Now that we’ve come to grips with the fact that we live in a world where a Beastie Boy died of cancer, it’s time to move on in celebration. As with any celebrity death, the bright side of MCA’s passing was that it got us to revisit our Beasties albums, which include some of the great tracks in rap/rock history.
And the Beasties aren’t a band with a lack of classic tracks. Going for quality over quantity, they only released 5 albums in their first twenty years, but packed each of them with gems. Add in a couple of later, lesser albums, and you have more than enough for us to take our first stab at bringing our world-famous fantasy drafts to music.
As with our other fantasy drafts, the idea was to put together the best list possible, with an eye also to representing the Beasties career fully (one song per studio album was required). This also gives us a chance to take another look at the efforts of our favorite music video artist of all time (sorry, MJ).
We’ve been switching off the first pick, which means The Dilemma’s gets the blindingly obvious honors.
Alright, with the first pick, I’m going to continue our practice of taking the best overall [whatever thing we are drafting] on the board, which in this case is Sabotage, off Ill Communication. I don’t know that it’s as obvious a pick as you alluded to (assuming you were referring to Sabotage), but I think it’s the Beasties’ best song. Though it’s not the song that best represents their style, their style shifted enough that it doesn’t necessarily matter. Sabotage is a jolt of electricity whenever it comes on and it’s impossible to grow sick of. It’s also BY FAR the best of their experiments with punk and hardcore.
David Simon Cowell
To me, Sabotage is beyond a no-brainer first pick… you can argue whether it’s their best song, I guess, but it’s the only song like it in their ouevre, plus one of the top energy songs of all time. There may be songs that are more emblematic of the Beasties, but there’s no song of theirs that will get a crowd to its feet quicker.
Because it’s off the board, I feel obliged to take one of the guitar-heavy classics on Licensed, and I’m going with No Sleep Til Brooklyn. While Party is more popular, I feel like Brooklyn holds up better (and, much like Steven Seagal’s Out For Justice, is a valuable reminder that Brooklyn didn’t always mean designer nerd glasses and strollers).
And for my second pick, I’m going with the song most emblematic of their second era, Pass The Mic. People forget how big of a bomb Paul’s Boutique was (wrongly, obviously), and how the Beastie Boys were considered a one-album wonder with a Bloodhound Gangish reputation for a good five years. The video for Pass The Mic came completely out of nowhere to make them cool again (and, quickly, resurrect Paul’s from the ashbin of history and License from its reputation as nothing more than a dated frat-boy relic). It’s got great vocal interplay, a cool lo-fi backing track, and awesome lyrical references. It branded the Beasties as the rappers for people who like “alternative” rock, which was pretty much their identity from then on.
It’s a pretty crazy to think about what if Pass The Mic didn’t hit… with Paul’s bombing, they probably didn’t have many chances after that. They’d now to consigned to the rap version of Branson with people like LL Cool J and Eric B. and Rakim.
And not just Pass the Mic had to hit for them to turn into what they’re known as today….college kids (and people within 5 years in either direction) had to connect with Check Your Head, with all its instrumentals, experiments with soul and funk, etc. It’s easy to look back and say that album is catnip for people in dorm rooms, but it was a pretty big risk at the time (and remains my favorite of their albums).
With Pass the Mic off the board, I’m going to go with another of their classic rap trade-off tracks, Intergalactic. It’s a bit of an obvious pick because it was such a massive hit (I’m pretty sure you can still hear it on “alternative” radio stations around the country), but that doesn’t diminish how great a song it is. The backing track is catchy as fuck, and all three of the Beasties are in top form in their verses.
Next, I’m going to throw just a bit of a curveball and take Ch-Check It Out. It’s another fine example of them at their old-school hip hop best, but mostly I’m taking it because it’s the only decent song on To The Five Boroughs — an otherwise unlistenable anomaly in the Boys’ discography. I didn’t want to be stuck with that 9/11 song or something late in the draft. Also, it gives me an excuse to link to this video from Letterman:
I’m not taking a song from Five Boroughs song until the last pick, like a punter or FG kicker.
With my next two picks, I’m going to take the heart out of their best album, Paul’s Boutique. The problem with Paul’s for these purposes is that it’s the only Beastie album that works better as a whole than as individual songs. Plus it’s got a bunch of short snippets… for instance The Sounds of Science, while great, is 90 seconds of a weird chant and only 90 seconds of the great guitar sample. So, in order to represent Paul’s, I’m going to take the two best stand-alone songs, which also sit back-to-back, Johnny Ryall and Egg Man.
That still leaves me with Shake Your Rump, my 2nd favorite song off Paul’s (behind Egg Man). I love Johnny Ryall too, but Shake Your Rump is infectious, and is filthy with classic couplets, including “Got arrested at the Mardi Gras for jumping on a float/My man MCA’s got a beard like a billy goat.”
