It was only after Paul’s Boutique came out and became my summer album for 1990 that I became a Beasties fan. However, as amazing an album Paul’s Boutique was, at the time, it was a commercial failure. Too complex and funky for the frat crowd, Paul’s Boutique move from sophomoric stupidity to Hip Hop’s Sgt. Peppers was almost enough to bury the Beasties deep into the has bin forever. Moreover, music nerds still hadn’t forgiven the Beasties for License to Ill, and most never gave Paul’s Boutique a chance, until long after Check Your Head was released.
Meeting the Beasties
So, when I showed up at Tower Records to meet the Beasties, I almost thought that I was at the wrong place; or there on the wrong day. It was fucking empty, except for the staff (who were uninterested) and about four or five other individuals meandering through the aisles. The fanfare for the Beasties was so weak that they didn’t even have a table set up for them to sit down. Instead, they were escorted to meet and greet in the CD aisle, directly in front of their CD’s.
Even though there were only a few heads when the Beasties ultimately showed up, someone snaked me in line just as it was my turn to get an autograph on my CD. By the time I went to shake hands and exchange half bro hugs, Mike D and Ad Rock had pretty much checked out and were talking to their (I think) publicist (probably about what a waste of time this had been), while I sheepishly went in for an autograph.
MCA, however, brought me in with a strong and stylish handshake and a “Whassup mah man!?” He paused. “That lady snaked you, bro,” He said, slightly under his breath.
“No worries.” I felt awkward calling him MCA and didn’t feel familiar enough to call him “Adam” or “Yauch” so I didn’t address him by either.
“I saw her man, she snaked you—and you just kept smiling. I like that. What’s your name brother?”
“Steve,” he paused and pulled out his Sharpie, “Steve The Patient.” And he signed my CD and held his hand up slightly for a sidearm, mid-to-low five, which was met quickly with my sweaty but appreciative palm.
“Stay strong Patient Steve.”
Words Have Power.
It’s surreal how a kind word or affirmation from someone you admire can stick with you, lift you up, and bond you to that person, even though you really know nothing about them and they had probably almost instantly forgotten the moment that impacted you in such a huge way.
So, when MCA passed away several years later, it was like a baseball bat swing to the liver. It hurt.
Beastie Boys Live
Later that night, I would see the Beasties for the first time (of fortunately many), and although the Chicago Tribune would give them a slightly better than mediocre review (with the reporter not having a clue the magic he just saw), they were incredible, playing almost a two hour set, including many Paul’s Boutique tracks, which I never saw them play live after that tour.
One of my favorites at the time, Basehead, opened with the singer/songwriter/lead guitar Michael Ivey, drawing the crowd in with his unique, mellow, and loungy, style of hip-hop, also backed by a band (with bass, drummer, and DJ). Although almost non-existent on the album, Basehead’s live show boasted Ivey, playing Hendrix inspired solos as a foil to the mellow head bopping tracks off of Playing With Toys. It was a great performance and unfortunately, I never had the pleasure or opportunity to see them thereafter.
Then it was time for the Beasties.
They started with Hurra on the ones and twos and the stage blacked out. Hurra dropped the needle to the familiar keyboard of To All The Girls, as the Beasties slowly strutted out to the stage. Then… BOOM! They dropped into Shake Your Rump, with MCA strutting and Mike D and Ad Rock airing out with that distinctive Beasties brat energy. They were relentless and loose but still rehearsed and on point. They put their work in, no doubt, coming together at key points in the song to strike a (single, dual, or triple) B-boy pose or boost an air. Without pause, they continued with Hurra scratching like Premo over Slow and Low, Pass the Mic, and Rhyming and Stealing.
After a short pause, they moved to their instruments and rocked the crowd out with their raw and patented style of punk rock starting with Time for Livin and Egg Raid on Mojo. The energy was tremendous and the transition between hip-hop and punk rock was surprisingly seamless.
