the BEASTIE BOYS fifth studio album HELLO NASTY (CAPITOL, 1998) was a seminal HIP HOP album as i experienced it the summer before my freshman year of high school. i knew of their existence before due to hearing various LICENSE TO ILL (DEF JAM, 1986) tracks out of context during my elementary school years in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, but i never had their records nor strangely did anyone i knew growing up there and in WEST AFRICA. its ODD in retrospect since other MAJOR HIP HOP artists like CYPRESS HILL, A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G., WU-TANG CLAN and TUPAC all seemingly made the jump overseas, but for whatever reason not the BEASTIE BOYS.
regardless, the SEMINAL HELLO NASTY album was the first BEASTIE BOYS record i ever bought and i basically worked my way backwards shortly thereafter. by this point for years my family had relocated to NEW JERSEY during the summer months (in part to by a years worth of supplies that would shipped overseas to NIGERIA) and in the summer of 1998 "INTERGALACTIC" was a monster hit on both INFLUENTIAL NYC HIP HOP stations like HOT 97 and POWER 105.1 and the ALTERNATIVE ROCK juggernaut that was 92.3 K-ROCK. that level of UBIQUITY on the airwaves, not to mention the accompanying ADAM YAUCH-directed music video on MTV at the time, made that track a particularly UNIQUE cultural moment at the time.
HELLO NASTY was co-produced with MARIO CALDATO, JR who was involved with their previous three releases ILL COMMUNICATION (CAPITOL, 1994), CHECK YOUR HEAD (CAPITOL, 1992), and PAUL'S BOUTIQUE (CAPITOL, 1989) and sonically the record is high-energy and propulsive with a clever mix of DANCEHALL, DUB, LOUNGE, DRUM & BASS elements. this is also the first BEASTIE BOYS release to feature MIX MASTER MIKE as their effective house DJ (complete with his innovative wah-wah pedal inflected vinyl scratching), a role he would continue until their break-up in the wake of YAUCH's passing from salivary gland cancer. STANDOUT tracks include "REMOTE CONTROL," "THREE MC'S AND ONE DJ," "BODY MOVIN'" and "SUPER DISCO BREAKIN'" with guest performances by the likes of MIHO HATORI (CIBO MATTO) and legendary DUB producer LEE "SCRATCH" PERRY.
everyone has their favorite BEASTIE BOYS record (mine will always be ILL COMMUNICATION), but in effect they are all great. if you are unfamiliar with their work there is no bad place to start and HELLO NASTY is as GREAT an introduction to a nearly FLAWLESS discography as you will find. definitely worth checking out.
i thought the premise was INTERESTING: a book that recounted the life narratives of several women who raised sons and daughters that went on to become NOTABLE and INFLUENTIAL musicians. in practice unfortunately it came out a bit INCOHERENT and TEDIOUS, almost like reading a book report.
that is not to say that i have anything against the late VIRGINIA HANLON GROHL, mother of DAVE GROHL of FOO FIGHTERS / NIRVANA fame. like her, i was an high school ENGLISH teacher so inherently i feel a sense of obligation in and of that connection to support my fellow brethren. teaching is an identity and is something i have not been able to shake in the intervening years (this blog included), so i understand intimately that deep need to NURTURE, EDUCATE and ELEVATE others. as such, you can palpably feel the LOVE and EMPATHY that went into creating FROM CRADLE TO STAGE: STORIES FROM THE MOTHERS WHO ROCKED AND RAISED ROCK STARS (SEAL PRESS, 2017) and the intensive process of intelligently relaying the disparate paths of women in raising and unconditionally supporting musicians like MICHAEL STIPE (R.E.M.), MIKE D (BEASTIE BOYS), AMY WINEHOUSE, WARREN HAYES (GOV'T MULE), DR. DRE (N.W.A.), TOM MORELLO (RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, AUDIOSLAVE), PHARRELL WILLIAMS (N.E.R.D., THE NEPTUNES), HAIM, ADAM LEVINE (MAROON 5), DAVE MATHEWS, MIRANDA LAMBERT, ZAC BROWN, JOSH GROBAN and KELLY CLARKSON among others.
one issue is that the narratives tend to bleed into each other and taken together become a bit PREDICTABLE (i.e. tales of ENERGETIC, RAMBUNCTIOUS kids that discover music or an instrument as a preteen and then become uninterested with formal their studies, yet maintain a near compulsory self-ingrained drive to create and explore music well into high school and beyond). there are variations to this script but those pre-teen years seem to be the through line in the lives of most of these musicians which makes EMOTIONAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL developmental sense. i appreciate how GROHL utilizes her own narrative with her son to anchor down a base narrative to compare all others to. that was a smart organizational device.
