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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 2011 | Capitol Records

Distinctions 4F de Télérama - Sélection Les Inrocks
$18.99

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released May 31, 1994 | Capitol Records

Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Reissue
Ill Communication follows the blueprint of Check Your Head, accentuating it at some points, deepening it in others, but never expanding it beyond the boundaries of that record. As such, it's the first Beastie Boys album not to delve into new territory, but it's not fair to say that it finds the band coasting, since much of the album finds the group turning in muscular, vigorous music that fills out the black-and-white sketches that comprised Check Your Head. Much of the credit has to go to the group's renewed confidence in -- or at least renewed emphasis on -- their rhyming; there are still instrumentals (arguably, there are too many instrumentals), but the Beasties do push their words to the forefront, even on dense rockers like the album's signature tune, "Sabotage." But even those rhymes illustrate that the group is in the process of a great settling, relying more on old-school-styled rhyme schemes and word battles than the narratives and surreal fantasies that marked the high points on their first two albums. With this record, the Beasties confirm that there is indeed a signature Beastie Boys aesthetic (it's too far-ranging and restless to be pegged as a signature sound), with the group sticking to a blend of old school rap, pop culture, lo-fi funk, soulful jazz instrumentals, Latin rhythms, and punk, often seamlessly integrated into a rolling, pan-cultural, multi-cultural groove. The best moments of Ill Communication rank with the best music the Beasties have ever made, as well as the best pop music of the '90s, but unfortunately, it's uneven and rather front-loaded. The first half overflows with brilliant, imaginative variations on their aesthetic: the assured groove of "Sure Shot," the warped rap of "B-Boys Makin' With the Freak Freak," the relentless dirty funk of "Root Down," the monumental "Sabotage," and the sly "Get It Together," highlighted by a cameo from Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest. After that, the album seems to lose its sense of direction and momentum, even if individual moments are very good. Any record that can claim jams as funky and inventive as "Flute Loop" and "Do It," or instrumentals as breezy as "Ricky's Theme," is certainly better than its competition, but there are just enough moments that rank as obvious filler to slow its flow, and to keep it from standing proudly next to Check Your Head as a wholly successful record. Even if it is a little uneven, it still boasts more than its fair share of splendid, transcendent music, and it really only pales in comparison to the Beasties' trio of classic records. By any other measure, this is a near-masterpiece, and it is surely a highlight of '90s alternative pop/rock. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
$14.99

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released July 25, 1989 | Capitol Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 1996 | Capitol Records

Distinctions The Unusual Suspects
Originally released through the Beastie Boys' French fan club, The In Sound From Way Out! is a collection of the group's funky instrumentals from Check Your Head and Ill Communication, with a couple of new tracks thrown in. The Beasties have a flair for loose, gritty funk and soul-jazz, and the stuttering, greasy keyboards of Money Mark give the music an extra edge -- he helps make the music sound as authentic as anything from the early '70s. Fans of the band's dynamic wordplay might find The In Sound From Way Out! a disappointment, but anyone who grooved on the wildly eclectic fusions of Check Your Head and Ill Communication will find the album endlessly enjoyable. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 1986 | Def Jam Recordings

Perhaps Licensed to Ill was inevitable -- a white group blending rock and rap, giving them the first number one album in hip-hop history. But that reading of the album's history gives short shrift to the Beastie Boys; producer Rick Rubin, and his label, Def Jam, and this remarkable record, since mixing metal and hip-hop isn't necessarily an easy thing to do. Just sampling and scratching Sabbath and Zeppelin to hip-hop beats does not make for an automatically good record, though there is a visceral thrill to hearing those muscular riffs put into overdrive with scratching. But, much of that is due to the producing skills of Rick Rubin, a metalhead who formed Def Jam Records with Russell Simmons and had previously flirted with this sound on Run-D.M.C.'s Raising Hell, not to mention a few singles and one-offs with the Beasties prior to this record. He made rap rock, but to give him lone credit for Licensed to Ill (as some have) is misleading, since that very same combination would not have been as powerful, nor would it have aged so well -- aged into a rock classic -- if it weren't for the Beastie Boys, who fuel this record through their passion for subcultures, pop culture, jokes, and the intoxicating power of wordplay. At the time, it wasn't immediately apparent that their obnoxious patter was part of a persona (a fate that would later plague Eminem), but the years have clarified that this was a joke -- although, listening to the cajoling rhymes, filled with clear parodies and absurdities, it's hard to imagine the offense that some took at the time. Which, naturally, is the credit of not just the music -- they don't call it the devil's music for nothing -- but the wild imagination of the Beasties, whose rhymes sear into consciousness through their gonzo humor and gleeful delivery. 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. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
$25.49

