Ill Communication (Deluxe Edition)
The first album on which the Beastie Boys didn't totally reinvent themselves is still a remarkable, unique B-boy bouillabaisse. Following 1992's genre-crossing Check Your Head, a rap-punk-jazz-funk third act where they reconnected with their instruments, their fourth album was a place where the members' converging interests and expanding consciousness were at full flower.
Dropping shortly before they headlined Lollapalooza 1994, the album allowed the Beasties to storm Alternative Nation as record collectors, poets, punks, rappers, funkateers, magazine publishers, and outspoken activists, fighting for much more than a right to party. The locus point of Ill Communication was obviously "Sabotage"—a timeless three-minute tantrum of fuzz-bass, scratching, and Ad-Rock's adenoidal venom. But the album's shout-outs to underheralded pioneers of jazz, funk, and electronic music (Yusef Lateef, Jimmy Smith, Lee Dorsey, Dick Hyman) point to interests and grooves beyond making with the freak-freak. In turn, they picked up their instruments and explored Latin-tinged jazz-funk ("Sabrosa") and lounge-tastic shimmer ("Ricky's Theme") and even jammed alongside Buddhist chants ("Shambala"). "Heart Attack Man" and "Tough Guy"—two songs about shooting hoops, not even counting the immortal salute to Knicks hero John Starks in “Get It Together”—dive back into the furious hardcore punk blurts they produced in the days when the young Beasties used to open for Bad Brains.
But all the eclecticism on display by no means downplays the hip-hop bona fides that initially rocketed them to fame. Basketball buddy Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest submitted an off-the-wall freestyle that they Frankensteined into one of the funkiest raps of their career ("Get It Together"). The jazz-rap of "Root Down" feature's Mike D's loving ode to hearing early '80s cassette bootlegs of Harlem World hip-hop battles and the Zulu Beat radio show. Most importantly, MCA used his time on the mic to talk about his gray hairs, apologize for their beer-spraying misogynist antics of the past ("Sure Shot"), and spread the compassion and equanimity taught by his Buddhist faith ("Bodhisattva Vow"). A handful of flutes, Hammond B-3, and Moog crate-dug from the era between 1966 and 1972 give the rap tunes remarkable vintage cool. All in all, it was a guidepost of '90s alterna-kid values: a seamless pastiche of shaggy jams, inspired record-nerd beatnuttery, and gnashing riffs.