Again they switched up styles, and introduced the crowd to their deep and dirty funky grooves, bringing in Money Mark on keyboards for In 3’s, Pow, Live at PJ’s, and Stand Together.
They would continue to switch it up grabbing instruments or strutting and bouncing with mics, hitting up everything a Beasties fan at the time would want to hear.
The Egg Man / High Plains Drifter/ Sound of Science medley was memorable to this day. So was Finger Lickin’ Good transitioning into Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun, with instruments.
Somewhere later in the set, they belted-out So What’cha Want and Paul Revere.
They ended the night with The Maestro, Groove Holmes, Something’s Got to Give, and Lighten Up. Then came back for encores of Gratitude and a Minor Threat cover, Stand Up and another encore of Time to Get Ill, topping it off with Shadrach.
I left, elated. Having never seen such an incredible but somehow cohesive mish-mash of live hip-hop, punk, and funk. The only thing close to that vibe and mixture at the time was seeing Bad Brains with their alternating power, precision, and angst offset by their intense but Irie reggae tracks.
At the time, that show was the “Newest in New,” but it also felt familiar, like comfort food for your soul.
It took nearly three years between the release of Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head. For Check Your Head, the Beasties already Angeleno’s for several years, rented out the Atwater Village Community Center and turned it into their studio/mancave, G-Son Studio (complete with basketball court and half-pipe).
It was there, along with their carpenter, Money Mark (Nishita) on keyboards that the Beasties began to relearn their instruments and initiated jam sessions that would evolve into the roots of Check Your Head. While Money Mark worked on building G-Son during the day, he eventually brought in his vintage keyboards and began jamming with the Beasties after he was done for the day.
“We wanted to make it like a break-beats record,” explained Mike D, “The same way as when you sample you take the best bit of the song, we wanted each song to contain the best bits of our jam sessions.”
While the return to their punk rock roots would be expected, it was their exploration of Lee “Scratch” Perry, the Meters, and early 70’s inspired tripped out funk that became the signature style that drives the greatness of Check Your Head.
Beyond that, part of the unique sound of Check Your Head, which (to my mind) has never been duplicated since, was their reliance on older and cheaper analog equipment which they used to create the dope and unique lo-fi, fuzzy sound, associated with the album. “Nowadays everybody wants this real hype digital equipment,” Mike D said, “but we outfitted our studio with all this really cheap equipment, like clavinets, old drum kits, fuzz basses, and wah-wah pedals.”
This Next Song Is the First Song on Our New Album
Initially performed entirely by MCA (including 1200 scratches), Jimmy James was originally meant to be an instrumental track that was an homage to none other than Jimi Hendrix. Containing samples from seven Hendrix songs as well as several other artists samples (Including the Cheap Trick, Live at Budokan Intro), this song became troublesome when the Hendrix estate denied clearance on five of the seven samples (which it would later agree to after the album was released, resulting in two completely different versions of Jimmy James—the album track and the single). In order to complete it, the Beasties had to re-record Jimmy James creating their own samples similar to the barred Hendrix ones.
This song backed by a spaced-out funky bassline tripped out scratches, and multiple way out samples layered on top of each other was the perfect introduction to the reinvented Beastie Boys sound. There was no urgency in the bars the Beasties were spitting. Their delivery matched the track itself: unifying. Most likely reflecting MCA’s own journey to enlightenment, Jimmy James was a strange and soothing trip to start this epic album, properly ending with the thematic line (delivered simultaneously by all three Beasties)–“But the music brought the people into harmony.”
If you were worried the Beasties lost their sense of humor or juvenile edge, Funky Boss quickly brought you back to the raw, direct, and fun side of the Beasties.
The Beasties anthem for the working man continued the tripped out funky style with its familiar “bah- nah-nap” loop played with live instruments, a strong rudiment filled snare beat, tripped out sounds and samples dropping in and out and all the fuck around, and the Funky Boss verses perfectly transitioned by the Richard Pryor’s stilted delivery sample, “What-in-the-fuck-is-happening.”