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 2009 | Capitol Records

Hello Nasty, the Beastie Boys' fifth album, is a head-spinning listen loaded with analog synthesizers, old drum machines, call-and-response vocals, freestyle rhyming, futuristic sound effects, and virtuoso turntable scratching. The Beasties have long been notorious for their dense, multi-layered explosions, but Hello Nasty is their first record to build on the multi-ethnic junk culture breakthrough of Check Your Head, instead of merely replicating it. Moving from electro-funk breakdowns to Latin-soul jams to spacy pop, Hello Nasty covers as much ground as Check Your Head or Ill Communication, but the flow is natural, like Paul's Boutique, even if the finish is retro-stylized. Hiring DJ Mixmaster Mike (one of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz) turned out to be a masterstroke; he and the Beasties created a sound that strongly recalls the spare electronic funk of the early '80s, but spiked with the samples and post-modern absurdist wit that have become their trademarks. 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. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
$25.49

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 1999 | Capitol Records

$12.99

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 2009 | Capitol Records

Check Your Head brought the Beastie Boys crashing back into the charts and into public consciousness, but that was only partially due to the album itself -- much of its initial success was due to the cult audience that Paul's Boutique cultivated in the years since its initial flop release, a group of fans whose minds were so thoroughly blown by that record, they couldn't wait to see what came next, and this helped the record debut in the Top Ten upon its April 1992 release. This audience, perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, was a collegiate Gen-X audience raised on Licensed to Ill and ready for the Beastie Boys to guide them through college. As it happened, the Beasties had repositioned themselves as a lo-fi, alt-rock groove band. They had not abandoned rap, but it was no longer the foundation of their music, it was simply the most prominent in a thick pop-culture gumbo where old school rap sat comfortably with soul-jazz, hardcore punk, white-trash metal, arena rock, Bob Dylan, bossa nova, spacy pop, and hard, dirty funk. What they did abandon was the psychedelic samples of Paul's Boutique, turning toward primitive grooves they played themselves, augmented by keyboardist Money Mark and co-producer Mario Caldato, Jr.. 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. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
$10.49

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 1992 | Capitol Records

Check Your Head brought the Beastie Boys crashing back into the charts and into public consciousness, but that was only partially due to the album itself -- much of its initial success was due to the cult audience that Paul's Boutique cultivated in the years since its initial flop release, a group of fans whose minds were so thoroughly blown by that record, they couldn't wait to see what came next, and this helped the record debut in the Top Ten upon its April 1992 release. This audience, perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, was a collegiate Gen-X audience raised on Licensed to Ill and ready for the Beastie Boys to guide them through college. As it happened, the Beasties had repositioned themselves as a lo-fi, alt-rock groove band. They had not abandoned rap, but it was no longer the foundation of their music, it was simply the most prominent in a thick pop-culture gumbo where old school rap sat comfortably with soul-jazz, hardcore punk, white-trash metal, arena rock, Bob Dylan, bossa nova, spacy pop, and hard, dirty funk. What they did abandon was the psychedelic samples of Paul's Boutique, turning toward primitive grooves they played themselves, augmented by keyboardist Money Mark and co-producer Mario Caldato, Jr.. 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. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
$10.49

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released May 23, 1994 | Capitol Records

