Beastie Trio

Jimmy James/Funky Boss/Pass The Mic – Beastie Boys from Check Your Head

As I continue my quest to shuffle through, and rate, every song in my ever-expanding Itunes library, I’m getting closer to getting full albums rated in their entirety.  As I was scrolling through my library, I came across the Beasties’ Check Your Head and noticed I had a first.  I had rated all three opening songs with 5 stars.  I knew that I held a fond spot for this album given it came out when I was 18 and right in the wheelhouse demographic for the Beastie’s music.  But listening to it almost 20 years (!) later, it’s a super-strong opening to an important album for the Beasties.

While it was a commercial failure, Paul’s Boutique, had gathered a following and begin to get props from music criticdom.  So among the fans who had “gotten” their sophomore album, there was great expectations about what the Boys would do with this album.  Would it be a continuation of the pastiche wild style of their previous album, a return to the hard rock sampling of their debut, or something entirely different.

A little bit of all three, with the entirely different being the focus on live instrumentation.  From their roots as pretty bad punk rockers in NYC, the Boys had a desire to play instruments.  The cover of the record gives us a hint of what’s to come, as they sit curbsite with their guitars.  They play their instruments and do so well.

The opening track, Jimmy James, does what a good opener should do, it grabs you immediately.  Screaming fans and Ad Rock (?) announcing this is the first track on their new album introduce some fierce scratching of Jimi Hendrix guitar samples.  A nod to Jimmy Hendrix, it contains several samples of Jimi’s music throughout the song, the most recognizable being a sample from Foxy Lady at the end of the song.  It’s a fitting tribute, at the beginning especially, makes you wonder if Jimi had lived a longer life, at some point would he have incorporated vinyl scratching into his music.  It has some of the best elements of the Beasties’ first two albums, on the one hand the classic rock samples and hard edge of Licensed to Ill and the multi-layered soundscape and funky bounce of Paul’s.  This is one of my favorite Beasties songs.  At the end of that first song, you’re thinking “ok, this is awesome, I see what they’re doing, I’m going to love an album full of this amalgamation of these two distinctive styles.”

Then, Funky Boss comes on and you realize what is really going to be new about this album.  Here are the three MCs playing instruments in a conventional song structure unlike anything they’d done.  The song is a funk number, with a slight Afro-Caribbean bent with the bongos and a sample of a reggae piece at the end.  They still incorporate some sampling and scratches into the mix, but the drums, bass and keyboards are more of the main attraction here.  It’s a short song, but it really is funky.  And now you’re even more excited than you were after hearing the first track.  What’s next?

Pass The Mic veers back toward the opener, though it is even a little harder than Jimmy James.  Though, behind the bombast is a haunting synth or organ line that hangs like a wispy cloud.  It’s little touches like this that take a straight forward banger and give it the depth that keeps me coming back to listen again.  The rapping also is on par with some of their best efforts from their first two albums.  It also includes the line that cracks me up every time I hear it, when Mike D “does anything he likes” and rhymes the word commercial with… commercial.  While some might view this as lazy and bad MCing, I see it another way.  It’s the sign of ultimate confidence in your abilities, he’s saying I don’t give a crap, yeah that’s right, I just “rhymed” a word with itself.

And it’s got a sweet silly totally 90s video…

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One Response to “Beastie Trio”

  1. lilcog Says:

    Jimi scratching? Ack, I’d prefer to think he would have taken blues mainstream. Although a scratching blues infusion? I could dig that.

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