Pass the Mic
Their first single backed by two turntables and three mics, Pass The Mic reintroduces us to the Beasties we all know and love. Pass the Mic was a testament to the world that the Beasties could match bars with anyone (not named KRS-1).
Characterized by tight old-school rhymes spit on top of each other in rapid succession with a cadence and pattern, only the Beasties (and later Jurassic 5) could pull off, Pass the Mic comes hard with style, swagger, and humor: “I’m like Jimmy Walker, I’m Dynomite.”
But it also served as a forum for the Beasties, both warning and criticizing their peers for “Rapping like it’s a commercial. Acting like life is a big commercial”
However, their resolution is simple and empowering, “Be true to yourself and you will never fall.”
Laced throughout with lyrical gems from all three Beasties, the last stanza ends strong with them claiming–“Well I’m Ooonnnnnn ‘til the crack of dawn. Mowing down M.C.’s like I’m mowing the lawn.”
Starting with a psychedelic bass line which maintains itself through the entire track, Gratitude takes us on another instrumental loop inspired psychedelic journey (much like early Funkadelic), ending with spectacular Latin percussion and Money Mark’s patented funky keyboards.
Lyrically, the Beasties continue with the introspective theme of getting into the zone of positivity, not negativity. Ad Rock proclaims, “What’s gonna set you free. Look inside and you’ll see.
The Beasties turn cerebral with this elevating and mostly instrumental track which begins with head bob worthy African percussion, transitioning into Jackie Mittoo styled keyboard, coupled with another funky bass line, and Ad Rock’s Wah riffs, as the Beasties chant in unison, “Gotta Lighten Up, Gotta Lighten Up, Gotta Lighten Up Right Now.” The track ends with a proclamation to “Shine like the sun,” before winding down with short keyboard solo and fading percussion.
Finger Lickin’ Good
While the psychedelic funk vibe remains, the tempo and energy surge once again as the Beasties enter one of Check Your Head’s signature tracks. Finger Lickin’ is a breakbeat inspired revelation, performed with live instruments that “Created a sound which many were shocked at.” Complete with hype scratching, some groovy snare fills, a variety of samples, shout-outs, and some of the tightest bars on the album, many critics have blamed this track (and the entire album for that matter) for being the catalyst that spawned Nu Metal acts like Limp Biscuit.
That comparison is patently unfair as Finger Lickin’ is a multidimensional journey inspired by individuals with “a million ideas [they] ain’t even rocked yet;” whereas Nu Metal is the equivalent to mumble rap today: weak and without substance.
So What’Cha Want
“You Can’t Front on That.” The signature track of the album and second single. If you don’t know it, you wouldn’t have made it this far into this article without falling asleep. To be honest, I liked this track from day one; however, it didn’t become a favorite of mine until I saw the alternate video (Soul Assasin’s 3-shot remix). The term “Gold” is tossed around like yesterday’s chonies. But this track is fucking “Gold.”
The Biz v. The Nuge
During the recording of Check Your Head, long-time friend and Hip-Hop Icon, Biz Markie was in Los Angeles at the same time as another friend, Ted Nugent. They both ended up in the studio together and recorded this track. MCA later recollected that the “High point was actually when Ted Nugent decided to cook us all dinner, and he cooked up a big bouillabaisse. Biz tasted it and thought it was terrible. He went out and bought himself a bag of candy.”
Time For Livin’
According to Mike D in the liner notes for Beastie Boys Anthology: The Sounds of Science, “The music is by a really great but unknown…early ‘80’s New York hardcore band called Frontline. Yauch was particularly fond of this one song by them and had asked Miles Kelly, Front Line’s guitar player, to show it to him. I kind of remember Yauch would just play it on his bass every now and then when we would be messing around. One day after playing it a bit with Yauch showing me the arrangement, we decided [to] put it on tape. As usual for the time, Mario C. was ready to roll. I think we did a few takes, and then we had it.