Ill Communication follows the blueprint of Check Your Head, accentuating it at some points, deepening it in others, but never expanding it beyond the boundaries of that record. As such, it's the first Beastie Boys album not to delve into new territory, but it's not fair to say that it finds the band coasting, since much of the album finds the group turning in muscular, vigorous music that fills out the black-and-white sketches that comprised Check Your Head. Much of the credit has to go to the group's renewed confidence in -- or at least renewed emphasis on -- their rhyming; there are still instrumentals (arguably, there are too many instrumentals), but the Beasties do push their words to the forefront, even on dense rockers like the album's signature tune, "Sabotage." But even those rhymes illustrate that the group is in the process of a great settling, relying more on old-school-styled rhyme schemes and word battles than the narratives and surreal fantasies that marked the high points on their first two albums. With this record, the Beasties confirm that there is indeed a signature Beastie Boys aesthetic (it's too far-ranging and restless to be pegged as a signature sound), with the group sticking to a blend of old school rap, pop culture, lo-fi funk, soulful jazz instrumentals, Latin rhythms, and punk, often seamlessly integrated into a rolling, pan-cultural, multi-cultural groove. The best moments of Ill Communication rank with the best music the Beasties have ever made, as well as the best pop music of the '90s, but unfortunately, it's uneven and rather front-loaded. The first half overflows with brilliant, imaginative variations on their aesthetic: the assured groove of "Sure Shot," the warped rap of "B-Boys Makin' With the Freak Freak," the relentless dirty funk of "Root Down," the monumental "Sabotage," and the sly "Get It Together," highlighted by a cameo from Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest. After that, the album seems to lose its sense of direction and momentum, even if individual moments are very good. Any record that can claim jams as funky and inventive as "Flute Loop" and "Do It," or instrumentals as breezy as "Ricky's Theme," is certainly better than its competition, but there are just enough moments that rank as obvious filler to slow its flow, and to keep it from standing proudly next to Check Your Head as a wholly successful record. Even if it is a little uneven, it still boasts more than its fair share of splendid, transcendent music, and it really only pales in comparison to the Beasties' trio of classic records. By any other measure, this is a near-masterpiece, and it is surely a highlight of '90s alternative pop/rock. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
$12.99

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 2005 | Capitol Records

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 2004 | Capitol Records

Six years is a long time, about one-and-a-half generations in pop music and a fairly large chunk out of anyone's life, two sentiments that come into play on the Beastie Boys' sixth album, 2004's To the 5 Boroughs. When the Beasties last delivered an album, it was in the summer of 1998 as the Clinton impeachment scandal was heating up, and just as that sordid saga closed the curtain on the swinging '90s, Hello Nasty served as both a culmination of the New York trio's remarkable comeback and as a capper to the alt-rock boom of the '90s, the last album of the decade to capture what the '90s actually felt like. Not only is the political and cultural landscape of 2004 much different than that of 1998, the Beasties are a different band in a different position. They're no longer on the vanguard of pop culture, setting the trends and styles, nor do they embody their time; like it or not, the po-faced, humorless brooding of Coldplay and Wilco is an appropriate soundtrack to the drab, dark days of the early 2000s. No, the Beastie Boys are no longer groundbreakers; they're elder statesmen, operating outside of the fashions of the time. This has as much to do with maturity as it does with changing times. Now that Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D are all nearly 40, they're not as interested in being the world's hippest group, as evidenced by their abandonment of their Grand Royal empire at the turn of the decade, and that suspicion is borne out by To the 5 Boroughs. Like many musicians at middle age, the Beasties are a little set in their ways, ignoring modern music nearly entirely and turning to the music of their youth for sustenance. For the Beasties, this means heavy doses of old school rap spiked with a bit of punk, which admittedly isn't all that different from the blueprints for Check Your Head, Ill Communication, and Hello Nasty, but the attack here is clean and focused, far removed from the sprawling, kaleidoscopic mosaics of their '90s records. In contrast, To the 5 Boroughs is sleek and streamlined, with all the loose ends neatly clipped and tied; even the punk influences are transformed into hip-hop, as when the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer" provides the fuel for "An Open Letter to NYC." Given the emphasis on hip-hop, it may be tempting to label Boroughs as an old-school homage, but that isn't accurate, since nothing here sounds like a lost side from the Sugarhill Records stable. Still, old-school rhyme schemes and grooves do power the album, yet they're filtered through the Beasties' signature blend of absurdity, in-jokes, and pop culture, all served up in a dense, layered production so thick that it seems to boast more samples than it does. Apart from an explicit anti-Dubya political bent on some lyrics, there's nothing surprising or new here, and the cohesive, concise nature of To the 5 Boroughs only emphasizes the familiarity of the music. Familiarity can be comforting, though, particularly in troubled times, and there's a certain pleasure simply hearing the trio again after six long years of silence, particularly since the Beasties are in good form here, crafting appealing productions and spitting out more rhymes than they have since Paul's Boutique. If there are no classics here, there's no duds, either, and given that the Beasties' pop culture aesthetic once seemed to be the territory of young men, it's rather impressive that they're maturing gracefully, turning into expert craftsmen that can deliver a satisfying listen like this. That's a subtle achievement, something that will likely not please those listeners looking for the shock of the new from a Beastie Boys record, but judged on its own musical merits, To the 5 Boroughs is a satisfying listen, and convincing evidence that the trio will be able to weather middle age well. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
$12.99

