Saturday will be anniversary of Adam Yauch’s death. The Beastie Boys founder, film-maker, musician, rapper, humans rights activist and all-round legend died tragically from cancer aged 47 in 2012. Before his death, MC, along with Ad-Rock and Mike D, gave us some extraordinary music. Here NME staffers scrap it out over which of their records should be top of the pile. Agreeing on the best Beasties album is an impossible task – testament to their pedigree as well as their pioneering spirit. So we’ve got the team to put their cases forward for what they believe is the Beasties’ finest moment. Have a read, then let us know what you think.
To me, the Beasties will always be the band for Vans/backpack-with-both-straps-wearing knobs who take pride in how much more into hip-hop than you they are. No offence to the Beasties or what is actually not a bad album, but rule Number 64 of life is: if you are at a party and someone puts on ‘Paul’s Boutique’ and rolls “a doobie”, get the fuck out of there as soon as possible. Either that, or put ‘Licensed To Ill’ on.
Here’s what will happen: aforementioned purist guy (ALWAYS a guy) will start talking about how the Beasties themselves hate it (they don’t) and how it was just a joke at the expense of fratboys that got out of hand. Move away, because he will start on some unbelievably boring soliloquy about producer Rick Rubin’s seminal fusion of rap/metal, then start sighing about the existence of Fred Durst, and bollock on making excuses about how ‘Girls’ isn’t sexist, actually, it’s making fun of people being sexist. Meanwhile, everyone else in the house/venue/morgue, whether they’re a newborn baby, a pensioner or anything in between, will be carrying on like they’re a teenager who has just got drunk for the first time. Only true masterpieces bottle the best feelings in life like this, and that is why the Beasties’ debut will long outlive all their other work.
Best song: ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)’
I came to the Beastie Boys late. As a ’90s teenager who grew up listening to Oasis and Nirvana and who loved sitting in front of the TV watching the same tunes go round and round on MTV2, I was unprepared for the video to ‘Intergalactic’, the Beasties’ 1998 single from ‘Hello Nasty’. At the time I was ambivalent to hip-hop, but something about Ad-Rock, MCA and Mix Master Mike jumping about in white boiler suits with a giant robot hooked me in.
So I delved deep and got to ‘Paul’s Boutique’, where I stayed. Not because it captured New York City in 1989 or anything (I’d missed all that), but because more than any album I’d obsessed over since Kurt Cobain’s back catalogue, it showed me how to love music I’d previously never loved.
Via Cobain I got into Sonic Youth, Pixies, Iggy Pop. Via ‘Paul’s Boutique’’s sample-led madness I was introduced to Chuck D, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Pato Banton, Sly Stone and the Ramones, and shown the way to genius super-producers the RZA, Madlib and J Dilla, three of my all-time favourite dudes. Despite the absurd spring break bravado lyrics (which are smarter than Don Draper), ‘Paul’s Boutique’ opened my mind to all forms of hip-hop. Plus: it’s actually even better party music than ‘Licensed To Ill’. BEER BONG!
Best song: ‘Shadrach’
Tom Howard, Reviews Editor
In 1992, I was a teenage Walkman-addict, and my tape of this album took a hell of a battering. It was post-‘Nevermind’, and grunge was massive, but ‘Check Your Head’’s melding of whip-smart hip-hop and hardcore punk was far sharper, cooler, and actually heavier than all the Seattle music around at the time. For wannabe skaters and semi-professional stoners like me and my friends, nothing came close.
The audience for hip-hop in the UK has always been the preserve of posh suburban kids dressing like ghetto boys,
but ‘Check Your Head’’s hard urban edgy scuzziness really felt like it was for the rest us and made sense to a Brummie girl like me. It made my long bus journeys across the city to school bearable.
