The Beastie Boys: Hip-Hop With A Dash Of 'Hot Sauce'
The Beastie Boys are all about noise. Their beats are big and booming. Their production style is intentionally fuzzy and frequently distorted. Their lyrics are the dense, articulate yammerings of wiseguys who will not get out of your face.
As has been true since they began as a joyfully crude punk band more than 30 years ago, The Beastie Boys make virtues out of what would be annoyances coming from most other people. The groove they develop in "Funky Donkey," for example, contains one of my favorite couplets on the album: "I don't wear crocs and I don't wear sandals / The pump don't work cause the vandals took the handles."
The theme of Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, in case you haven't guessed by now, is aging: These guys embody the phrase "old-school" in a number of ways, and not just because Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz refers to himself as a "grandpa" who's been "rapping since '83." The album has almost no use for hip-hop as it has evolved over the past decade, other than to ask a friend such as the rapper Nas to make a vocal cameo in one track.
Indeed, the Beasties are pre-hip-hop culture: They're rappers. What's the distinction? Their interest, as was true of virtually all first-wave rap from the late '70s and early '80s, is in verbal content set to rhythms filched from R&B, soul, disco and pop records. Their artistic alliances remain with rap performers such as Spoonie G and Grandmaster Flash, as well as with pop-punk-disco acts of an earlier era, such as the "Heart of Glass"-era Debbie Harry/Blondie. For example, the bass- and drum-heavy "Lee Majors Come Again" is a return to their punk-rock roots, with a driving tempo and a chorus that insists over and over that you "take a look around you."
One of the best songs on a generally superb album is "Nonstop Disco Powerpack," whose opening I find touching even as the Boys steamroll over the emotion. It begins with each member asking the other, "How you feelin?'" In context, it's an intro, a way to rev up; on another level, however, I can't help but think it's an implicit checking-in with Adam "MCA" Yauch, about the state of his health after a battle with cancer. Either way, the vibrant life of the music — its "disco powerpack," to use a typically cartoonish Beastie phrase — is exhilarating.
In another track, "Long Burn the Fire," The Beastie Boys speak of an ideal rapper: "not a player, a soothsayer." The music on this album is deceptively off-hand. It's a sustained piece of art-collage with a unifying sensibility, anarchy expressed through technical discipline. As one fan wrote on a Beastie Boys comments board I read online, this stuff is "vintage but new." Long burn their fire, indeed. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.