped with the personality of the group, which is not only no small thing, it's also a good, rewarding path for the Beastie Boys as they approach middle age” – AllMusic
Download/Stream: 14th St. Break; Electric Worm; The Rat Cage
Choice Cut: Off the Grid
The Superbly Grand (If Sad) Finale: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (2011)
Release Date: 27th April, 2011
Producer: Beastie Boys
“The first part of the album was intended to be called Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 1 and was prepared for release, with artwork revealed and a planned release date of September 15, 2009. In an interview the Beastie Boys stated that the album was completed and group announced that they would tour the United Kingdom in support of the new record. This was delayed after Adam "MCA" Yauch was diagnosed with cancer. On July 20, 2009, Yauch announced the cancellation of tour dates, and assured fans that he should be fine after surgery. In October 2009, Adam Yauch announced that the band had not yet decided a new release date, but was quoted saying he was hoping to release it in the first half of 2010.
An email sent out on October 17, 2010, from the Beastie Boys announced that Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 1 would be shelved indefinitely, and Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 would be released in 2011. An email sent the following week now clarified that Pt. 2 would be released with almost exactly the same track list as was announced for Pt. 1, excluding the track "Bundt Cake." No date was set for Part 1. The project was finally released in May 2011 under the title Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, with a slightly altered track listing including a new version of "Too Many Rappers".
According to Andrew Eastwick from Tiny Mix Tapes, "Long Burn the Fire" paid homage to the 1970s soul-rock band Black Merda with its fuzz-inflected guitar riffs. Its song title, Eastwick continued, "may also be a sly nod" to music critic Robert Christgau, who recommended the band's 1972 record of the same name to the Beastie Boys in his review of their 1994 album Ill Communication” – Wikipedia
“The tracks urge us to Make Some Noise, threaten to "rock da house" and even suggest a "party on the left." However, their wit and invention transforms such tired cliches into their freshest offering in years. A tapestry-cum-rollercoaster of sound, the confusingly titled album (Part One remains unreleased) mixes obscure samples, live playing, electronic squiggles and hardcore thrash. You're as likely to encounter cries of "Mayhem, mayhem!" and air horns as old nursery rhyme phrase "Knick knack paddy whack" featuring in a rap. The mere two guests have been selected to actually add something rather than to up the celeb appeal. The blistering Too Many Rappers finds Nas paying homage to his Beastie forefathers; Santigold gives Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win some instantly infectious pop reggae sunshine. However, the Boys' trademark nerdy raps are as inimitable as ever” – The Guardian
Download/Stream: Too Many Rappers; Funky Donkey; Lee Majors Come Again;
Choice Cut: Make Some Noise