Start to Finish: Beastie Boys

With the recent passing of Mike Yauch (MCA), I was drawn to revisiting the Beastie Boys discography. I’ve heard their radio hits over the years and have always respected them but never really dug into their albums. Also, I’ve been jogging a lot recently and needed music with some beats to get me going, so they were a natural fit. I decided to skip their early hardcore release and other rarities and just stick to the main albums. Let me know what you think of the commentary and if I should have addressed other things that I missed. With the link below, you can listen through what I think are the 25 essential Beastie Boys songs spanning their entire career. I purposely left out some big hits to leave more room for some of their deeper cuts. What are your favorite Beastie Boys songs?

License to Ill (1986) – This album had many hits and is usually thought of as a party record but the songs that stood out to me listening this time around were the fictional robbery tales. This record also has lots of classic rock samples all over the place (Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, the Clash, AC DC, Aerosmith, Steve Miller Band, etc.), which helped solidify their place as the pioneering group to blend rap and rock together. While it gets a little slapstick at times, I think it’s a real iconic album that came to define the era.Essentials: Rhymin & Stealin, Paul Revere.

Paul’s Boutique (1989) – The Beastie Boys teamed up with the Dust Brothers for their dense sophomore album. Beck’s Odelay was one of my favorite album growing up so I can easily recognize the Dust Brothers’ fingerprint on this record. They still sampled all over the place like in License to Ill but the samples became more obscure and leaned more heavily on 60s and 70s soul/funk. Although this album didn’t make a huge splash when it was released, it has since gone on to be considered their masterpiece.Essentials: Shadrach, Shake Your Rump, Hey Ladies.  

Check Your Head (1992) – This is the Beastie Boys getting back to their punk/hardcore roots. They played their own instruments this time around and many of songs feature distorted vocals. At times you can hear similarities between this record and the sound Rage Against the Machine were going for. This record is probably my favorite because it rocks the most. Essentials: So What’cha Want, Gratitude, Pass The Mic, Finger Lickin’ Good.

Ill Communication (1994) – This album found the band mixing up all the styles they had done to that point. They started to throw in some instrumentals and found inspiration from more of the 70s soul/funk style. As one of their longest albums at 20 songs, it tends to drag on and has a fair amount of filler, but Sabotage remains the quintessential tune from the era, complete with iconic music video. Essentials: Root Down, Sabotage, Sure Shot, The Update.

Hello Nasty (1998) – For this record they teamed up with Mixmaster Mike, adding some fresh new sounds with a space/cosmic flair. Unfortunately, the rapping is starting to sound a little tired. It feels like they’ve run of out things say and are recycling some of the same patterns and phrases. Like Ill Communication, it is a long record and drags on at the end. Still, their are a handful of gems in here. Essentials: Intergalactic, Body Movin’, Three MCs and One DJ.

To the 5 Boroughs (2004) – This is Boys most political record, referencing the war in Iraq, racism, the economy, etc. The beats sound tighter, slicker, streamlined and modern. In Triple Trouble, they even sample the Sugerhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, which is fun but comes across a little desperate. Although it’s a good, fresh sound and on the whole a solid record, it lacks the hooks and eclectic sounds that gave character to their earlier releases. Essentials: Right Right Now Now, Ch-Check It Out, We Got The.

The Mix Up (2007) – At this point, the Boys had pretty much done it all; so they made an instrumental record. It bears little resemblance to what you the typical think of when you hear the  Beastie Boys: No rapping and no drum machines! It does, however, use as a starting point many of the 70s inspired, lounge/funk/soul sounds they explored on previous records but had previously relegated to filler or interlude status in the context of an album. At times, it sounds like they were shooting to be included on the soundtrack of the next Ocean’s Eleven movie. Still, it’s obvious they had fun time jamming in the studio, putting this together. A great album to jog to but I’m not certain it holds my attention without having rapping/vocal hooks. Essentials: Suco De Tangerina, Electric Worm, The Cousin of Death.

Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 (2011) – Having gone 7 years since their last album of rapping, the Boys had high expectations to meet. Much of the album goes back to an old school sound. There are plenty of reverb and vocal effects as well as more reliance on real drums instead of drum machines. The collaboration with Nas is a fresh, welcome sound, borrowing a fatboy slim electronica style from the 90s. The record also dabbles in funk, reggae, and some interesting production work where some of the beats seem to fall apart and sounds like they are dissolving. With the fate of band uncertain, these could very well be their last record, although there is the possibility that Part 1 will still be released. If it is their last, it would be a fitting ending to an eclectic and musically well accomplished 30+ year career. Essentials: To Many Rappers, Long Burn the Fire, Here’s a Little Something for Ya.

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