Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Beastie Boys

  • Rock Hard/Party's Gettin' Rough/Beastie Groove/Instrumental [Def Jam EP, 1984] B+
  • Licensed to Ill [Def Jam, 1986] A+
  • Paul's Boutique [Capitol, 1989] A
  • Check Your Head [Grand Royal, 1992] Neither
  • Some Old Bullshit [Grand Royal, 1994] Neither
  • Ill Communication [Grand Royal, 1994] A-
  • The In Sound from Way Out! [Capitol/Grand Royal, 1996] Dud
  • Hello Nasty [Grand Royal/Capitol, 1998] A
  • Beastie Boys Anthology: The Sounds of Science [Grand Royal/Capitol, 1999] A-
  • To the 5 Boroughs [Capitol, 2004] A-
  • The Mix-Up [Virgin, 2007] Dud
  • Hot Sauce Committee Part Two [Capitol, 2011] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Rock Hard/Party's Gettin' Rough/Beastie Groove/Instrumental [Def Jam EP, 1984]
With their boomy beats and big guitar, can these white boys rap the rap? "I can play the drums." "I can play guitar." "Not just B-boys we're real rock stars." Uh-oh. "Rock and roll rhythms are raunchy and raucous/I'm from Manhattan you're from Secaucus." Well, maybe. "I'm a man who needs no introduction/Got a big tool of reproduction." Very funny. B+

Licensed to Ill [Def Jam, 1986]
The wisecracking arrogance of this record is the only rock and roll attitude that means diddley right now. With the mainstream claimed by sincere craftspeople and the great tradition of Elvis Presley, Esquerita, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Sex Pistols, and Madonna sucked into a cultural vacuum by nitwit anarchists and bohemian sourpusses, three white jerkoffs and their crazed producer are set to go platinum-plus with "black" music that's radically original, childishly simple, hard to play, and accessible to anybody with two ears and an ass. Drinking, robbing, rhyming, and pillaging, busting open your locker and breaking your glasses, the Beasites don't just thumb their noses at redeeming social importance--they pull out their jammies and shoot it in the cookie puss. If you don't like the joke, you might as well put your money where your funnybone is and send a check to the PMRC. A+

Paul's Boutique [Capitol, 1989]
One reason nobody knew what they'd do for an encore is that Licensed to Ill redefined rap as music: it was avant-garde rap and pop metal, foregrounding riffs and attitude any hedonist could love while eliminating wack solos and dumb-ass posturing. Jam-packed, frenetic, stark, the sequel isn't as user-friendly. But give it three plays and half a j's worth of concentration, and its high-speed volubility and riffs from nowhere will amaze and delight you. It's an absolutely unpretentious and unsententious affirmation of cultural diversity, of where they came from and where they went from there. They drop names from Cézanne to Jelly Roll Morton to Sadaharu Oh, sample the Funky Four Plus One (twice), Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels, Public Enemy, the Wailers, Eek-a-Mouse (I think), Jean Knight, and Ricky Skaggs (I think) just as tags--for music there are countless funk and metal (and other) artists I can't ID even when I recognize them. And they make clear that they're not about to burn out on their vaunted vices--not cheeba, not pussy, certainly not fame. The Beasties are still bad--they get laid, they do drugs, they break laws, they laze around. But they know the difference between bad and evil. Crack and cocaine and woman-beaters and stickup kids get theirs; one song goes out to a homeless rockabilly wino, another ends, "Racism is schism on the serious tip." Here's hoping other bad boys take these bad boys seriously. A

Check Your Head [Grand Royal, 1992] Neither

Some Old Bullshit [Grand Royal, 1994] Neither

Ill Communication [Grand Royal, 1994]
Another you-gotta-believe record, just like Check Your Head--only less so, thank God, whose appearances herein are frequent and auspicious. Although once again it's short on dynamite, at least it starts with a bang. Two bangs, actually, one hip hop and one hardcore--their loyalty to their roots closely resembles an enlightened acceptance of their limitations. With each boy having evolved into his own particular man, the rhymes are rich and the synthesis is complex. You-gotta-love the way the ecological paean/threnody emits from a machine that crosses a vocoder and the p.a. at a taco drive-through, but their collective spiritual gains peak in the instrumentals, which instead of tripping up the Meters evoke the unschooled funk of a prerap garage band. If they've never run across Mer-Da's Long Burn the Fire, on Janus, maybe I could tape them one? A-

The In Sound from Way Out! [Capitol/Grand Royal, 1996] Dud

Hello Nasty [Grand Royal/Capitol, 1998]
Rap is their heritage, and having wasted years proving they can't play their instruments while enrapturing MTV fans who loved them for trying, they come home not an album too soon--flowing prose to cons and cons to pros, scheming rhymes against reason like flow against know. Old-school in their spare breakbeats, skilled back-scratching, and heavy-breathing beatbox, they also remember how to lay on the guitar, and dance like Juba through missteps from planet-rock Vocoder to Roy Ayers carioca to good old Hammond B-3. And of course they rhyme, wise and wiseass, humanitarian without ever getting sappy about it--and without mentioning the Dalai Lama once. A

Beastie Boys Anthology: The Sounds of Science [Grand Royal/Capitol, 1999]
Simultaneously overconfident and generous as usual, this asynchronously omnivorous package has all the hits, only there aren't that many, so 16 of 42 tracks are "rarities." In their opinion, that doesn't include the revelating early single "She's On It" or the fine late B side "Skills To Pay the Bills." It does include Fatboy Slim's "Body Movin' " remix, which is as much fun as "Fight for Your Right," which they apologize for, although they're proud to debut "Boomin' Granny," which puts moves on a "sassy, sophisticated, sexy" 80-year-old in the checkout line (hey, that's my mama--and the song's nice in an offensive sort of way, their calling card). Of course, their rarities can be as flat as anybody else's, as can their showcases, like the Latin-funk "Sabrosa" on its third go-round. Still rappers and rockers, still wise guys seeking wisdom, they'll try anything twice and convince half their many fans to like it, usually to the benefit of said fans if not musical history. This is their claim on said history. They've earned it. A-

To the 5 Boroughs [Capitol, 2004]
Don't let the hipsters scare you away. "An Open Letter to NYC" is as inarticulate as most love letters, so hackneyed Mike D could be gunning for an October engagement at Yankee Stadium. But from "We've got a president we didn't elect" to "It's time we looked past all our differences," many clichés here are worth recycling, as with the black (sounding) hype man who reinforces the one about differences with a faint but unmistakable "that's fresh fresh, for a Jewboy, Jewboy, Jewboy." As much as Jay-Z, and with more jokes, the Beasties are masters of their sound, of which this is the old-school variant. Like the Catskill shticksters they honor, they crack wise as naturally as John Hurt drawled, only with a better sense of rhythm (than the shticksters). They sound sharp-witted even when they mouth homilies. They sound like the reason uppity Queens boys used to think the 7 train was bound for Jordan. A-

The Mix-Up [Virgin, 2007] Dud

Hot Sauce Committee Part Two [Capitol, 2011]
More light-hearted than their Gotham-cheering album of 2004, and if you think light-hearted means shallow--especially for a rapper with a tumor threatening his salivary glands at age 42, which was where MCA found himself last July--you've come to the wrong art form. With a push from Nas and a whoosh from Santigold and new life from their chorusing kids, the beats spritz and submarine in signature Beasties style as the rhymes claim contexts high-living and low-life. But when they need to state their business, here come two old reliables: "Like Willis Reed or Elton John/We done been in the game and our game's still on." A-