Happy 20th Anniversary to the Beastie Boys’ fifth studio album Hello Nasty, originally released July 14, 1998.
By the time the Beastie Boys released Hello Nasty 20 years ago, they had pretty much won over most of their numerous doubters and haters by remaining true to themselves while maintaining a proper respect for hip-hop. That’s not an easy feat for an all-white rap act. While their 1986 debut Licensed to Ill bordered on parody and what some had perceived as mocking the then very new genre, Paul’s Boutique (1989) was the bellwether of what was to come for the band.
The Beastie Boys started out as a punk band who experimented with using samples. Their first single “Cooky Puss” was also the group’s first hip-hop single. On a personal note, it was in heavy rotation on my radio show back in 1984 at KSCR (now KXSC), USC’s student run radio station.
After Paul’s Boutique arrived to critical acclaim, their following LPs Check Your Head (1992) and III Communication (1994) dipped back into their punk influenced roots, and eventually led them to what was to be the peak of their career. The Beastie Boys willingness to stretch their boundaries while combining all of the elements of their first four LPs resulted in Hello Nasty.
Well, it’s…Fifty cups of coffee and you know it’s on / I move the crowd to the break of break of dawn / Can’t rock the house without the party people / Cause when we’re gettin’ down we are all equal / There’s no better or worse between you and me / But I rock the mic so viciously / Like pins and needles and words that sting / At the blink of an eye I will do my thing” (“Super Disco Breakin’”)
The Beastie Boys are unapologetically a New York band. They’re a hip-hop act with the aesthetic of a rock band from lower Manhattan and it comes through loud and clear on Hello Nasty. The group’s addition of Mixmaster Mike only further strengthened their old school vibe while adding a futuristic feel throughout the entire album.
“Super Disco Breakin’,” “The Move,” and “Remote Control” with its straight up old school rap lyrics is a great kickoff to an album that marks the first time since Paul’s Boutique that the group wrote songs together. Three songs in and it’s clear that the Beastie Boys were at the top of their game and tight as ever. What you’re not prepared for is track 4, “Song For the Man,” a 3:13 trippy experiment that has the hypnotic effect of a psychedelic pinwheel.
Body movin’, body movin’ / A1 sound, and the sound’s so soothing / Body movin‘, body movin’ / We be getting down and you know we’re Krush Groovin’ (“Body Movin’”)
“Body Movin’” and “Intergalactic” are of two of the album’s highlights with the former featuring of all things a sample of Amral’s Trinidad Cavaliers version of “Oye Como Va” and a track called “Modern Dynamic Physical Fitness Activities” by Ed Durlacher from a sixties instructional exercise record. Add in steel drums and you have a song that just keeps you moving.
We’re from the family tree of old school hip-hop / Kick off your shoes and relax your socks / The rhymes will spread just like a pox / ‘Cause the music is live, like an electric shock / I am known to do the wop (wop) / Also known for the Flintstone Flop / Tammy D getting biz on the crop (crop) / Beat-see Boys known to let the beat / “MMM, D-r-r-rop!" / Do it” (“Intergalactic”)
“Intergalactic” sounds like it could have been the theme from a campy sixties sci-fi movie you’d watch at two in the morning on Channel 9. With samples from the theme from The Toxic Avenger, the song sets itself apart from whatever else was on the radio in 1998. The big surprise at the end is a freestyle rap from Biz Markie that does not come off as a gratuitous cameo appearance. It also makes it clear that The Beastie Boys were musically at another level. The beauty and genius of the Beastie Boys is that they continued to add new elements to the music, while keeping their feet firmly rooted in ‘80s hip-hop without sounding dated. “Three MC’s and One DJ” is further proof of this. The title is ripped straight from the ‘80s and the song gives props to the DJ, who always gets the party started.
It’s hard to write about the Beastie Boys now without thinking of the late Adam Yauch a.k.a. MCA. He was always my favorite member of the group because I always dug his style. MCA’s flow throughout the album had never sounded better and unfortunately, he is also responsible for the LP’s one debatable misstep, “I Don’t Know.” It was his first attempt at singing on wax and luckily it doesn’t ruin the album. It only adds to its quirkiness and spirit of the recording. The cherry on Hello Nasty’s sundae is an appearance by none other than Lee “Scratch” Perry on “Dr. Lee, PhD.” It’s spacey and out there, but it works. Don’t ask me how, but it fits in with the previous 20 tracks.
Hello Nasty proved to be the Beastie Boys’ commercial peak, and remains an important album in their discography. It combined all the elements from their previous output and spit out daring and original material. They could have taken the easy way out and given us a weak greatest hits album, but they chose to show us what they’ve learned and what they intended to do going forward. Hello Nasty is long and dense, but hang in there, it’s definitely worth your time.