Beastie Boys were on fo the biggest, most successful groups in the work in the early 1990s when they made Ill Communication (Capitol/Grand Royale), released twenty-five years ago today. Prolific, putting out a new album every 2-3 years, the band was focused on never repeating themselves, and constantly improving. It would have been very easy for them to just keep remaking Licensed To Ill (Def Jam) over and over and that would have been enough for many bands. But Ad-Rock, Mike D, and MCA (RIP Adam Yauch) kept on changing and evolving. As they had on the previous few albums, they played all the instruments, and played them incredibly well on every track, across multiple genes. They had genius guest stars and collaborators (Q-Tip, Biz Markie, Amery Smith of Suicidal Tendencies, Money Mark, Bobo from Cypress Hill) and put the music first, before everything. Even the production on Ill Communication is incredible, all respect due to the B-E-A-S-T-I-E’s and their frequent partner at this time, Mario Caldato (“Mario C”).
The band perfects their no rules, but Beastie rules ethos where they flawlessly shift from Hip-Hop, to Rock, to hardcore, and more. The album announces itself with the uplifting and breezy ‘Sure Shot’. The track was a major hit and a party jam every time it comes on the speakers. “Tough Guy’ references the bands’ earliest forays into hardcore punk and conjures memories of A7 and CBGB’s Sunday matinees. They did this again with late album track ‘Heart Attack Man’ (the song is practically a Warzone/Gorilla Biscuits ripoff, in a good way). Other tracks meld rap with straight up psychedelia and Acid Jazz. It’s kind of hard to believe a group could take all of these influences and filter them down in a way that not only is coherent but has tons of staying power with these memorable tracks.
The album takes you on an aural journey through time with music as your magic carpet. Even the instrumental tracks don’t feel like filler, they feel like the complete the narrative. While the Beasties drop all the lingo that kept their street cred intact, the album continues foretelling the groups legendary activism on many tracks. The lyricism, flows and fun world play roped people in, but they peppered in a lot of subtle genius references you may have missed. Sure fans know the mega hits like ‘Root Down’ and ‘Sabotage’, but the other single ‘Get It Together’, featuring A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip might have been the best track on here in retrospect.
Of course, ‘Sabotage’ is the most memorable song on the album since it is still a huge track today, as big as any in their catalog of hits. The video directed by Spike Jones was so copied and mimicked that it became a pop culture phenomenon. Even Beavis and Butthead couldn’t hate on it.
Other top tracks on the album include ‘Sabrosa’, ‘The Update’, ‘Futtermnan’s Rule’, ‘Do It’, and ‘Bodhisattva Vow’. Speaking of the latter track, can you name another prominent song by a huge band with a dope didgeridoo part? I didn’t think so.
It’s rare to see an album full of self-confidence musically, but so humble as to make the main thing people love about the group (the rapping) almost a passenger in the car to the soundtrack. Brilliant then, as it is now.
“Ma Bell got the ill communication. Keep it on and on.”