Next, I’ll return to Ill Communication to take Sure Shot, the second single (after Sabotage) from that album, and probably the second-best example (after Pass the Mic) of their hip-hop style in the Check Your Head/Ill Communication era. Those two albums are the most closely linked of any two in the Boys’ catalog, as both feature a lot of experimentation with instruments and styles, with a handful of more traditional rap songs sprinkled on top.
I almost took Sure Shot last round and definitely would have taken it this round. Fuck you… it would have gone great with Pass The Mic.
Thankfully, my favorite Beasties song of all time is on Ill Communication… Get It Together. Part of it is due to the great appearance by Q-Tip, but if there was ever a rapper that was simpatico with the Beastie’s vibe, and could therefore tie them to the greater hip-hop community, it was him. Part of the problem with loving the Beasties (and Eminem) is that there’s necessarily an Elvis Presley or The Beatles (or, if you wanted to be nasty, Pat Boone or Vanilla Ice) thing going on, i.e. white guys stealing a black art form and becoming rich. Obviously, I would argue for the Beasties (as I would for Elvis or the Beatles), but then again, I’m a fucking white guy.
Of course, that’s not why I love Get It Together… it’s one of their coolest songs, flow-wise.
I should probably grab my second favorite Hello Nasty song here, since it isn’t the deepest of their albums. Three MC’s and One DJ is minimalist, with a head-bobbing bass line and old-school interplay between them.
With these two picks, I’m going to cover two albums I haven’t touched yet — their first and last.
Off Licensed to Ill, I’m going with Paul Revere — still my favorite song on the album, and still the Beastie Boys song that pretty much everyone I know can recite by heart. Paul Revere represents the fratty, early style of the Beastie Boys at its most charming and funny, without veering into the slightly more douchey territory of Girls or something like that (not that I don’t love Girls too).
Off Hot Sauce Committee, I’m taking the first track and lead single, Make Some Noise. Hot Sauce Committee is much deeper and more interesting than To the Five Boroughs — and I’m thrilled that the Beastie Boys ended their career on a solid high note — but I still think Make Some Noise is head and shoulders above most of the rest of the album. It’s their last classic track.
That’s the second time you’ve stolen something out from under me… Paul Revere was going to be my next pick.
I feel, much like with the Bill Murray draft, I’m getting run out of the building, fun-wise. So I’m going with their two greatest bombastic songs left. So Whatcha Want gives me a one-two punch from Check Your Head to match yours from Ill Communication (Sabotage and Sure Shot).
And I’ll go with the other great guitar riff song from License, and one of the great first songs from a band’s career, Rhymin’ and Stealin’.
So Whatcha Want is a great choice. I’m stunned I don’t have anything from Check Your Head yet, but I’ll rectify that soon since it’s such a deep album. My roster thus far is loaded with upbeat singles, so it’s time to start finding some balance.
To that end, I’ll take High Plains Drifter, the spiritual sequel to Paul Revere, and my favorite undrafted track on Paul’s Boutique. It will provide a chance of pace somewhere on the album with its slower beat and quieter arrangement.
Next, I’ll end my Check Your Head drought with Professor Booty, the opening verse of which is Ad-Rock’s finest hour. This isn’t a vast stylistic departure from the rest of my playlist so far, but features a quirkier beat than most of the singles and an interesting mid-song breakdown.
I can’t not have a punk-rock rave-up on a representative Beasties playlist, so next I’m gonna grab the best one not named Sabotage (which also helps to thin out your weakest album)… Time for Livin’.
I can’t not have a funk jam on a representative Beasties playlist, so then I’m going to get the best one (which also helps to bulk up my weakest album)… Root Down.
It’s funny that the only other artist of our era with the same kind of range is Beck, who also was thought to be a one-hit wonder after his first single/album, also made a classic second album with the Dust Brothers, and also was involved with both a non-mainstream religion and an actress with other family members in show biz. Just sayin’.
Bah, I was torn between Professor Booty and Time for Livin’ with my last pick, and figured Time for Livin’ would have a better chance of falling back to me.
For balance, I think I need one more off Licensed to Ill, so I’ll take The New Style, if nothing else than for, “feel the beat…mmm, drop.”
Then, I’m taking Gratitude, a precursor to Sabotage and an excellent example of the Beasties jamming out in a rock/funk hybrid groove, playing their own instruments with endearing semi-professionalism.
