photo & text by nacrowe
the BEASTIE BOYS' fourth record ILL COMMUNICATION (CAPITOL, 1994) was a bit of an ARTISTIC and personal WATERSHED moment for the group as it showcased a newfound capacity for individual EXPRESSION unheard of on previous releases. when the group released LICENSED TO ILL (review linked HERE) some eight years before in 1986, HIP HOP was in its infancy and the three members were still in their early twenties. most of that record was created as an inside joke with SNARKY asides meant to lampoon types of people they grew up with and saw around them in NYC. even the tour with its SOPHOMORIC stage props and inflatable phalluses was meant as a joke rather than some huge political statement. but over time they came to understand that their crowd wasnt in on that joke and perception was becoming reality. if you act like a dumbass with CHAUVINIST lyrics ("BRASS MONKEY" especially), then people are going to assume you are a dumb MISOGYNIST.
what is so revolutionary about ILL COMMUNICATION is how the band owns their past mistakes and moves forward with GRACE and CONTRITION, something that is utterly unheard of before or since in the often crudely anti-female world of HIP HOP. right from the get-go on opening track "SURE SHOT," ADAM YAUCH memorably quips that "i want to say a little something that's long overdue / the disrespect to women has got to be through / to all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends / i want to offer my love and respect to the end," which is a completely TRANSFORMATIVE statement that altered their public persona for the rest of their career. this new understanding of the weight of their actions and the influence it had on their audience defined what causes (MILAREPA FUND, ASPCA, TIBET HOUSE US, FOOD BANK FOR NEW YORK CITY, HABITAT FOR HUMANITY, LUNCHBOX FUND, RATIONAL ANIMAL) and events (TIBETAN FREEDOM CONCERTS) they promoted and associated themselves with from here on out. in essence they transitioned to the role of engaged PROGRESSIVE activists. this legacy continues to this day as TRUMP supporters during the height of MAGA-dom in 2016 decided to use swastikas to desecrate a BROOKLYN park named in YAUCH's honor in his old neighborhood.
previous to the recording of ILL COMMUNICATION, YAUCH became a practicing BUDDHIST chose to make this new found perspective explicit on the upcoming album. famously all three members of the BEASTIE BOYS were raised JEWISH and it really says something about AD ROCK and MIKE D to embrace their friend and colleague at this moment. from what ive read and heard in interviews, their response was that of course their friend had found this new thing he felt passionately about and wanted to share and for them that was enough. they loved and supported their friend and in the end became ENRICHED with an education about BUDDHIST precepts, history and culture. this transformation can be best heard explicitly on the track (my favorite) "BODHISATTVA VOW." for the uninitiated, in the MAHAYANA BUDDHIST tradition one who attains enlightenment has the opportunity to avoid the cycle of rebirth as they have already attained a state of karmic purity. the bodhisattva vow is that they will voluntarily jump back into rebirth to assist all other sentient being in reaching that state first before they themselves depart. its a vow of complete SELFLESSNESS and service to all others before the self in the most profound manner possible. given this perspective, the ALEX GREY artwork GAIA prominently displayed in the middle of the liner notes furthers this profound sentiment of the INTERDEPENDENCE of humanity with the natural order. it really is quite the TRANSITIONAL record.
in addition to "SURE SHOT" and "BODHISATTVA VOW" other NOTABLE tracks include "ROOT DOWN," "SABOTAGE" and "GET IT TOGETHER." it would be criminal negligence to no mention that this is the second of three records co-produced by MARIO CALDATO JR, the other two being CHECK YOUR HEAD (CAPITOL, 1992) and HELLO NASTY (CAPITOL, 1992). as a TALENTED multi-instrumentalist and composer, his production duties were INVALUABLE to not just the SEAMLESS nature of these recordings (as such were often SAMPLE-HEAVY of varying quality source material), but to EMPOWERMENT of the group itself. often each member would record at home to their own devices that would be compiled and worked over by CALDATO, essentially streamlining the workflow process. i think that this one key reason that the album is such an ECLECTIC affair.
speaking for myself, ILL COMMUNICATION is the definitive BEASTIE BOYS record as it showcased a VARIED sonic aesthetic and MATURE, INCLUSIVE worldview that informed the second half of their career and ultimately their legacy as a group. one of my favorite HIP HOP records ever and most definitely required listening for anyone interested in anything from EAST COAST HIP HOP to ALTERNATIVE ROCK and beyond.
