For three mostly diehard New Yorkers who played an ambassadorial role in the dissemination of the city’s hip-hop and punk culture during the ’80s and ’90s, the fall of the Twin Towers—which, incidentally, were only a few blocks from the band’s studio—didn’t just upend the Beastie Boys’ lives, it forced a reckoning about their legacy and purpose. Fun, yes—and camaraderie, and joint discovery. But To the 5 Boroughs was also an effort of stewardship, of reasserting the culture they came from in the face of changing times.
So you get the Double Trouble/Treacherous Three homage of “Triple Trouble,” the rainbow-flag electro of “All Lifestyles,” and the personal geographies of “An Open Letter to NYC,” probably the most earnest, emotionally up-front track the band had ever recorded. But because this is a Beastie Boys album (and because they were always too smart to betray the lightness of their collective heart), you also get “Hey F**k You,” a Partridge Family loop (“Right Right Now Now”), and MCA standing outside your favorite rapper’s house like a creep and offering them a shawl (“Crawlspace”), because—what? They looked cold. And to their elder-statesman status, Mike D offered this: “Ready to throw a craze/Make your granny shake her head and say ‘those were the days.’” It’s not nostalgia if you’re still having fun with it.