With the more leisurely approach to making albums that kicked off with Hello Nasty, the Beastie Boys were in a new phase that would end up being the second half of their career. The unfair label of gimmicky white guy rappers was long gone, the recognition as respected musicians and innovators was nothing new, and they were officially elder statesman of American music and pop culture. With Hello Nasty, they came back from a four year hiatus by throwing absolutely everything at the wall. Enough stuck to make that album more than worth my time. But enough slid disappointedly down the wall to really test my patience.
With a massive six year break until their next release, I was worried that To the Five Boroughs might be even more bloated, representing what they’d been up to all those years. Seeing that it’s only 42 minutes already had me liking this album before I even pressed play. It also doesn’t hurt that it kicks off with Ch-Check it Out, my favourite kind of Beastie Boys song, ticking all the boxes. Vocals traded at machine gun pace, old school beats that still sound fresh, and a chorus that you feel like you can join in on, regardless of your complete lack of MC skills.
With its harpsichord and haunting piano, Right Right Now Now reminds me of the Wu-Tang Clan, while the production of 3 the Hard Way is more like like an 8-bit video game. The eclecticness continues with Triple Trouble, a showcase for Mix Master Mike and what makes him such an awesome DJ.
Hey Fuck You is a pretty hilarious dis rhyme against the band themselves. I don’t know if they based the verses on actual criticism they’ve copped in the past, or if they wrote it all from scratch, but lines like, “You people call yourselves MC’s but you’re garbage men, takin’ out the trash when you pull out the pen” seem specifically written for the snarky tone that Ad Rock and Mike D had more than perfected by this stage. And that’s not to take anything away from MCA either, because he really owns lines like, “But when you break it down you’ve only got two songs”.
Their first album post 9/11, it’s no surprise that these quintessential New Yorkers named their album with a dedication to the city, and they wear that dedication on their sleave with An Open Letter to NYC. “Dear New York this is a love letter, to you and how you brought us together”. Calling out the amazing melting pot that made them the men they are, and makes the city everything it is, it’s a sincerity that is a little unexpected, and even a little jarring from these dudes. And I think that’s what makes it so effective.
And I kind of wish that’s how To the Five Boroughs ended. Crawlspace, The Broughhaha and We Got The are all more than decent. But An Open Letter to NYC is such a perfect thematic summation of what was going on with these dudes at the time (as far as I can tell, anyway). It’s also a perfect summation of their past and what was then their present.