After a three-year hiatus, The Beastie Boys returned in 1992 with their third release, Check Your Head. The album was a commercial success (selling over 3 million copies) and received favorable reviews from the critics. The Beasties were praised for the album’s experimental vibes, as they distanced themselves from the traditional sample based production used on their previous album, Paul’s Boutique. I personally thought Check Your Head was average at best, but I may be a bit bias, since I believe the trio are severely overrated. Regardless, they would return in 1994 with their 4th album, Ill Communication.
Ill Communication (which is a pretty dope album title) would pick up where Check Your Head left off at, with less samples and more live instrumentation from the Beasties and company. Like their previous three albums, Ill Communication would earn the trio a platinum plaque (times three) and the world (critics and fans) would greet it with heaps of praise.
Lets see if the Beasties will make me a believer this time around.
Sure Shot – Ill Communication opens with rough drums placed underneath a soulful flute loop and the Beasties spilling random rhymes in the same distorted microphone fashion they used on Check Your Head. I could careless for the Beasties outdated rhyme schemes, but this instrumental is dope.
Tough Guy – The boys go into a short rock mash-up for this short song that kind of works as a playful interlude. I didn’t care for it, but at least it’s short.
B-Boys Makin’ With The Freak Freak – The BB’s cook up a pretty dope boom bap backdrop but waste all of its dopeness with more of their distorted outdated rhyme styling.
Bobo On The Corner – Short instrumental interlude dedicated to…that Bobo on the corner.
Root Down – This was the final single released from Ill Communication. The boys hook up a dope up-tempo groove complete with a scorchin’ hot organ break during the hook, and they actually sound pretty dope spittin’ over it. Side Note: The “Root Down” maxi-single (or EP) has a “Free Zone Remix” for this song that goes down smoother than a glass of Grey Goose. No chaser required.
Sabotage – This was the lead single from Ill Communication, and only one of two songs that I was familiar with going into this post. Ad-Rock goes dolo on this one, screaming the verses and hook over blaring rock guitar chords. I hated this song back in the day, and today I’m sticking with my story.
Get It Together – Q-Tip joins the trio on this one (that was an easy Tribe Degrees of Separation), as they pass the mic like a hot potato and playfully spit nonsensical freestyle rhymes over a dope jazzy backdrop. This was pretty dope.
Sabrosa – The Beasties take another jam session break and come up with this funky little diddly, and it lives up to its title (“Sabrosa” is Spanish for “tasty”). Well done, fellas.
The Update – MCA goes dolo on this one, spitting two highly distorted verses over live instrumentation that’s so loud it drowns out his vocals, making his rhymes almost inaudible. I read the song’s lyrics in the liner notes and it actually sounds like MCA had something to say. Too bad his message gets lost in the music and a cheap microphone.
Futterman’s Rule – The liner notes have a quote from a Gene Futterman (who, based on a little research, I found was a New York City native Architect and teacher who died from liver cancer back in 1987), that reads “When two are served, you may begin to eat”. Apparently, Mr. Futterman and that quote inspired this soft rock instrumental that I’m not crazy about, but it’s passable.
Alright Hear This – I didn’t care much for this one.
Eugene’s Lament – I’m assuming this is dedicated to Mr. Futterman from the interlude two tracks ago, who’s proper first name was Eugene. The trio must have been pretty close to the man, as they dedicate this very somber and slightly dark instrumental to him.
Flute Loop – The song title sounds like a working demo title that the Beasties forgot to change for the album’s final cut…but anyway. As you may have already figured out based on the title, the backdrop is built around a pretty flute loop that the trio continue to spew barely audible rhymes over.
Do It – Biz Markie drops in to contribute some adlibs and the hook, while the Beasties kick their zany brand of braggadocious rhyming over a surprisingly hard backdrop. This was pretty cool.
Ricky’s Theme – I’m not sure who Ricky is, but the fellas dedicate this beautiful instrumental piece to him. This is easily the best instrumental on Ill Communication, and my favorite track on the album.
Heart Attack Man – Sounds like the fellas recycled the instrumental from “Tough Guy” and changed the lyrics to talk (or scream) about a two-hundred and seventy-five pound dude aka Heart Attack Man. It must be an inside joke. And since I’m not inside, I don’t get it.
The Scoop – The Beasties and company hook up the illest instrumental of the evening on this one. The instrumental is so smooth that not even the mic distortion can distract from its brilliance. And the fellas actually sound swaggy spittin’ over it.
Shambala – Shambala (sometimes spelled “Shambhala”) means peace, tranquility and happiness in Buddhism. I’m not sure how this dark instrumental evokes any of those three virtues, but whatever.
Bodhisattva Vow – In Buddhism “Bodhisattva” is when a person is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings. MCA (who was a practicing Buddhist) gets a solo joint and vows to adhere to this way a life. It was nice to learn something new about Buddhism, but this song did nothing for me.
Transitions – Ill Communication closes with this instrumental that feels like it may be the theme music for dying and transitioning to the next life. This was a solid way to end the album.
Ill Communication is easily the most mature album of the Beastie Boys first four (thanks largely to MCA’s new-found consciousness, which can directly be credited to his Buddhist disciplines), and in my opinion, the strongest. No, the Beasties aren’t super lyrical, and honestly, the vocal distortion combined with their prehistoric flow gets hard to listen to over the course of twenty tracks. But more often than not, the production works, and on occasion, the Beasties even sound good spittin’ over the instrumentals. I still believe The Beasties Boys are overrated, but Ill Communication is a decent album.