Saluting the last great LP from Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D
If you don’t want to cop to Hello Nasty being the greatest Beastie Boys album, as I do, and if most everyone agrees it’s their last great album, which it is, maybe we could call it a culmination.
Its a cumulation of everything they do well and quite a few things they never tried to do before — their Sign ‘O’ the Times. A glorious, virtuosic, mega-sized data dump of everything they learned in the decade leading up. Like Prince and very possibly no one else at their echelon of success, their seamless mastery of studio programming et al. is virtually impossible to distinguish from their playing and performing. They’re some of history’s greatest samplers because their sampling is so organic, so naturally layered, that the only reason you may know that, say, the processed guitar(?) riff in “Remote Control” was probably conceived in their own lab is because the song features an actual key change, Mariah Carey-style, for the third act.
The Beasties’ very juxtaposition as an outfit foregrounds the music in a way no one else really has, by embossing it with rapping so simple and elementary it becomes repetitious percussion in a sea of rapidly shifting and densely arranged samplatures richer than the Avalanches’ and never a distraction from their commitment to groove. From the squishy, dubwise “Putting Shame in Your Game”: “I’m the king of Boggle, there is none higher / I get 11 points off the word ‘quagmire.’” That leisurely controlled dumb rolling over such sophisticated studio craft must be what “Flowin’ Prose” terms as “flow against know.”
Before and after Hello Nasty, unless you count the hardcore-bred declaiming of “Sabotage,” they never spoiled this continuum with singing. But the bargain-bin bossa nova and lounge-funk they pilfer for the antisexist “Song for the Man” and the outstanding, Cibo Matto-assisted existentialism of “I Don’t Know,” not to mention the proto-BandCamp lo-fi of “And Me” flavor their boldest full-length with unforeseen spices.
VIDEO: Beastie Boys “Intergalactic”
Giving Lee “Scratch” Perry the mic for five minutes so he can gush about “their beastly toys to give you some beastly joys” seasons the album philosophically as well, though its spiritual core is the astonishing “Three MC’s and One DJ,” which gives their skratch pikl Mix Master Mike a turntablism showcase matched by their off-the-cuff freestyling. The collaborative spirit and anything-goes 22-strong tracklist only makes you wish they brought in more posse cuts and such during MCA’s lifetime — I’ve never met any respectable rap fan who doesn’t have love for the Beasties and that love wasn’t nearly as reflected in their recording history like most other rappers’ rolodexes. Beyond one late Santigold team-up, their discography is almost overwhelmingly male, and “I Don’t Know” shows a little of what could’ve been, spilling off the vibraphone and flute colors of the guiro-happy “Song for Junior,” a belated outgrowth of the tropical Tito Puente sample buoying the original “Body Movin’” before Fatboy Slim had his wacky way with it.
VIDEO: Beastie Boys “Three MC’s and One DJ”
But my favorite cut is “The Move,” an early highlight of broken beatboxing, shape-shifting interpolations (harpsichord!) and subterranean bass subterfuge that recalls “Shadrach.” The invention of Hello Nasty is generous without boiling over; ever the populists you can catch all the sounds in one go because their soundscaping is still radio-ready; they even gave the trip-hoppy “Negotiation Limerick File” a shot at airplay. It wasn’t a long shot because the showstopping “Intergalactic” capped off their beloved 90s run with their last visible daliance in the zeitgeist.
Bits like the violent string-stabs of “Electrify” might have conceivably hinted at how the Beasties could’ve joined rap’s next century but with the advent of Jay-Z and growing introspective sophistication among the genre’s lyricists and auteurs, they wouldn’t have stood a chance. Better they would’ve gone Flaming Lips-style spelunking as teased by the psychedelically nasty riffs of “Dedication.” But Hello Nasty carried the ethos of old-school joy nearly a decade past its heyday and for that Ad-Rock and Mike D should be proud, not to mention their prominent, Dalai Lama-fied refusal to kowtow to retrograde Woodstock ‘99 attitudes about women in the face of white rap-rock’s sudden chart explosion. You simply won’t feel as good playing any other record of this ilk 25 years later.
On “Unite” alone they lay out their lone two agendas: “We’re the scientists of sound” and “I don’t like to fight / I don’t carry a piece.” No wonder even in death — the sworn Buddhists’ finale touches on that, too — they respected their brother. As far as privileged white doofuses go, you couldn’t reach a better enlightenment than the goofballs behind the Tibetan Freedom Concert at the peak of their extramusical (and I’d argue musical) powers. They made a difference and they were humble. They made us crack up and boogie down.
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