Neary 30 years into their career, Beastie Boys sound incredibly fresh. A listen back to 1986’s License To Ill reveals a trio of hyper-sexed binge-drinking twenty-something punks with something to prove, and now they continue this tradition into their fourth decade together. Certainly, the landscape of modern hip hop would look and sound very different without the influence of MCA, Mike D, and Ad-Rock. Their new disc – their first since 2005’s To The 5 Boroughs, not counting the trippy funk instrumental disc, 2007’s The Mix Up – was originally slated for release in 2009, but Hot Sauce Committee was delayed due to MCA’s battle with cancer.
Now renamed, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (which comes packaged with a super-weird half-hour film starring Will Ferrell and Seth Rogen among others) finds Beastie Boys sounding somehow both old-school and spastically forward-thinking. The rhymes carry the same bouncy bravado as they did on Paul’s Boutique, but they’re underscored by hyperactive analogue synths and distorted bass. The album strikes the perfect mix of studio-produced synthesised sounds and live performances (hear the huge live drumming on Too Many Rappers, which features a guest appearance by Nas), feeling fresh and intense, bounding and over-stimulating in all the right ways.
Most interesting, though, is that Beastie Boys seem to have no misconceptions about sounding young or hip. On Make Some Noise, MCA raps, “My rhymes, they age like wine as I get older”. And on Too Many Rappers, Ad-Rock exclaims with gusto: “Oh, God, look at me! Grandpa been rapping since ’83!” Age has also caused the B Boys to continue a theme they unleashed on To The 5 Burroughs. No longer is partying only a cause worth fighting for; it’s a means to an end, a form of fighting in itself. On Make Some Noise, MCA says, “We got a party on the left, a party on the right. We gonna party for the motherfuckin’ right to fight.”
Guest appearances (by Nas on Too Many Rappers and Santigold on the reggae track, Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win) feel more like legitimate additions to the album’s overall feel, rather than needless attempts to pad the album’s roster to maximise its appeal across demographics. Nothing here is throwaway, or done for meaningless posturing. Beastie Boys take their job very seriously, and as a result, they remain one of the most enjoyable rap groups out there, always managing to keep one step ahead of anyone guessing at their turns of phrase (Funky Donkey: “Go shave a sheep, and knit yourself a sweater”?).
Beastie Boys are still fighting the same battles they always have, continuing the ’80s trend of bragging and battling with lesser emcees. On Long Burn The Fire, MCA claims: “I got shark’s teeth so I could bite your head. I got tiger’s claws that’ll scratch you dead.” And Ad-Rock mixes an old-school reference with a bizarre rhyme choice: “I’ll make you sick like a Kenny Rogers Roaster! See, this rhyme thing is all about the braggadocio!”
Braggadocio, indeed. Hot Sauce Committee Part Two is certainly worth the wait. In a decade dominated by rappers who obsess about their cars, clothes and women, it’s nice to be reminded that MCA, Mike D and Ad-Rock are still out there, keeping it fun despite all the haters.