The time was 1994 and the album was Ill Communication. After rewriting the hip-hop playbook with the genre’s first #1 album, 1986’s Licensed to Ill, and then again in 1989 with the psychedelic sample-fest Paul’s Boutique, the Beastie Boys took some time off to reconnect with their punk roots for 1992’s Check Your Head.
By the time they rebooted 20 years ago today with Communication, the Boys were damn near men of 30 and their attentions were turning to slightly more mature concerns. (Slightly, right, it was still the B-Boys after all.) While the trio never quite fit in with the rest of hip-hop, this album pushed them further onto the edges thanks to its mix of straight up mic-passing rap, Buddhist influences, ripping instrumentals and punk thrashing.
1. Because “Sabotage”
The Spike Jonze-directed video might be the greatest 1970s cop spoofs ever. And,not for nothing, one of the most creative, influential music clips of all time.
How can you not love an opening salvo that drops references to a delicious chocolate drink (Yoo Hoo), a New Orleans legend (Dr. John), the voice behind “Working In a Coal Mine” (Lee Dorsey), a classic prison movie (“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”), a martial arts master (John Woo) and a 1970s MLB All-Star (Rod Carew)? The first verse!
3. Because The Video For It
So. Much. Fisheye.
In a year when OutKast dropped southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, Biggie offered Ready to Die and Nas gave us Illmatic, it was a tough time to make some noise. And noise is exactly what the B-Boys make on the 57-second punk blitz “Tough Guy.”
5. Because Of Q-Tip
The Native Tongues member drops classic lines on “Get It Together,” mixing in perfectly with the trio and even throwing in references to a classic adult film star (John Holmes) and Ad-Rock’s then-wife (Ione Skye). One-two, oh my gawd!
6. Because “Heart Attack Man”
7. Because They Played All Over It
Mike D, Yauch and Ad-Rock started out as a punk band, and their bass, guitar and drum skills proved they still had the chops.
8. Because They Sampled Moms Mabley And Richard Pryor
“Sure Shot” features a sample of the pioneering chitlin circuit female comedian who was recently the subject of a Whoopi Goldberg-directed documentary. And “Flute Loop” opens with a classic bit from all-time comedy great Pryor.
9. Because They Pulled Off Two Kinds Of Funk
The Latin-tinged instrumental “Sabrosa” is a whole different kind of funky than the fuzzed-out 1960s psychedelic trip in “Futterman’s Rule.”
10. Because Of All The Ballplayer Shout-Outs
NBA players Bill Laimbeer, Shaq, Anthony Mason, John Starks Patrick Ewing and irascible college coach Bobby Knight.
11. Because The Old School Video For “Root Down”
A throwback subway ride to rap’s birth.