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Beastie Boys 30 Year Tribute: Ill Communication Essays

Posted by January 22nd, 2017 No Comments »

Introduction by Darren Selector, Grit Rock

New music releases used to come out on Tuesdays. My spot to pick them up was Tower Records on 38th in Tacoma. They closed every day at midnight, but on Monday nights they’d reopen a minute later at 12:01 a.m. So after a pause, we could search the store, attack the racks with our claws, and get ours.

When the Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication came out on May 31, 1994, there was a short line in front of the store. No worries: my people were already there. My friend had bought me a copy. (I don’t think we had planned to meet there, she just knew I was a B-Boy fanatic and figured if I wasn’t there, she needed to help a brother out.)

After we left the store we caravanned to my house and paged a dude to “stop by.” Then we put Ill Communication on.

“I love you,” barked a dog. ((It may seem like I’m employing some poetic license here, but I’m being literal in every way. The record starts off with a dog (an actual canine, mind you, not your homeboy) saying, “I love you,” in his best Scooby-speak. It was a mission statement. Ill Communication went number one on the Billboard 200 less than a month later.))

I’m not sure if Mike D’s “Alright Hear This” lyrics are “like since the way back” or “licensed to way back,” but either way, there are many references to the band’s debut Licensed to Ill on Ill Communication. These references amidst the group’s clever word play feels like an intentional approach to reclaim the success of their debut. They might not have been selling diamonds (the album didn’t hit the 10 million mark needed for “diamond record” status like Licensed to Ill), but they were moving millions with integrity and they continued to diversify. They created a critically successful label, Grand Royal, a magazine of the same name, a clothing line X-Large (a sister clothing line with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, X-Girl), they started up the Free Tibet movement, toured in quadraphonic stereo, and continued to be music video pioneers.

I kind of think Ill Communication’s hit, “Sabotage,” is the 1994 analog to 1986’s “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!),” from Licensed to Ill. Both songs are an improvement on concepts of earlier songs (“Gratitude” and “She’s On It” respectively), neither are really reflective of their discography, both are products of their time, and both songs – because they were standout hits – defined the Beastie Boys in the minds of many.

After the grunge collapse, a scene inspired by the Beasties emerged. I call it “thug rock,” some call it “nu metal.” It’s a hybrid of rap and rock that for the most part I’ve never cared for it.  And with all the trends that are recycled, besides the Beasties, twenty-some years later, I’m not surprised I’ve heard very little from these crossover acts. I suspect it’s because they didn’t understand that the Beastie Boys’ illest form of communication was love.

“Sure Shot” by Tristan Welch

“Sure Shot” is the perfect lead off song for a legendary 90’s era hip-hop record. Not only is the flute loop catchy as all hell the drums are everything you love about a Beastie Boys song. The beat is driving and raw and matches up perfectly with the way the Beastie Boys spit. It’s G Funk but with a different flavor. I read the lyrics to the song and couldn’t help but laugh at how they were pretty much nonsense. After listening, all I know is that the Beastie Boys can’t stop! But near the end of the song they did something that no other hip-hop group had really done and really still don’t do and made a statement on respecting women. While there are many Beastie Boys songs I would choose to introduce somebody to the group, this is sure shot way to let somebody into the minds of the Beastie Boys.

“B-Boys Makin’ with the Freak Freak” by Anthony Estrada

It was my freshman year of high school, and I was waaay into hip-hop. I remember waiting enthusiastically for the Beasties to drop ‘Ill Communication’ and when they finally did, I went out and purchased it. (With saved-up lunch money, I’m sure.) On that bright green cassette, I remember so well… When “B-Boys Makin’ with the Freak Freak” came on, I was hooked. I thought it was interesting how they’d change the beat up and how they used that Rammellzee sample for the hook from “Beat Bop” (something I believe they did more liberally on “Jimmy James”). But the kicker was when the Mantan Moreland sound bite came on with, “Sheeeit, if it’s gonna be that kinda party, I’ma stick my dick in the mashed potatoes!”… I’m sure anyone with a sense of humor would have lost their shit upon hearing this would have thrown a rod, hands down. I know I did. I can remember kids repeating that phrase long after the album had been out of the minds of the people. And exactly four years after I first heard “B-Boys…”, I discovered in a close friend’s record collection the very Mantan Moreland record the Beasties used to grab that sound bite! He said he found it in a junk shop in Port Angeles, WA. Amazing. How big of a Beasties freak am I? Let’s just say this: I STILL have “Aglio E Olio” on CD. I’ll sign off with that.

“Sabotage” by Jennevieve Schlemmer

Misguided youth with anger management issues consults fortune teller. Disgruntled with his fortune, he believes the world is in a giant conspiracy against him. Calamity ensues.

“Root Down” by Kiliam Lord

“Root Down” sounds to me like it evolved from thinking about where they came from and who influenced them, including four jazz greats Jimmy Smith (who’s song “Root Down” was sampled and named after), The Meters, Dick Hyman, and The Stone Alliance. Then they go on to talk about how on the way back from school, they would hear people playing battle tapes and had seen Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee on a rap battle show. Next we get the perspective of hearing Bob Marley being a prophet. The lyrics become about gratitude for several people, which in turn leads them into thanking the person engineering the song, Mario Caldato, Jr.

I think that this song fully covers the spectrum of what it means to having your roots down, knowing where you came from, understanding how it happened, and appreciating your roots.

Check Your Head essays:

Paul’s Boutique essays:

Licensed to Ill essays:

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