Yet again, The New Style was almost taken/about to be taken. It’s probably the best pure rap song on that album. Plus, it has one of the most extreme lines in music history (“Their father had AIDS so I shot him in the head”… which even online lyric sheets have changed to “envy”… which is not OK). It’s a good enough song that the Beastie continued to play it live often, even as they tried to run away from their dickhead past, up to not including it on their greatest hits. Plus you get to get to fully illustrate MCA’s range by pairing it with his most annoying PC line (the disrespect to women bit in Sure Shot).
I need something else from Hello Nasty, so I’ll go with Body Movin’, which fills the same ’70s/kitschy vibe as Intergalactic, and I like just as much.
And, I’ll add another tune from Paul’s Boutique, Shadrach, another song that works as a stand-alone, plus serves as kind of a preview of what was to come from them.
Getting down to the wire now, these last few picks will depends as much or more on personal taste as on significance. With my 12th pick, I’m taking Remote Control off Hello Nasty. It’s essentially a Mike D solo song, but it offers a different sound than almost anything else the Beasties have done.
Then, I’m going back to Check Your Head for Stand Together, which sounds like the theme song to the best ’70s TV show that never made it to air.
I’ve been trying to spread it out, so it’s a question of whether I go with a third from Licensed or Communication to match Check and Paul’s (I’m fine with two from Hello and one each from the last two). I’m genuinely tempted to put on Fight For Your Right for historical purposes, or go with the fun of Hold It Now, but instead I’ll take the song that was most overtly connected to their biggest political cause, Tibetan Buddhism, Shambala.
While I was happy that Hot Sauce was an improvement over the abortion that was 5 Boroughs, I don’t think it deserves more than one song. My favorite on the album is another collaboration, a la Get It Together… Too Many Rappers with Nas.
More than Fight For Your Right, I’ve been tempted by Hey Ladies, because it’s a legitimately good song, but there are so many other songs on that album I like more.
For my final two picks, I’m grabbing Nonstop Disco Powerpack off Hot Sauce, a slow, downbeat, kind of weird song that still features impressive flow from all three Boys. And I’m taking Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun off Paul’s Boutique, which I think will be a good glue song and help with pacing. Although I was very, very tempted to take The Biz Vs. The Nuge with my last pick.
I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive you for making me choose something from 5 Boroughs. I could not have been more surprised that Hot Sauce is listenable, because even with all the crap on my iTunes, I no longer have this album. It has none of the spirit, energy, friendship… anything basically that makes the Beasties great. I’ll take Triple Trouble, basically because it’s on YouTube and actually sounds like it was made with all of them in the same room.
David Simon Cowell’s Picks:
License To Ill: Rhymin’ & Stealin’, No Sleep Till Brooklyn
Paul’s Boutique: Johnny Ryall, Egg Man, Shadrach
Check Your Head: Pass The Mic, So What’cha Want, Time For Livin’
Ill Communication: Root Down, Get It Together, Shambala
Hello Nasty: Body Movin’, Three MC’s and One DJ
To The 5 Boroughs: Triple Trouble
Hot Sauce Committee Part Two: Too Many Rappers
The Dilemma’s Picks:
License To Ill: The New Style, Paul Revere
Paul’s Boutique: Shake Your Rump, High Plains Drifter, Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun
Check Your Head: Gratitude, Stand Together, Professor Booty
Ill Communication: Sure Shot, Sabotage
Hello Nasty: Remote Control, Intergalactic
To The 5 Boroughs: Ch-Check It Out
Hot Sauce Committee Part Two: Make Some Noise, Nonstop Disco Powerpack
David Simon Cowell
Although I can’t believe you’d take an extra spot from Hot Sauce, I think this has turned out fairly evenly. Our respective dominance of Check Your Head and Ill Communication evens out… I think I have a slight edge on Paul’s Boutique, but you probably do for Hello Nasty… I have the rock part of License to Ill while you have the rap part… the late albums don’t really matter to me, but we each got our favorite songs. I think that mine does a better job of covering more facets of their career, but you probably have a higher percentage of the highlight songs.
My strategy was to grab upbeat party songs early, and then fill out the playlist with deeper cuts later on, once all the big hits were off the board. It’s definitely a major upset that Hey Ladies didn’t get taken by either of us, but that’s the only real shocker. I like my playlist a lot, I think my strategy played out well — but yours is strong too, and it would be reasonably tough to come up with a bad Beastie Boys playlist of 15 songs, unless you were a huge 5 Boroughs apologist.
David Simon Cowell’s Playlist:
No Sleep Till Brooklyn
So What’cha Want
Three MC’s And One DJ
Too Many Rappers
Rhymin’ & Stealin’
Time For Livin’
Pass The Mic
Get It Together
The Dilemma’s Playlist:
Ch-Check It Out
The New Style
Shake Your Rump
Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun
Make Some Noise
High Plains Drifter
Nonstop Disco Powerpack