RIP ADAM YAUCH.
photo & text by nacrowe
my introduction to the BEASTIE BOYS was at the main baseball field at FULLERTON COLLEGE in the mid-1990s where i remember walking with my parents to meet my new pitching coach when "BRASS MONKEY" began blaring out on the P.A. while the varsity players did laps. its a pretty well-lodged memory at this point. just seemed upbeat and off-kilter and left my teenage mind questioning, "what the hell was that?!?"
LICENSED TO ILL (DEF JAM, 1986), the debut BEASTIE BOYS record is a widely-celebrated landmark release with a complicated legacy. and i dont even believe that is a controversial statement, since id contend that the surviving members (rest in peace MCA) would likely agree with that assessment. to my ears when i listen to LICENSED TO ILL i am confronted with the whole arc of their evolution as musicians and men. this was the starting point and famously a lot of the more prurient, juvenile material was an in-joke with producer RICK RUBIN. in their minds they were making fun of the frat mentality and when they went on tour learned that they in fact started living up to their parody. when i think of this record it brings to mind the interplay between a MESSAGE and its AUDIENCE and how as an artist you need to be careful what you throw out in the ether.
there is a lot to love about this record, from classic songs like "NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN," "PAUL REVERE," "HOLD IT NOW, HIT IT," "(YOU GOTTA) FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT (TO PARTY!)," "RHYMIN & STEALIN," "SLOW AND LOW," and the aforementioned "BRASS MONKEY." unfortunately there is a bit of a strain of MISOGYNY throughout with lines about vague sexual acts with wiffle ball bats ("PAUL REVERE") and basically that whole song "GIRLS," which is pretty sexist and cringe-inducing. i really think this is the kind of record you have to go into mindful of the fact that the group that made it learned from their actions and spent the rest of their career being an active participant in the message they sent to the world: becoming a model for being an engaged artistic force that tirelessly promoted POLITICAL, SOCIAL and ENVIRONMENTAL activist progressive causes. you also have to realize they were really young when they made LICENSED TO ILL. it is an artifact of its time from which they moved on and became a major cultural force in both EAST COAST HIP HOP and the ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion of the 1990s and beyond.
i should also mention that the film director, and lifelong BROOKLYNITE, DARREN ARONOFSKY once spoke about how he discovered the HUBERT SELBY JR novel LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN (GROVE PRESS, 1964) in college, saying basically that when you are from BROOKLYN anything about the borough immediately catches your attention. that definitely came into play with my father and the BEASTIE BOYS, especially with "NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN" (with guitars supplied by non-BROOKLYNITE KERRY KING of SLAYER). so im just letting my family's bias be known. if this record was a bit childish and immature, at least those were our idiots on the stage.
but just as GEORGE CARLIN's character states at the conclusion of BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (ORION, 1989), "they do get better."
photo manipulation by nacrowe
RICK RUBIN is a renowned record producer with an enviable discography that transcends genre and era. he is celebrated for his ability to tap into an artists creative mindset and challenge them to produce new material that often exceeds audience expectation. notable records he's produced include the likes of SLAYER's REIGN IN BLOOD (DEF JAM, 1986), RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS's BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK (WARNER BROS, 1991), TOM PETTY's WILDFLOWERS (WARNER BROS, 1994), BEASTIE BOYS' LICENSED TO ILL (COLUMBIA, 1986), SYSTEM OF A DOWN's SYSTEM OF A DOWN (AMERICAN, 1998), RUN-DMC's RAISING HELL (PROFILE, 1986), JOHNNY CASH's AMERICAN RECORDINGS series (AMERICAN, 1994-2010), SLIPKNOT's VOL.3: THE SUBLIMINAL VERSES (ROADRUNNER, 2004) and METALLICA's DEATH MAGNETIC (WARNER BROS, 2008) among many others. he has also involved been involved in the formation of two successful record labels, DEF JAM and AMERICAN, with each known for their diverse roster lineups.
all that being said, it comes as no surprise to anyone that RUBIN decided to start an interview podcast where he does what he does best: talk. his deft ear and inquisitive, probing questions mark him as an active listener of idiot savant levels.
check out these interview he's done over the past few years. definitely worth your time if you are a fan of modern music and the process behind their creation.