This post is in the theme “Constructing an identity through media”. Read the first.
September 14, New York: “Sabotage” was my original entry point into the Beastie Boys library. There was that incredible music video and it was all over my MTV and it was loud, fast, and awesome.
I never bought Ill Communication as a teenager. It wasn’t until I had been in college for a bit that I really discovered the Beastie Boys, amidst what was for me a hip hop renaissance. A glorious period of a year or two in which I kept discovering incredible music that was so different than what I’d grown up with. There is a veritable gulf between the 69 Boyz and Black Star and I spent this time of my life happily rowing across it.
For the Beastie Boys, that re-discovery most likely began with Paul’s Boutique and that’s where I started this time. Listening to Paul’s Boutique now, as at any time, the first thing that washes over you are the samples. So many samples! The ones you know and the ones you don’t; they are so deeply layered into this album. And the music is so funky: “Egg Man” is incredible (“when I say dozen, you know what I’m talking about boyeeee”); “Sounds of Science” with its wildly long build-up and utterly satisfying breakdown; and of course all that “Boullaibaisse” including rapping over the Isley’s Brothers most delicious riff.
If I had to pick a favorite Beastie Boys song, it would probably be “Sounds of Science”.
From Paul’s Boutique on to Check Your Head, which experiments more widely with instrumentation. Then I went into Hello Nasty, with even stranger, further experiments in instrumentation. And yet so many classic lines: “Dogs love me cause I’m CRAZY sniffable.” “I’m the king of Boggle / There is none higher / I gets eleven points / off the word quagmire.”
Back to Ill Communication. If I had to name a favorite Beastie Boys album it might be this one. It’s so widely varied, yet feels to me like the most sonically consistent. Its experiments capture the same energy as songs like “Sure Shot” and “Root Down”. The punk rock of “Heart Attack Man” sort of makes sense with “Sabotage”. And of course: “Get It Together” with Q-Tip (“Phone is ringin’/ Oh my god.”)
What’s I found fascinating about the Beastie Boys is that no matter how widely they experimented on each album, the core was always the same: three dudes rapping in that late-eighties group rhyme pattern. They finish each other’s verses, they all chime in to punctuate a syllable. While hip hop changed around them, they stuck to that, and frankly, kept it pretty fun.
I’ve been listening to the Beastie Boys for the whole week, waking up with their songs stuck in my head and every day digging deeper into the library. But it was crushing to remember as I was working my through these albums that this is a finite canon. Absolutely heartbreaking. #RIPMCA
If for some reason you’re just getting started, probably your best bet is to buy the Beastie Boys Anthology.