For anyone who remembers when the Beastie Boys first created waves in Britain, nearly 20 years ago, their current status as widely respected elder statemen of hip-hop is nothing short of incredible.
Back in 1986, nobody could quite decide whether Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D were a bunch of jokers or a threat to civilisation as we knew it. Riots were caused at their gigs, huge models of phalluses and women dancing in chains were features of said gigs, and they even had insulting comments directed at disabled children falsely attributed to them by the tabloids.
Over the years though, people have come to recognise the Beasties for what they are – genuine innovators. They were the first white group to embrace rap – years before Eminem took all the plaudits – their work with the Dust Brothers laid the foundations for Beck‘s masterpieces, and their record label and magazine Grand Royale spawned a whole community of like minded musicians.
Solid Gold Hits does exactly what it says on the tin – all the hit singles over the last 20 years are present and correct, and while the album may not be an in-depth exploration of the Beasties’ career (try the anthology The Sounds Of Science for that), it demonstrates exactly why the ‘joke rappers’ tag that was bestowed on them early in their career was so woefully incorrect.
Opener So What Cha Want from the Check Your Head album is a pretty accurate summation of what the trio are all about – a ear-splitting loud drumbeat over some genuinely funky backbeats. It’s followed by Brass Monkey, which like most of the Licensed To Ill material collected here, has not aged well. This was before the days when they had yet to develop any musical sophistication, and after a couple of listens soon becomes irritating.
The fact that the tracks here are slung together with no thought for any order is probably the only problem with Solid Gold Hits. If there’s been one band who have developed and evolved over the years, it’s the Beastie Boys, and the lack of any chronicological order prevents us from hearing that here. That’s a minor quibble though, especially when the album gives us the opportunity to hear the marvellous Shake Your Rump, which was the first indication of how inventive The Dust Brothers could be.
The main highlights on the album come from the Ill Communication and Hello Nasty eras, which are two of the most original and entertaining hip-hop albums of recent times. Intergalatic employed vocoders long before it became de rigeur, while Body Moving has some Fatboy Slim magic sprinkled over it to turn it into one of the best party tunes out there. Not forgetting Sabotage of course, which with its mammoth guitar riffs and Zeppelin-like drumbeats, still sounds almost impossibly exciting.
Last year’s From The 5 Boroughs may not have been held in as much esteem as some of their earlier work, but is well represented by Triple Trouble, the old-school Ch-Check It Out and the touching An Open Letter To NYC, their tribute to their home city after the 9/11 attacks. Of course Fight For Your Right To Party closes the record – it’s still the Beasties’ anthem after all these years and anyone who was a teenager in the mid-80s can still sing along with every single word.
They may not be boys anymore, but their journey from snotty obnoxious kids to widely respected hip-hop icons is a compelling one – Solid Gold Hits is a compulsory purchase if you’re even vaguely interested in the genre.