Listening back to it now, it still knocks the rest of the band’s albums into a cocked baseball cap. ‘Gratitude’ remains their hardest ever song, with MCA’s fuzz-bass at a rib-shattering intensity. ‘So What’cha Want’ outdoes it though. It’s by far the Beasties Boys’ best song. It makes ‘Intergalactic’ sound like the theme tune to Postman Pat. Following the little boy masturbatory wish-fulfillment that is ‘Licensed To Ill’, ‘Check Your Head’ showed just what a diverse bunch of styles the band could shift between, not just hardcore and hip-hop anymore, but funk, soul and even lounge music instrumentals. Crucially though, while on subsequent albums they explored these different styles and many more in greater depth, they were never as aggressive or ALIVE in doing that as on ‘Check Your Head’. It’s the sound of a band gleefully ripping the world apart. Pay no attention to the choices of the boring boys on these pages, have some balls and ‘Check Your Head’.
Best song: ‘So What’cha Want’’
‘Ill Communication’ is not only the Beastie Boys’ best album by a fucking mile, it’s also the best hip-hop album of all time and a contender for best album ever, full stop. I’m serious. And here’s why:
1) UM, ‘SABOTAGE’, ANYONE?
Forget the awesome video and concentrate on the track; exactly three minutes of peerless rap-rock that combines everything that made the Beastie Boys amazing – relentless rhymes, shit-hot musicianship and a geeky self-parody that lesser bands wouldn’t have the balls to go near.
2) IT’S GOT THE BEST GUEST VOCAL EVER.
If anyone tells you that Jay-Z’s feature on Kanye West’s ‘Monster’ is hip-hop’s best guest spot, they’re an idiot. Pure and simple. The winner is Q-Tip for the semi-conscious and barely coherent ramble that underpins the classic ‘Get It Together’. Clearly the work of a madman, he makes weirdo Happy Days references (“got to do it like this like Chachi and Joanie”) sound like cultural timebombs. Genius.
3) IT’S A TOTAL PARTY RECORD
Who needs ‘Intergalactic’ or ‘…Fight For Your Right…’ when you’ve got ‘Sure Shot’ and ‘Sabotage’? OK, I’m not convinced by this one either, but…
4) IT FEATURES CHANTING BUDDHIST MONKS!
MCA’s raging Buddhism was approaching its peak in 1994 (he would later organise the Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1996 which over 100,000 people attended), so what did he do? Sample a load of monks and rap his worthy message over the top. The result is one of hip-hop’s most far-out classics.
5) DID I MENTION ‘SABOTAGE’?
Oh, I did? OK, well that’s that sorted then.
Best song: ‘Sabotage’ (obviously)
Mike Williams, Editor
Fuck the rap shit. At least, that’s what the 13-year-old me said upon hearing this, the Beasties’ 11-minute mid-period skate-punk breakout album. Released solely as a microcosmic/frenetic energy burst just to prove they could rock better than the rest of mainstream America’s punk elite – at that point made up of chartbusting shites like Pennywise and NOFX – it opened doors for me that led to the likes of Bad Brains and Minor Threat. Basically, the US punk stuff you didn’t read about in magazines much back then. The really good stuff.
I remember listening to it over and over on a crappy big wheel in my hometown, while stoned out of my tiny teenage mind and loving it like I’d loved no other product from America before. I even remember appreciating pasta a whole lot more just because of the title. I downloaded it again last night and played it for the first time in years – it all came flooding back.
Best song: All 11 minutes of it
Matt Wilkinson, New Music Editor
In 1998, everyone thought the Beasties had peaked. They’d done the party-friendly debut. The pioneering second. The live-band departure. The chart-friendly hits. They’d been one of the biggest bands in the world. They were all in their mid-thirties and had nothing to prove. Then they released ‘Hello Nasty’.
The album blew my mind as the sound of everything amazing about the band squished into one, with nothing lost in the splatter. It’s got their weirdest, best hits – such as ‘Intergalactic’, with its insane robot-chatter chorus, actually way more anthemic than ‘Sabotage’ and ‘…Fight For Your Right…’. It’s got DJ Mix Master Mike on turntable duties – reigning in mixtable wankery to provide subtle deck-work that never overshadowed the raw spitting of MCA, Ad-Rock and Mike D.
To me, this isn’t about defining an era, or showing how Beasties progressed. It’s just their best album. Full stop.
Best song: ‘Three MCs And One DJ’
Jamie Fullerton, Features Editor
This article ran in the May 19 issue of NME magazine in 2012