Originally formed as a four-piece punk band - drummer Kate Schellenbach and guitarist John Berry made up the four with Diamond and Yauch - the Beastie Boys tried to break into the growing punk scene in 1982 with their Pollywog Stew EP. Garnering little attention, that year the band met Horovitz, who had put together the group The Young And The Useless. By early 1983, Schellenbach and Berry had left the group leaving a spot open for Horovitz to slot into. Revamped and ready to experiment, the 12 inch single 'Cooky Puss', which was inspired by a prank phone call the boys made to an ice cream parlor, became an underground club hit in New York.
Pretty much abandoning punk by 1984 and transitioning into rap, it was the jewish frat boys desire to sought out a DJ that would change everything for them. Wanting to improve their stage shows within the rap arena, the group met Rick Rubin, who, after manning the ones and twos for the group temporarily, teamed up with Russell Simmons to create the legendary Def Jam Records.
Officially signing on the Def Jam dotted line in 1985, the Beastie Boys became an instant hit. Included on the soundtrack to the movie Krush Groove, 'She's On It', which sampled AC/DC's 'Back In Black', gave hints to the type of approach the group would later take when putting together their debut album.
The any-and-all-welcome attitude of the emergent Hip Hop scene was something the Beastie Boys just wanted to be a part of. Being the first successful white group in a culture dominated by those of African/American decent, questions about their authenticity were often raised and accusations of cultural pirating were a regular occurrence. This didn't matter to the boys. Being the first minority students of the old school, they preferred to be looked at as class clowns than subscribers to the dean's list anyway. Upon further inspection, this was never more evident than on their 1986 debut Licensed To Ill.
With rock meeting rap for the very first time on such a large scale, on Licensed To Ill [with the help of Rick Rubin] the Beastie Boys tapped into the spirit of teenage rebellion like no other. Later inspiring the likes of Eminem, Insane Clown Posse, and Limp Bizkit to throw down and embrace their inner rebel, anthems such as 'Fight For Your Right (To Party)' and 'No Sleep Till Brooklyn' became the soundtrack to many teenage lives for the next year. Indulging in a lot of alcohol, a lot of women, and a whole lot of cursing, the introduction of the Beastie Boys into the world of rap via Licensed To Ill - which became rap's first ever number one album, one of Def Jam/Columbia's fastest selling debuts, and the biggest selling rap album of the 80's - shook up the genre in a colossal way.
Identified as troublemakers, controversy followed the Beasties like a lingering smell. Not only were they highly criticised for their unruly behavior whilst supporting Madonna on a North American tour, in 1987 their own Licensed To Ill tour saw their mischievous recklessness taken to a whole other level. Besides the inflatable penises decorating the stage, and the countless females dancing whilst locked in cages, the worst came when on the Liverpool, Royal Court Theatre leg of the tour the audience erupted into a riot just ten minutes after the trio hit the stage - Ad-Rock was later arrested on assault charges.
Breaking away from Def Jam soon after Licensed To Ill was released, parting ways with the label wasn't easy. After a bitter lawsuit between themselves, Def Jam and Rick Rubin, the group relocated to California in 1988, where they signed with Capitol Records. Leaving the obnoxious sounds of sexism and distasteful humor behind, blending the aesthetic style points of b-boydom with the new cut-and-paste production craze doing the rounds, Paul's Boutique was born. Misunderstood originally, the material contained went over the heads of many. Having since been recognised as the pinnacle point for the just-born art of sampling (the year was 1989), the artistically mature 15-track journey into sound went on to be ranked #156 on Rolling Stone Magazine's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Set up in 1992, the Beastie Boys launched their own record label, Grand Royal. Also starting a magazine of the same name, one of its biggest issues was its second when it published an article talking about the mullet - something the Beastie Boys are credited as creating. Their sound changing once again, this time opting to embrace their punk roots a little bit more then previously, their album Check Your Head (1992) positioned the group as an alternative rock groove band with soulful jazz, trash metal, and dirty funk all a part of the mix. Catapulting them back into public consciousness - the forward-thinking genius of Paul's Boutique hadn't quite sunk in yet - joints such as 'Pass The Mic', 'Finger Licking Good' and 'So What'cha Want' helped them continue to set creative trends.
Continuing to be one of the most successful commercial crossovers in music, the album Ill Communication (1994) put the Beasties back on top. Throwing their hat back into the rap ring, 'Sure Shot' played like a vintage breakbeat with a heightened sense of lyricism tailored more towards just having fun. 'Sabotage' was undoubtedly the album's crowning glory. The perfect balance of rock and rap, with its Spike Jonze-directed video showcasing the group's comedic talents, landed the Beasties their second number one album whilst going triple platinum in the process.
Hitting multi-platinum sales once again, the sonically head-spinning Hello Nasty gave the Beastie Boys yet another number one album. Not only that, the 1998 LP took home two awards at the 1999 Grammy Awards for Best Alternative Music Album and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for 'Intergalactic'. Loaded with synths and dizzying electronic backdrops, the album also marked the introduction of DMC champion Mix Master Mike to the group's line-up. Building upon the musical mash up that was Check Your Head, Hello Nasty covered more genre-bouncing ground than any of their previous efforts.
Following Hello Nasty, a greatest hits titled The Sounds Of Science hit stores in 1999. Then right before their 2004 album To The 5 Boroughs was released, which spawned the hit 'Ch-Check It Out', the Beastie Boys were involved in a landmark sampling dispute of mega importance. Having sampled a six second flute stab in their track 'Pass The Mic', taken from James Newton's 'Choir', they had obtained permission to use the sound recording but not the composition rights to the song itself. The federal judge's decision ended up swinging in their favor because "consisting of three notes separated by a half-step over a background C note is not sufficient to sustain a claim for copyright infringement."
