We last left the Beasties Boys in ’89 with their sophomore effort Paul’s Boutique, which initially received lukewarm reviews, but eventually fans would warm up to it. Just as there was a 3 year gap in between the release of their debut (License To Ill) and Paul’s Boutique, 3 years would pass before they would release the follow up to Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head.
As the story goes, after Paul’s Boutique was deemed a failure by their label few months after its release, Capitol stopped promoting the album and told the boys to just start focusing on the next one. Since the label stopped promoting Paul’s Boutique and didn’t give them a deadline to turn in the next album, the Beasties begin to assume the label was giving up on them. Around the same time the Beasties fell out with the producers of Paul’s Boutique (the Dust Brothers), in a dispute over royalties. With the Dust Brother out of the equation to produce the next album and feeling like their backs were against the wall, the Beasties went back to their roots. Band jam sessions.
For those who don’t know, the Beasties started out as a punk rock band, eventually migrating into hip-hop in the early eighties, so playing instruments wasn’t new to them. At these jam session MCA (rip) played bass, Mike D was on the drums, and Adrock on guitar. The Beasties along with “Money” Mark Ramos Nishita (who played the keyboard and would also contribute some vocals) and studio engineer Mario Caldato, would produce the entirety of Check Your Head , combining live instrumentation, samples, and samples of their live instrumentation. Check Your Head was another commercial success for the Beasties as it would eventually move over 2 million units (making it their third consecutive album to top the double platinum mark) and many believe it is their best album to date.
They said the same about Paul’s Boutique, so who am I supposed to believe?
Jimmy James – The Beasties kick Check Your Head off with a decent live mash-up as they drop random rhymes with distortion on all three of their vocals, which makes it nearly impossible to understand the lyrics.
Funky Boss – Over a simple drum beat and guitar riffs, the Beasties scream in unison, requesting that their funky boss get off their backs. According to Money Mark this was written about George Bush Sr. during the Gulf War. This is nothing more than a glorified interlude.
Pass The Mic – The Beasties past the mic like a hot potato as they take turns sharing boast on this one. It starts off with a raw drum beat, before the Ron Carter bass line sample from Johnny Hammond’s “Big Sur Suite” record (which Dr. Dre would also use on “A Nigga Witta Gun” on The Chronic) comes in and is sure to leave you screw faced and bobbing your head. At the end of the song they bring in some rock guitars that kind of disturb the groove. Regardless, this would be dope to hear live at a concert.
Gratitude – Adrock gets a rare opportunity at a solo joint. Unfortunately, thanks to the rock tinged instrumental and the distortion on his vocals, I have no idea what he is said.
Lighten Up – Nice smooth groove interlude.
Finger Lickin’ Good – I like the flute sample in between the verses. The rest of the song was trash, though.
So What’cha Want – This is the only single I personally remember being released from Check Your Head. Over a bangin’ instrumental the boys continue to drop random rhymes with distortion on their vocals. The video for this one has some pretty cool effects in it.
The Biz Vs. The Nuge – Biz makes a brief cameo on this interlude as he sings Ted Nugent’s “Home Bound”. Next…
Time For Livin’ – The Beasties are really on their white boy shit for this one. Over an up-tempo drum pattern and rock guitars, the boys scream and yell all over this track. Interesting fact: if you listen to this song in mono (i.e. on your phone without headphones) the vocals disappear, thanks to a janky tape machine they used that had one track out of phase. With or without vocals, this isn’t my cup of tea.
Something’s Got To Give – What the hell was that?
The Blue Nun – Interlude
Stand Together – MCA gets a solo joint, and like Adrock on “Gratitude”, the distortion on the vocals make it nearly impossible to make out what he’s saying. This instrumental sounds better the more you listen to it, especially the slightly out of tune sax sample at the beginning and end of the song.
Pow – Decent instrumental mash-up.
The Maestro – In Brian Coleman’s book Check The Technique the Beasties said this song was originally named after the Maestro effects box, but then it morphed into Adrock and Mike D just talking their tough guy shit. This instrumental is hard. This is probably my favorite song on Check Your Head.
Groove Holmes – This is an instrumental homage to jazz organist Richard Groove Holmes, who actually died while the Beasties were recording Check Your Head. They were all fans of his work, so this tribute is fitting.
Live At P.J.’s – Over an instrumental that is supposed to sound like it was recorded live, Mike D gets a chance at his solo joint (I believe it’s just Mike D; sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing his voice from Adrock’s). I can actually make out his lyrics, but unfortunately he doesn’t saying anything worth hearing.
Mark On The Bus – Short interlude with Money Mark singing about dreaming while riding the bus.
Professor Booty – Over a simple and raw drum beat the trio take turns passing the mic as they drop what are probably their best battle rhymes (at least to this point in their catalog). MCA bats last and uses his verse to take a few swings at one of the Beasties’ long-time rival, MC Serch and lands some pretty decent blows in the process. This was decent.
In 3’s – Another live instrumental mash-up.
Namaste – The Beasties close Check Your Head with a spoken word piece over a laid back instrumental.
I’ve always felt the Beastie Boys were severely overrated and have benefited from their skin color, to no fault of their own. After listening to Check Your Head several times over the past week I have to say, it isn’t a terrible album. The pseudo live production includes some undeniable bangers, and while the majority of the instrumentals are only decent, there is a nice cohesiveness that ties each song together like a pretty little bow on a present. The biggest issue I have with Check Your Head is the lyrics/vocals. The Beasties are not great lyricists as is, but when you add vocal distortion (or cheap microphones) to the equation it makes matters that much worse. Maybe the distorted vocals was a way to distract the listener from focusing on the trio’s lyrical deficiencies. Regardless, Check Your Head is a decent listen, but the Beastie Boys are still overrated in my book.