B-Boy Bouillabaisse: Justin Cook’s Reflection on the Beastie Boys

By: Justin Cook

My first CD was Hello Nasty by the Beastie Boys. My brother bought it for me. I loved the music video for “Intergalatic,” and he hooked me up. I was ecstatic—these were those badass dudes in the giant robot (remember when they killed the Backstreet Boys on Celebrity Deathmatch?). I studied that album, cover art and all. It didn’t leave my stereo for a year. That shit was packed, kind of like sardines, with song after great song. I would open the lyric sheet and sing along—learning how to spit from three hip-hop legends, all with their unique style and perspective. Little did I know the effect this album would have on my life.

By third grade, I was jamming License to Ill. I loved that shit. It was so wild and silly; it spoke a certain place in my heart: my mischievous self. Songs like “Rhymin & Stealin,” “The New Style,” “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” and “Paul Revere” made me want to break shit and start swearing. I was a rebel in training, and License to Ill was my gospel. Not only was it ironic, in-your-face hip-hop, but it was rooted in punk/rock—shit, Kerry King of Slayer even played lead guitar on “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” Being the youngest in my family, I was raised on an eclectic catalogue of music: The Beatles, Outkast, Lauryn Hill, The Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols, Nirvana, Erykah Badu, Motown. For me, the Beastie Boys were all the sounds of my childhood wrapped up into one musical force. Un-fucking-real.

My brother got sick of hearing only License to Ill blaring from my room, so he introduced me to Some Old Bullshit. I was pleasantly shocked—Beastie Boys used to be a punk band? Like real hardcore punk shit. Like played CBGB with acts such as Bad Brains, the Dead Kennedys, and the Misfits in their heyday hardcore punk shit. I pieced it all together, and it made sense—they did make some raw hip-hop, which was most definitely inspired by the New York punk scene. I loved “Cooky Puss.” Seriously, I would listen to that song for hours. I listened to it so much, my mom took the CD away from me. She kept it for years.

Soon I was dedicated to collecting the whole Beastie Boys discography; it was to be my life’s mission. I went up to the local record store and bought Paul’s Boutique and Ill Communication, which, over the years, have become my favorite Beastie albums. These two masterpieces changed the way I listened, and thought about music; they opened my heart to the beauty of funk. Oh, the fucking grooves.

First off, Paul’s Boutique. I listened to that album for years. Even longer than I listened to License to Ill. After school, that 4th grade living, I would come home, put on Paul’s Boutique and dance in my room until dinner. That album taught me how to move my body to the rhythm, how to boogie down. It was like a party—a dance party where only I was invited. Not to mention, it sampled the Beatles; “Sounds of Science” will always stick out because of that: when the beat kicks back in with the riff from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise).” Shit still gives me goosebumps.

And as for Ill Communication? Ya’ll remember “Sabotage?” And the great music video that went with it? Which, I might add, is the greatest music video of all time. You can’t even say otherwise. That shit is pure genius—which shouldn’t be a surprise since Ill Communication is such a genius album. Seriously, the musicianship on that album is flawless. This album made me realize the Beastie Boys aren’t just a hip-hop group, they’re a funk/rock band, with strains of punk running throughout. They picked up their instruments once again to produce one of the best hip-hop/rock fusion albums to date. Shit, these motherfuckers were on the forefront. This album is so ahead of its time it’s unbelievable. Not just their rhymes, which are top notch on Ill Communication, but also their instrumentals: “Eugene’s Lament,” “Ricky’s Theme,” “Transitions.” These are some of the strongest tracks on the record and display the full extent of the Beasties Boys as artists.

For years, the Beastie Boys held a special place in my musical world. I purchased To the 5 Boroughs  and The Mix-Up when they came out. As always, I was beyond impressed. Part of my childhood self comes alive whenever one of their record spins. Now that I’m older, I have a much deeper respect for them, their hip-hop message and how they conducted themselves as artists. No one else has done what they have done—not only within the hip-hop community, but within the larger culture of American music.

The Beastie Boys were the first hip-hop group to ever reach #1 on the Billboard charts. This was in 1986, for their brilliant album License to Ill. Their success helped break other hip-hop groups into the mainstream—and they did this while still staying true to their punk/rock roots. They blended genres so seamlessly we often forget their multiple influences. These influences became more prevalent as their music evolved. They came to really shine on Paul’s Boutique. Though not as commercially successful as License to Ill, it is now considered one of their best albums, and one of the most influential albums in hip-hop history. Produced by the Dust Brothers, Paul’s Boutique revolutionized the art of beat making, adding layers upon layers of samples, which is so common in today’s hip-hop. The album contained samples from 105 songs—something completely unheard of at that time. According to music mythology, Chuck D of Public Enemy stated during the late 1980’s that the “dirty secret” among the black hip-hop community was that “Paul’s Boutique had the best beats.”

In the 1990’s, the Beasties continued their artistic evolution with incorporating live instruments on Check Your Head and Ill Communication. On these albums, their lyrical content matured, and they began tackling serious subjects: the objectification of women within the hip-hop community, treating everybody as family and simply enjoying the short time you have on planet Earth. Buddhism began to seep into MCA’s lyrics as he became more involved with the “Free Tibet” movement. They were no longer the “frat boys” of hip-hop, but beings of a higher consciousness, spreading the hip-hop tao across the world. They became a global phenomena that could not be stopped. By 1999, they took home two Grammys for the album Hello Nasty: “Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group” for their song “Intergalatic,” and “Best Alternative Music Album.” This further solidified their identity as multi-genre artists. Who the fuck else could win awards for “Alternative Music” and “Rap” with the same album? Exactly.

In 2011, my childhood dreams came true: I saw the Beastie Boys perform at Bonnaroo. It was a transcendental experience. They played an amazing set, which ranged from their oldest punk tracks, to their fantastic funk experiments of The Mix-Up. Unknown to everyone at the time, this would be the Beastie Boys final concert. Shortly after the show, they canceled the rest of their tour due to MCA’s failing health. Months later, he had passed on. An era ended, not only in music history, but in my life. The Beastie Boys will never make another album, but I am grateful for the gifts they left behind. They were visionaries in the purest sense of the word. Untouchable, now & forever.

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