With iconic performances still a part of the group's repertoire, before dropping their final two projects - the Grammy Award winning instrumental album The Mix Up (2007) and 2012's Hot Sauce Committee Part Two - the Beasties put together a memorable performance of 'Ch-Check It Out' for The Late Night Show With David Letterman. Beginning by running out of a New York subway station, rapping all the way to the studio whilst following a camera down the block, the streets were quite literally paved with hundreds of fans witnessing something only the Beastie Boys would have the audacity to do.
The unfortunate passing of Adam "MCA" Yauch, who succumbed to his ongoing battle with cancer on May 4th of 2012, closed the door on an incredibly influential career. While it's unclear as to whether or not Mike D or Ad-Rock will release anymore Beastie Boys music, there is talk of an autobiography being written by the group's remaining members that should be released in 2015.
Words - Will "ill Will" Lavin
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.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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 a 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.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Once Adam Yauch discovered he had cancer in 2009, the Beastie Boys shelved their forthcoming The Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 1 and its companion volume, gradually reviving and revising the project once Yauch went into remission. At this point, they scrapped their convoluted plans to release concurrent complementary volumes of THSC and simply went forth with The Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2, which retained the bulk of the track list from Pt 1. All this hurly-burly camouflages the essential truth of The Hot Sauce Committee: that the Beasties could sit on an album for two years to no ill effect to their reputation or the record’s quality. This doesn’t suggest they’re out of step so much as they’re out of time, existing in a world of their own making, beholden to no other standard but their own.
Certainly, the Beasties stitch together sounds and rhymes from their past throughout The Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2, laying down grooves a la Check Your Head but weaving samples through these rhythms, thickly layering the album with analog synths out of Hello Nasty, all the while pledging allegiance to old-school rap in their rhymes. Nothing here is exactly unexpected -- even the presence of Santogold on “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” isn’t new, it’s new wave -- yet The Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 feels fresh because there is such kinetic joy propelling this music.
Last time around, the Beasties weighed themselves down by creating retro-tribute to N.Y.C., taking everything just a little bit too seriously, but here they’re free of any expectations and are back to doing what they do best: cracking wise and acting so stupid they camouflage how kinetic, inventive, and rich their music is. And, make no mistake, The Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 does find the Beastie Boys at their best. Perhaps they’re no longer setting the style, but it takes master musicians to continually find new wrinkles within a signature sound, which is precisely what the Beasties do here.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
In the hilarious liner note/photo package with the disc is an indignant letter from a punk fan in about 1982 or so complaining bitterly about the Beastie Boys as being little more than "a pathetic, feeble imitation of Minor Threat." The thing is, that's fairly accurate. Collecting some of the long out-of-print/hard-to-find early releases by the band -- the Polly Wog Stew EP and the Cookie Puss single, mainly -- Some Old Bullshit is mostly that, if an entertaining enough variety. The eight Polly Wog Stew tracks are brattish hardcore and not much more, mainly interesting to hear Mike D's lead snotty whine and sometimes amusing lyrics ("Egg Raid on Mojo" is about carrying out such an assault on the doorman of a Manhattan club).
"Jimi" is the best of the bunch because it isn't anything like hardcore, but more an attempt at noisy psychedelia that sounds like a sweeter, younger version of the Butthole Surfers. There's one other reason to at least give the album an initial ear: the drummer at this point was Kate Schellenbach, eventual founding member of Luscious Jackson a decade later. The Cookie Puss tracks signal the initial transmogrification of the Beasties into the Hip Hop monsters of the later '80s, if a bit hamhandedly. There's old-school synth beats and bass, some minimal scratching, and vocals that in retrospect sound like Ween, but not much else -- the mock reggae anthem "Beastie Revolution" is pretty funny, though. As an amusing bonus, two radio tracks from the hardcore days are included: rough takes on "Egg Raid on Mojo" and "Transit Cop."
Words - Ned Raggett
At the close of the '90s, the Beastie Boys had only released five albums, which may not seem like enough music to provide the foundation for a double-disc retrospective. But between 1981 and 1999, they released countless B-sides, non-LP singles, and EPs, resulting in a sprawling discography ripe for a compilation. So, in 1999, the Beasties released the two-disc compilation The Sounds of Science, which covers every incarnation of the band from Pollywog Stew to Hello Nasty. Inevitably, some well-known songs are missing -- only three cuts from Licensed to Ill are here, and their breakthrough single "Rock Hard" had to be pulled when AC/DC refused permission for a sample. Ultimately, that doesn't matter, since the set captures the spirit of the Beasties so well. Usually, compilations that don't follow chronological order are a little muddled, but The Sounds of Science benefits from its jumbled sequencing, since it emphasizes the band's astonishing musical reach and consistency. After all, every album since Paul's Boutique has followed a similarly unpredictable pattern, as the group moved from Hip Hop to punk to funk to jazz.
What's remarkable about The Sounds of Science is that it has all the obvious suspects, but since they're rubbing singles with album tracks and B-sides like "Skills to Pay the Bills," two outtakes from the abandoned country album, alternate versions of "Jimmy James" and "Three MC's and One DJ," Fatboy Slim's brilliant remix of "Body Movin'," goofs like the Biz Markie-sung cover of "Benny and the Jets," and the excellent new single "Alive," it all sounds fresh. There's much more than hits here, but The Sounds of Science achieves something most anthologies don't: it summarizes the attitude and spirit of the band, while offering some new revelations even for dedicated fans.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine