This is a first in the ICA series.
The download is just one track, but it has a running time of 60 minutes and 30 seconds. If you give it a listen, you’ll find it is made up of 17 tunes as my stab at including the Beastie Boys in the series.
I’ve given it a particular title in homage to both the New Yorkers and to the district of Glasgow in which I have gone to work for the past 12 years.
It is also the 2,500th post on this reincarnated version of the blog.
The rest of today’s words have been sampled.
NO SLEEP TILL BRIDGETON
(a) Check It Out
Acting as the opener to their first album of the ’00s, ‘To The 5 Boroughs’, the band showed no signs of growing up on this bombastic hit. While the mainstream embraced a new generation of rap heroes like 50 Cent and Kanye West, this 2004 hit showed that The Beasties could still hang with the best and have way more fun while doing it.
(b) Shake Your Rump
This is music from another plane entirely, where ideas and sound-pictures collide, shatter and are reassembled into something new, all in an instant. It’s a sample collage, but it’s also a sculpture. There’s no way it should work with those three voices weaving in and around the different fragments of old records, lyrical visions jousting with musical innovations to the point where you feel like the whole thing could be about to collapse in on itself under the sheer weight of the different thoughts that it’s built out of. And yet it’s perfect. Try to work out why by unpicking it and the whole thing unravels.
(c) Make Some Noise
The Beastie Boys’ last truly great song, this was released in April 2011, a year before Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch’s death from cancer. It also acts as a fitting finale for a musical force that could still leave their younger contemporaries in the dust, despite being in their mid-40s. Built around a squelching beat, it’s a feral blast of swagger and cockiness – one they were so happy with that they felt it worthy to create a sequel to their iconic ‘Fight For Your Right To Party’ video for.
A transfixing space odyssey is crammed full of robotic vocoder and synth fragments that shatter in an astral euphoria. The Beasties fork together a beatific concoction here of lyricality that reroutes their hip-hop into a mesmerizing, head-banging dance groove. Don’t blame me if you’re suddenly in another dimension still humming the non-verbal instrumentals.
(e) Paul Revere
Paul Revere tells the story of the Beasties, complete with early collaborator Rick Rubin on production. Sure, it’s a cheesy story that involves a horse with a historically significant name and ends with robbery and murder that pales in comparison to older records when it comes to skill and creativity, but it also introduced the world to the goofy fun of the Beastie Boys — not to mention that Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, and Adam “MCA” Yauch introduced a lot of people to rap in general.
Sabotage, the seemingly anti-authority anthem was, in fact, inspired by their recording engineer, Mario Caldato Jr being a nag.
The band were totally indecisive about what, when, why and how to complete songs and Mario would blow a fuse and scream that they just needed to finish something, anything, a song, pushing them towards instrumental tracks just to have something moving toward completion. Sabotage was apparently the last song completed on the latest album and went through multiple iterations before it was decided to roast their engineer on track, of how he was trying to mess it all up, sabotaging great works of art.
(g) Get it Together
A Tribe Called Quest’s leader Q-Tip jumps on the mic for perhaps the a rare featured spot in the Beastie Boys catalogue. The Boys’ vocals are typically abrasive, but the mellow delivery of Q-Tip’s bars and subtle production means that both halves of the East Coast rap styles are well represented here.
(h) Hey Ladies
Admittedly, the only hit single from ”Paul’s Boutique” was a return to the frat-boy ethos of ”Licensed to Ill,” but it’s infectious and funny enough that we forgive such sexism as ”Sucking down pints till I didn’t know/Woke up in the morning with a one-ton ho.” It also features the greatest — and possibly only — cowbell break in hip-hop history.
(i) Rhymin’ & Stealin’
The Beastie Boys didn’t invent rap-rock, but on guitar-flooded tracks like ”Rhymin”’ they and producer Rick Rubin invested the hybrid with the energy and (obnoxious) attitude that helped suburban kids develop a taste for hip-hop. Incorporating samples from both Led Zeppelin (”When the Levee Breaks”) and Black Sabbath (”Sweet Leaf”), ”Stealin”’ offers hilariously unconvincing pirate/gangsta fantasies: ”Skirt chasing, free basing/Killing every village/We drink and rob and rhyme and pillage.”