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 2007 | Capitol Records

Hailed in some quarters as a back-to-basics masterstroke, derided in others as flaccid and stale, it can be universally agreed that To the 5 Boroughs performed the crucial task of lowering expectations for the Beastie Boys. Until then, it was expected that each of their new albums would be a radical step forward -- or at least a virtuoso consolidation of strengths à la Ill Communication -- but To the 5 Boroughs was neither; it was a straight-up hip-hop album, not quite like anything they made before yet sounding undeniably familiar. Its modest success and mixed reviews had the unexpected effect of humanizing the Beastie Boys, which in turn meant they could do what they wanted without having to face the daunting expectations placed on them ever since Licensed to Ill, and The Mix Up, the 2007 follow-up to Boroughs, is certainly not an innovative record, but nor is it a retreat. It's the Beasties' first all-instrumental record, grounded in soul-jazz, a sound they've been mining since Check Your Head (arguably, even Paul's Boutique had elements of the sound in its samples), as they peppered their albums and B-sides with lazy, hazy funk jams. Most of these were gathered up on the 1996 compilation The In Sound from Way Out, which undoubtedly sounds similar to The Mix Up, but that's at heart an odds-n-sods collection, bearing the evidence that it was patched together from different sources. The Mix Up was designed as a specific project, so it holds together better, and it's also decidedly less knowing in its references than the cleverly kitschy In Sound (its title and artwork borrowed from classic '60s LPs). 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. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 1989 | Capitol Records

Such was the power of Licensed to Ill that everybody, from fans to critics, thought that not only could the Beastie Boys not top the record, but that they were destined to be a one-shot wonder. These feelings were only amplified by their messy, litigious departure from Def Jam and their flight from their beloved New York to Los Angeles, since it appeared that the Beasties had completely lost the plot. Many critics in fact thought that Paul's Boutique was a muddled mess upon its summer release in 1989, but that's the nature of the record -- it's so dense, it's bewildering at first, revealing its considerable charms with each play. To put it mildly, it's a considerable change from the hard rock of Licensed to Ill, shifting to layers of samples and beats so intertwined they move beyond psychedelic; it's a painting with sound. Paul's Boutique is a record that only could have been made in a specific time and place. Like the Rolling Stones in 1972, the Beastie Boys were in exile and pining for their home, so they made a love letter to downtown New York -- which they could not have done without the Dust Brothers, a Los Angeles-based production duo who helped redefine what sampling could be with this record. Sadly, after Paul's Boutique sampling on the level of what's heard here would disappear; due to a series of lawsuits, most notably Gilbert O'Sullivan's suit against Biz Markie, the entire enterprise too cost-prohibitive and risky to perform on such a grand scale. Which is really a shame, because if ever a record could be used as incontrovertible proof that sampling is its own art form, it's Paul's Boutique. Snatches of familiar music are scattered throughout the record -- anything from Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" and Sly Stone's "Loose Booty" to Loggins & Messina's "Your Mama Don't Dance" and the Ramones' "Suzy Is a Headbanger" -- but never once are they presented in lazy, predictable ways. The Dust Brothers and Beasties weave a crazy-quilt of samples, beats, loops, and tricks, which creates a hyper-surreal alternate reality -- a romanticized, funhouse reflection of New York where all pop music and culture exist on the same strata, feeding off each other, mocking each other, evolving into a wholly unique record, unlike anything that came before or after. It very well could be that its density is what alienated listeners and critics at the time; there is so much information in the music and words that it can seem impenetrable at first, but upon repeated spins it opens up slowly, assuredly, revealing more every listen. Musically, few hip-hop records have ever been so rich; it's not just the recontextulations of familiar music via samples, it's the flow of each song and the album as a whole, culminating in the widescreen suite that closes the record. Lyrically, the Beasties have never been better -- not just because their jokes are razor-sharp, but because they construct full-bodied narratives and evocative portraits of characters and places. Few pop records offer this much to savor, and if Paul's Boutique only made a modest impact upon its initial release, over time its influence could be heard through pop and rap, yet no matter how its influence was felt, it stands alone as a record of stunning vision, maturity, and accomplishment. Plus, it's a hell of a lot of fun, no matter how many times you've heard it. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
$12.99