another issue is that the premise of this book very much downplays the role of fathers and men in the lives of their children. unquestionably women play a gargantuan part in the EMOTIONAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL and INTELLECTUAL development of their children, but men play some role as well. even in ABSENTIA as with the handful of musicians from divorced, single-parent households. i thought it was an COMPELLING choice to at least not pay lip service to the contributions of the fathers that were an ACTIVE part of their child's lives, but then that is outside of the conceit of the book. which is silly in retrospect. i suppose that was beyond GROHL's capacity as a mother to intuitively speak AUTHENTICALLY about being a mother and not a father. i am just point out the UNFORTUNATE omission.
far and away my favorite running feature of this book were the TOUCHING vignettes that GROHL wrote about her son that touch on his early years, musical development and later career highlights. these vignettes very much take you behind the scenes on his INCREDIBLE career trajectory from the perspective of his mother and how the choices she made regarding his upbringing and education impacted such, pre and post-fame, during high and low points therein. through such you get the sense that UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, SUPPORT and SECURITY is what she provided to a son that participated in an industry that is notoriously SAVAGE and CUTTHROAT. if anything, this sense of being a one-person support network is a common dominator of all these mothers.
somewhere in this book GROHL makes mention of the fact that she has nothing but TRUST and FAITH that teachers will find ways of bridging the curriculum and lesson activities to the varied interests of their students. this was something she took great pride in as an educator. case in point she allowed her students to rap a scene from a SHAKESPEARE play rather than act out the actual lines of the play in class to great aplomb, so much so that decades later she was sent the original handwritten lines of the rap as a gift and token of appreciation. this is undoubtedly a prime example of the MAGIC of the classroom and the potential for TAILORED instruction by a CONFIDENT, ENGAGED educator. what GROHL makes explicit soon after is her lack of TRUST and FAITH in school administrators who are distanced from the classrooms and student populations they are set out to advocate on behalf of. amen sister. the later was my experience in no uncertain terms, which is SAD and UNFORTUNATE.
and this is the related bigger point, the fact that our schools are FAILING students whose TALENTS and INTERESTS lay just outside the purvey of the curriculum. many of these mothers had intensely CREATIVE sons and daughters who just got by in school and saw the whole experience as TEDIOUS and a DISTRACTION from their true calling in life. DAVE GROHL didnt fail in his attempt to pass high school. THE EDUCATION SYSTEM FAILED HIM in not being able to support his gifts much like his family did.
pointing that SYSTEMATIC FAILURE is such an ASTUTE observation. this was undoubtedly my biggest takeaway from this book, which hitherto such seemed to not have a larger agenda. i should have known and expected such from a seasoned educator and colleague. ye of no FAITH that i am. GROHL in essence managed to neatly sum up all my deep FRUSTRATIONS and HEARTBREAK over the education system in a TIDY little bow. book report, indeed.
RIP VIRGINIA HANLON GROHL
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.
my introduction to the BEASTIE BOYS was innocently enough 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 college players casually did laps around the diamond. its a pretty WELL-LODGED memory at this point, mostly because just seemed UPBEAT and rhythmically OFF-KILTER that it 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 at this point, since id contend that the surviving members (rest in peace MCA) would likely agree with that assessment. i mean, the working title for the album was DON'T BE A FAGGOT, and only after repeated INTENSE label pressure did the band and management acquiesce (can you imagine? thank god!). to my ears when i listen to LICENSED TO ILL i am confronted with the arc of their evolution as musicians and as 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 own PARODY. becoming it even to the point that it blurred the line entirely. 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 with what you throw out into the ether.
there is a lot to LOVE about this record, from stone cold CLASSIC tracks 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, of course, the aforementioned "BRASS MONKEY." unfortunately there is a bit of a strain of MISOGYNY throughout with lines about VAGUE SEXUAL TRANSGRESSIONS with wiffle ball bats ("PAUL REVERE") and basically that whole song "GIRLS," which is pretty SEXIST and CRINGE-INDUCING in retrospect. 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 and ENGAGED participant in the message they beamed out to the world; i.e. becoming a model as THOUGHTFUL and ENGAGED elder-statesman who tirelessly promoted POLITICAL, SOCIAL and ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRESSIVE causes as activists. you also have to realize they were really YOUNG when they made LICENSED TO ILL. it is an HONEST (if TROUBLING) artifact of its time from which they have long since moved on from and have transitioned into cultural force in both the EAST COAST HIP HOP and ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosions 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, IMMATURE and MORALLY PROBLEMATIC, 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.