(j) Jimmy James
Denied permission by Jimi Hendrix’s estate to use a variety of samples from the guitarist’s catalogue, including snippets of Foxy Lady, Still Raining, Still Dreaming and EXP, on this tribute track on Check Your Head, the Beasties’ improvised by crafting sound-a-like riffs in the studio. The song is prefaced with a sample from a live album by Cheap Trick.
(k) A Year and A Day
Paul’s Boutique was audacious, described before its release by one exec at the Beasties’ label Capitol as “the Sgt Pepper’s of its era.” The album’s final track was its most avant stroke, the Beasties’ answer to the medley that closed labelmates the Beatles’ Abbey Road. Across its kaleidoscopic 13 minutes, B-Boy Bouillabaise segued through nine vignettes, fragments and experiments, with their erstwhile home of New York as a loose theme. At its heart lay A Year And a Day, a thrilling showcase for MCA that saw Yauch rapping through a mic rigged to a pilot’s helmet, his verses bragging with a philosophical flair he’d hone on later tracks, over a furious beat chopping up Ernie Isley’s blistering guitar lick from Who’s That Lady?
(l) Too Many Rappers
On June 12 2009, Adam Yauch took the stage at the Bonnaroo Festival for what would prove the Beastie Boys’ final live performance. Their new album, Hot Sauce Committee Pt 1, was scheduled for September, but Yauch’s cancer diagnosis – made public a month after Bonnaroo – delayed its release by almost two years; it finally surfaced in April 2011 as Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two, a return to the more anarchic, gleeful style of yore following their stark post 9/11 album To the Five Boroughs. The Beasties debuted Hot Sauce Committee’s highlight onstage at Bonnaroo that night, alongside guest MC Nas. And while it’s perhaps not Nas’s finest moment, Too Many Rappers caught the Beasties sounding sharper than they had in years, while hearing Ad-Rock and Nas riff on Public Enemy’s Night of the Living Bassheads – for even a bar or three – is an undeniable treat.
(m) Pass the Mic
A tune like “Pass the Mic” does it all: It invokes one of the holiest hip-hop phrases (“yes, yes y’all”), name-drops Jimmie Walker, Clyde Frazier and Stevie Wonder and finds the Beasties both deconstructing, then rebuilding their own mythology. It includes one of the all-time great Beastie lines in which Mike D rhymes “commercial” with “commercial.”
(n) Sure Shot
As the Beastie Boys grew in power and experience, their goofy shtick became incredibly witty jokes and sublimely dada nonsense. The references became knotted and intricate, far more cerebral than details on how to party with some orange juice-based cocktails. From the barking dog at the track’s open through the last couplet, “Sure Shot” is jammed with essential lines, the kind of song that thousands and thousands of teenage boys memorized. It also features a real turning point in their active role as feminist allies: “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue/ The disrespect to women has got to be through,” MCA begins. “To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends/ I want to offer my love and respect to the end.” But just when you’re afraid that they’ll get all sappy, MCA reminds you that he uses elastic to keep his underwear up — keeping it Beastie.
The Beastie Boys were students — of the genre, of music history, of history in general, of society. On the excellent “Shadrach”, they do a little bit of it all. Musically, the track samples everyone from Sly Stone to James Brown to the Sugarhill Gang, paying homage to those that laid the groundwork. Lyrically, the three Boys dig in and compare themselves to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three Biblical characters thrown into a furnace for refusing to bow down to the king. Both are prominent trios of men with Jewish heritage, and the Beasties had to have seen something they like in the story of men surviving being thrown into a fire. The track also shows the group’s increasing comfort with more experimental beats. Co-written by the Dust Brothers, the track’s slinky guitar, funky horns, and out-of-this-world soul vocal sample are miles ahead of Licensed to Ill, running into far deeper veins of artistry. It also should be mentioned that it reveals just how seriously they took rap.
(p) Triple Trouble
No New Yorker was unaffected by the terrorist attacks of 2001, and the Beasties were no exception. Released in 2004, To the 5 Boroughs was reflective, in part, but just as much a part of their challenge to the darkening mood was to get back to what they do best – revelling in rhyme and having fun with music and words, celebrating New York as the place where all these things became possible, and defending it by carrying on as before. ‘Triple Trouble’ went back to hip-hop’s early days, sampling the opening of ‘Rapper’s Delight’ while the trio traded gallumphing brags and outrageous boasts back and forth over the infectiously bouncing beat.
(q) So What’cha Want
The only Beastie Boys song covered by The Muppets.