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 2005 | Capitol Records

The Beastie Boys had a good, albeit eccentric, hits compilation in 1999 with the double-disc set The Sounds of Science, so what's the purpose of the 2005 set Solid Gold Hits? Well, it is considerably more concise than the previous compilation, spanning just one disc and containing a mere 15 songs compared to the 42 on Sounds. So, for listeners who are just looking for the big hits, this serves its purpose quite well, since this may be missing many great songs -- and not just album tracks or early singles like "She's on It," but charting hits like "Paul Revere" -- but it does have all of their anthems, including "Fight for Your Right," "Brass Monkey," "Hey Ladies," "Shake Your Rump," "So What'cha Want," "Sabotage," "Sure Shot," "Intergalactic," and "Body Movin'," here in its Fatboy Slim remix. While some listeners may find the non-chronological order kind of frustrating, these songs sound good in pretty much any running order, so this winds up as a thoroughly entertaining listen. Perhaps it's not the definitive Beastie Boys album, but for fans who just want nothing more than the hits, this does its job. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
$12.99

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 1994 | Capitol Records

Ill Communication follows the blueprint of Check Your Head, accentuating it at some points, deepening it in others, but never expanding it beyond the boundaries of that record. As such, it's the first Beastie Boys album not to delve into new territory, but it's not fair to say that it finds the band coasting, since much of the album finds the group turning in muscular, vigorous music that fills out the black-and-white sketches that comprised Check Your Head. Much of the credit has to go to the group's renewed confidence in -- or at least renewed emphasis on -- their rhyming; there are still instrumentals (arguably, there are too many instrumentals), but the Beasties do push their words to the forefront, even on dense rockers like the album's signature tune, "Sabotage." But even those rhymes illustrate that the group is in the process of a great settling, relying more on old-school-styled rhyme schemes and word battles than the narratives and surreal fantasies that marked the high points on their first two albums. With this record, the Beasties confirm that there is indeed a signature Beastie Boys aesthetic (it's too far-ranging and restless to be pegged as a signature sound), with the group sticking to a blend of old school rap, pop culture, lo-fi funk, soulful jazz instrumentals, Latin rhythms, and punk, often seamlessly integrated into a rolling, pan-cultural, multi-cultural groove. The best moments of Ill Communication rank with the best music the Beasties have ever made, as well as the best pop music of the '90s, but unfortunately, it's uneven and rather front-loaded. The first half overflows with brilliant, imaginative variations on their aesthetic: the assured groove of "Sure Shot," the warped rap of "B-Boys Makin' With the Freak Freak," the relentless dirty funk of "Root Down," the monumental "Sabotage," and the sly "Get It Together," highlighted by a cameo from Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest. After that, the album seems to lose its sense of direction and momentum, even if individual moments are very good. Any record that can claim jams as funky and inventive as "Flute Loop" and "Do It," or instrumentals as breezy as "Ricky's Theme," is certainly better than its competition, but there are just enough moments that rank as obvious filler to slow its flow, and to keep it from standing proudly next to Check Your Head as a wholly successful record. Even if it is a little uneven, it still boasts more than its fair share of splendid, transcendent music, and it really only pales in comparison to the Beasties' trio of classic records. By any other measure, this is a near-masterpiece, and it is surely a highlight of '90s alternative pop/rock. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
$12.99

