Brat-rap superstars return after six-year sabbatical to cover 'serious issues'
Everyone, it seems, must eventually grow up. Even Adrock, MCA and Mike D, whose brattish attitude, goofball humour and lyrical obsession with pop culture have sustained them through five albums. Their hybridised hip hop appeals almost exclusively to a white, male, middle-class fanbase and aligns them more closely?if uncomfortably?with Limp Bizkit than Eminem. They are, however, relentlessly enthusiastic experimenters: Licensed To III (the first rap-based LP to top the US charts) was essentially an exercise in shouty punk, but Paul’s Boutique delivered a cut’n’paste homage to everything from soul to psychedelia; Check Your Head and III Communication were both brutally monochrome battles between rock and hip hop dynamics; and 1998’s Hello Nasty was, among other things, a post-techno/electro workout. Now, as the ‘Boys’ face 40, they get back to hip hop basics and politics appears on their agenda.
Work on To The 5 Boroughs started around the time of 9/11, so this is perhaps no great surprise. As the title suggests, it’s dedicated to their hometown, as elegised in “An Open Letter To NYC” and, although the lyrics might read like Benetton ad copy. (“Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin, black, white?New York, you make it happen”), when set against a jittery techno pulse and a chopped-up sample of the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer”, they pack a poignant punch. George Bush cops frequent flak throughout. “We got a president we didn’t elect, the Kyoto Treaty he decided to neglect,” raps Mike D on “Time To Build”. They shift their target in “We Got The”, a plea for military de-escalation with a rallying cry as its chorus: “Who got the power to make a difference? Who got the power to make a change? We got the, we got the, we got the.” All of which suggests that the trio have reappeared after six years as a white, middle-aged, insufferably self-righteous Public Enemy.
Happily not. References to Lorne Green, Miss Piggy, Trekkies, Wile E Coyote and Jabba The Hut show that the Beastie Boys are still hopelessly hooked on media detritus, and their food-obsessed rhyming has hit dizzy, linguistically dextrous new heights, whether solo centre-staging or passing the mic, as on the irresistible “Rhyme The Rhyme Well”. “Now pass me the wok, cos I’m cooking,” Mike D boasts on “Oh Word?” after Adrock has deftly rhymed “awful” with “falafel”. The music is strikingly minimal throughout, the emphasis is firmly on The Word and the Beastie Boys have plenty left to say.