6th November 2023
Released in 1994, the Beastie Boys’ fourth studio album is their most well-rounded and mature effort in an impressively varied discography. The group, whilst undeniably volatile and prone to controversy, were fantastically artistically ambitious. The sophistication of ‘Ill Communication’ is a far cry from the frat-boy-like image the group cultivated on 1985’s notorious ‘Licensed To Ill’. Produced entirely by the group with assistance from Mario C, the group continued to learn and play instruments which gives the album an excellent visceral and live element.
“Instead of spending a couple thousand dollars a day at the studio, we thought let’s just rent a space and play it all ourselves”Producer Mario C, speaking to Amazon Music, 2019
The first single to be released from the album, ‘Sabotage’, is the albums most famous moment. A song that is much more than its impressive and hilariously parodical Spike Jonze directed music video, the MTV dominating ‘Sabotage’ is raw and brilliantly frenetic. The group were openly influenced by classic punk citing influences ranging from The Clash to The Dead Kennedys. The scuzzy bassline, droning guitar chords and aggressive vocal delivery from Ad-Rock typify this excellently. Best described by a radio 1 DJ as ‘musical amphetamine’, listening to ‘Sabotage’ now, even with years to digest the track, never quite loses its edge.
The bands live performance of the track on the David Letterman show is something that needs to be watched. To cultivate such an atmosphere of chaos in the often nauseatingly sterile environment that is live talk show performances, the Beastie Boys deserve a momentous amount of credit.
The second single in the lead up to to the album, ‘Sure Shot’, has to be considered one of the greatest album openers to come out of the classic 90s hip-hop scene. Featuring an infectious flute-based instrumental with lively deliveries from all three of the Beastie Boys and a chanted hook refrain, the track effectively captures the essence of the group. Rightfully, much has been made of The MCA’s feminist inspired four bars in the song. It is complete far cry from the Beastie Boys on tracks like ‘She’s Crafty’ and ‘Girls’. The four lines which may not seem like an awful lot were incredibly significant to fans of the group and perceptions of women in the rap genre.
“I want to say a little something that’s long overdue
The disrespect to women has got to be through
To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends
I want to offer my love and respect to the end”Adam ‘The MCA’ Yauch, Sure Shot’
This exemplifies the shift in perspective of the most ‘conscious’ member of the group, the late Adam Yauch. Member of the group Mike D reflects on how “Yauch fully went in for this nomadic lifestyle”, and whilst travelling across Asia, Yauch became compelled to fight for the freedom cause of the Tibetan people. This led to protesting outside the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco and organising the now iconic Tibetan Freedom Festival.
Other fantastic and weird cuts flood the tracklist amongst these two stand out singles. ‘Get It Together’ has an archetypal boom bap flair with an excellent feature from A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip. ‘B-Boys Makin With The Freak Freak’ is more of an industrial number with a welcome beat switch after an unexpectedly laughter inducing sample about a certain misuse of mashed potato…
‘Root Down’ samples a bassline from a 1972 Jimmy Smith track of the same name and features the three Beastie Boys effortlessly flowing over the top of it. ‘Sabrosa’ is definitely a cut worth listening to. If the vast array of the musical influences that the Beastie Boys harvested was not already obvious to you, then this funk flavoured instrumental track evidences it pretty well.
This album is 20 songs long and is probably too bloated (See ‘Eugene’s Lament’). The strangeness and genuine nature of ‘Ill Communication’ is wonderfully endearing and it should still be regarded as a classic even when considering its imperfections. It demonstrated the groups maturity, growth and artistic ambitions. ‘Ill Communication’ is an illustration of one of the greatest rebranding and remodelling projects in music history. It would be most negligent of me in a Beastie Boys review not to say this album should certainly be considered ‘tight’.
Feature Image Credit: Glide Magazine
Listen to the album: https://open.spotify.com/album/7pFZ24pG0mosFU3jnwMZbz?si=CyulZayqRLqpEeBgSpf5Tg