Though I'll admit it's been a long time since I've followed the group closely, over the past decade they released just two studio albums. I enjoyed last year's Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (Capitol) quite a bit, but what affected me most was the group's output from the early 80s till the mid-90s. I've been listening back to those records today, and their subtly innovative music is as powerful and fun as it ever was.
I first heard the Beastie Boys when I was still in high school, while they were making their transition from mediocre punk band to hip-hop megaforce. I'd spent many of my summers in Ocean City, New Jersey, where the TV picked up the New York affiliates of the major networks rather than the Philadelphia ones I watched the rest of the year. The low-rent commercials for ice-cream-cake makers Carvel made an indelible impression on me as a kid—if there were Carvel shops in the Philadelphia area, I never saw one. So when I first heard the Beasties' song "Cooky Puss," I got a blast of nostalgia along with the comedy (the track's full of prank calls to a Carvel franchise asking if Cookie Puss, one of their oddly named cakes, is there).
The next time I heard the group, they were a real hip-hop outfit, albeit a hip-hop outfit that applied the excess and self-indulgence of cock rock to the rap game. I bought and loved a few of the singles leading up to License to Ill, and during my sophomore year in college I played that album as much as anything in my collection. I still have fond memories of a particularly stupid night when a pal showed up at my apartment unexpectedly with two bottles of Brass Monkey, which we proceeded to drink through gritted teeth—that shit was foul—while blasting the record, dancing like fools the whole time. I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't discover the brilliance of Paul's Boutique until a couple years after the fact, but I vividly remember buying a cassette-single version of "Shake Your Rump," the only time in my life I sprang for a release in that format.
The record that I loved the most, and still do, was Check Your Head. The Beastie Boys had reinvented themselves for the third time in as many albums, and it was here that they really showed how cool they were, combining their love of punk rock and hip-hop, along with loads of other genres, into seamless tracks loaded with personality. They named a song after one of jazz's greatest practitioners of the Hammond B-3; they relentlessly made fun of themselves, but never at the expense of the music; and they were one of the first groups to push hip-hop so far beyond two turntables and a microphone. I also love Ill Communication like mad, but at that point the group began to settle down a bit. Their signal moment of genius—which profoundly influenced loads of subsequent musicians, both good and bad, like few artists have done since—was in the past. But the brilliance of those records remains undiminished for me. It's incredibly sad to see yet another person snuffed out by cancer before his time. I didn't know Yauch from Adam (sorry!), but I think all Beastie Boys fans have lost a pal.
photo: Phil Andelman
Derek Bailey & Cyro Baptista, Derek (Amulet)
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Angela Maria, (Uma Voz Para Milhões) Quando a Noite Vem (Continental/Warner Music Brasil)
Chris Bartley, The Sweetest Thing This Side of Heaven (Collectables)
Dum Dum Girls, Only in Dreams (Sub Pop)