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 1998 | Capitol Records

Hello Nasty, the Beastie Boys' fifth album, is a head-spinning listen loaded with analog synthesizers, old drum machines, call-and-response vocals, freestyle rhyming, futuristic sound effects, and virtuoso turntable scratching. The Beasties have long been notorious for their dense, multi-layered explosions, but Hello Nasty is their first record to build on the multi-ethnic junk culture breakthrough of Check Your Head, instead of merely replicating it. Moving from electro-funk breakdowns to Latin-soul jams to spacy pop, Hello Nasty covers as much ground as Check Your Head or Ill Communication, but the flow is natural, like Paul's Boutique, even if the finish is retro-stylized. Hiring DJ Mixmaster Mike (one of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz) turned out to be a masterstroke; he and the Beasties created a sound that strongly recalls the spare electronic funk of the early '80s, but spiked with the samples and post-modern absurdist wit that have become their trademarks. 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. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
$7.49

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 2008 | Capitol Records

$10.49

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 2011 | Capitol Records

$12.99

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 1, 2004 | Capitol Records

Six years is a long time, about one-and-a-half generations in pop music and a fairly large chunk out of anyone's life, two sentiments that come into play on the Beastie Boys' sixth album, 2004's To the 5 Boroughs. When the Beasties last delivered an album, it was in the summer of 1998 as the Clinton impeachment scandal was heating up, and just as that sordid saga closed the curtain on the swinging '90s, Hello Nasty served as both a culmination of the New York trio's remarkable comeback and as a capper to the alt-rock boom of the '90s, the last album of the decade to capture what the '90s actually felt like. Not only is the political and cultural landscape of 2004 much different than that of 1998, the Beasties are a different band in a different position. They're no longer on the vanguard of pop culture, setting the trends and styles, nor do they embody their time; like it or not, the po-faced, humorless brooding of Coldplay and Wilco is an appropriate soundtrack to the drab, dark days of the early 2000s. No, the Beastie Boys are no longer groundbreakers; they're elder statesmen, operating outside of the fashions of the time. This has as much to do with maturity as it does with changing times. Now that Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D are all nearly 40, they're not as interested in being the world's hippest group, as evidenced by their abandonment of their Grand Royal empire at the turn of the decade, and that suspicion is borne out by To the 5 Boroughs. Like many musicians at middle age, the Beasties are a little set in their ways, ignoring modern music nearly entirely and turning to the music of their youth for sustenance. For the Beasties, this means heavy doses of old school rap spiked with a bit of punk, which admittedly isn't all that different from the blueprints for Check Your Head, Ill Communication, and Hello Nasty, but the attack here is clean and focused, far removed from the sprawling, kaleidoscopic mosaics of their '90s records. In contrast, To the 5 Boroughs is sleek and streamlined, with all the loose ends neatly clipped and tied; even the punk influences are transformed into hip-hop, as when the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer" provides the fuel for "An Open Letter to NYC." Given the emphasis on hip-hop, it may be tempting to label Boroughs as an old-school homage, but that isn't accurate, since nothing here sounds like a lost side from the Sugarhill Records stable. Still, old-school rhyme schemes and grooves do power the album, yet they're filtered through the Beasties' signature blend of absurdity, in-jokes, and pop culture, all served up in a dense, layered production so thick that it seems to boast more samples than it does. Apart from an explicit anti-Dubya political bent on some lyrics, there's nothing surprising or new here, and the cohesive, concise nature of To the 5 Boroughs only emphasizes the familiarity of the music. Familiarity can be comforting, though, particularly in troubled times, and there's a certain pleasure simply hearing the trio again after six long years of silence, particularly since the Beasties are in good form here, crafting appealing productions and spitting out more rhymes than they have since Paul's Boutique. If there are no classics here, there's no duds, either, and given that the Beasties' pop culture aesthetic once seemed to be the territory of young men, it's rather impressive that they're maturing gracefully, turning into expert craftsmen that can deliver a satisfying listen like this. That's a subtle achievement, something that will likely not please those listeners looking for the shock of the new from a Beastie Boys record, but judged on its own musical merits, To the 5 Boroughs is a satisfying listen, and convincing evidence that the trio will be able to weather middle age well. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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