Because it was a hardcore song, everyone turned and looked at me and said, ‘Come on, hook it up like you used to.’ One night, after much frustration over what to say or how to approach it, Mario handed me the Sony Karaoke mic and along with Adam and Adam, ordered me to get loose. Not really having an idea of what to say, I remember just sort of randomly grabbing the Sly and The Family Stone Fresh album and pulling out the sleeve with the lyrics for inspiration. Then I went the next step and just started to scream the lyrics from the song ‘Time for Livin’‘ over the track. Before I knew it, everyone was moving shit out of the way in our relatively small control room, making room for me to go buck wild. After a few takes of screaming my brains out and stage diving off the control room couch, it was done.”
Something’s Got to Give
Ad Rock calls this track “One of [his] all-time favorites ‘cause of all the elements inside; mixing live music with samples of our live music, live vocals with samples of our vocals, the lyrics and their sentiment, and the fucked-up bass.” Created by looping “like ten bars of music on Mike (D)’s sampler,” this tripped out, psychedelic, mellow track is a commentary on “How deep in America, racism is…” Continuing with the theme of unity, this track ends with an epithet of hope, ”Someday, we shall all be one.”
Our evening began in Peter Seychelle’s comfortable study in his New York townhouse…MMMMM…It does go well with the chicken
Another Check Your Head, staple, this track starts with a quirky horn and bass loop, which quickly and literally accelerates (with a sample of a race car accelerating) into Yauch’s sonic vocals. Lyrically, the track continues the theme of self-exploration and unity, and at the same time expressing their angst as “A lot of people making music that to me ain’t shit.
This funky instrumental with the exception of a unified “Pow!” in the middle, feels like the reggae based “Rally Round Jah’s Throne,” in the midst of a Bad Brains set. Still hype and intense, but a definite transition to a different and funkier dimension run by alien Meters doppelgangers.
“Yo Cory this is Al, you can kiss my ass. I ain’t interested in you anyhow. I’m just interested in the B-boys, so fuck you, mah man.”
This little ditty is an ode to a special effects pedal, the Maestro G-2 Rhythm ‘n’ Sound, which produced a fuzzy sound akin to the one used by Keith Richards on the Rolling Stones, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”
The Maestro is a funky, fuzzy, tweaked out head bobber, which at times feels like it was recorded live on a Friday night, in a packed and dingy bar. When the soulful women’s voices repeat, “Who is the man, who is the man, who is the MAAANNNN…” It’s time to raise your hands and sing praise muthafuckas. “How can you be so skinny and live so fat?”
Straight Meters Orleans funk.
Live at PJ’s
Another funky revelation at the Beastie Boys Gospel Church, “This one’s for you, and you, and youuuuuuu!”
Mark on the Bus
“Good morning…Time to get up and go to work!”
“I could paint three of those murals for some of that ass.”
This track is another brilliant mashup of old school rhyming coupled with live instruments, and looped samples…”Well I think it’s booty…Booty…Booty”
This track also served as the Beasties (mainly through MCA) answer to the 3rd Bass dis-track “Sons of 3rd Bass,” where Prime Minister Pete Nice claimed:
“Counterfeit style, born sworn and sold.
Out with high voice distorted.
If a Beast’ to wish play fetus, I’d have him aborted.”
In response, MCA spits fire and drops the mic claiming,
“You should have never started something that you couldn’t finish,
Cause writin’ rhymes to me is like Popeye to spinach.
I’m badass, move ya’ fat ass, cause you’re wack, son,
Dancin’ around like you think you’re Janet Jackson.
Another sick and funky instrumental track highlighted by Ad Rock’s dominant wah guitar, Yauch’s loop inspired bass, and D’s drum fills, ending with a tight percussion solo.
And she said, dark is not the opposite of light
It’s the absence of light…
The perfect ending to a funky trip that could never be duplicated.