Check Your Head (Deluxe Version) [Remastered]
Coming into the reinvention of 1992’s Check Your Head, the Beastie Boys were in weird shape. Paul’s Boutique had flopped, the money from Licensed to Ill had mostly dried up, and the band was in the process of downsizing from top-dollar studios and a rented mansion in Beverly Hills to apartments and a makeshift rehearsal spot above a pharmacy across town in Atwater Village.
In the absence of expectation came new kinds of freedom. They were playing instruments again, building loops from scratch—a project that not only tightened the album’s band-of-brothers spirit, but bridged their punk roots with jazz, funk, and soul (“Groove Holmes,” “In 3’s”). They weren’t The Meters, and weren’t trying to pretend otherwise. But in the garage-band primitivism of the grooves lay a sense of willingness to step into situations where they could change, be challenged, and grow. They were beginners again, and loving it. As Ad-Rock put it in the Apple TV+ documentary Beastie Boys Story, “Five years earlier, we’re at Madison Square Garden. Now we’re playing clubs. You’d think we’d be bummed out about it. But actually, falling off can be fun.”
Like Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head flowed like a mixtape, but rougher and noisier—a coarse flannel to Paul’s Boutique’s disco blouse. The rap-rock fusion played as comedy on Licensed to Ill was sober now (“So What’Cha Want”), a shift that not only helped define the expanding boundaries for alternative music in the 1990s (think Beck, think Rage Against the Machine), but also tapped into a reality that America was just waking up to: For white suburban kids who, in the past, might’ve only listened to rock music, hip-hop wasn’t foreign anymore, but the dominant sound in the culture. And here were the reformed ex-jerks bringing it home.