While 1986 saw the Beastie Boys big breakthrough with Licensed to Ill, and 1989’s Paul’s Boutique was the critical darling to cement them as serious artists, Ill Communication was the apex of critical success, massive record sales and general overall world conquering exposure. While the second half of their discography would roll out over 13 years, Ill Communication was the culmination of four era defining albums in just eight years. Which is why while I’ve heard it a few times before, I decided that I needed to pay it more attention than I have in the past.
Opening with what sounds to me like the quintessential Beastie Boys hip hop sound, Sure Shot is built around a funked up flute sample, with Ad Rock, MCA and Mike D trading off vocal duties in that way that plenty have imitated and few have ever equalled. Before Tough Guy brings in the other side of the quintessential Beastie Boys sound, snot nosed, batty punk rock at its snottiest and brattiest.
On the more lo-fi side of things, as far as production goes, the analogue instruments and general rustic sound of the samples on Root Down is a great change up, giving the very Beastie Boys vocal delivery a new dimension. The only negative aspect of this song is that it’s followed by Sabotage, one the most iconic songs in their discography. So while Root Down is undeniably great, very few songs could compete with the perfect melding of the Beastie Boys punk rock and hip hop sensibilities that is Sabotage.
Get it Together, with its darkness and atonal plucked strings sounds more like what I would usually think of the later 90s than when Ill Communication was made. It’s more on the gangster side than what I expect from Beastie Boys. Which is cool. It’s always great to be surprised by a band whose sound you think you know pretty much inside and out.
When I was reminded that Ill Communication has 20 tracks on it, I was immediately worried. Very few albums have ever justified a length that extended. And expectedly, Ill Communication comes with a little inessential filler. While nothing terrible, songs like Bobo on the Corner, Eugene’s Lament, Flute Loop and Ricky’s Theme really ad nothing.
But even with its bloated length, Ill Communication still manages to stay vital right up until the end. The punk rockiness of Heart Attack Man, followed by the funked up fun of The Scoop means that even in the closing moments, there’s still plenty of life in this record and plenty of reasons to stick with it right up until the end.