The Beasties’ seventh LP is catnip for fans of their classic early-90s output.
Stevie Chick 2011-04-21
Even the Beasties themselves would agree they don’t figure in the upper echelons of the pantheon of great rappers, though several of their LPs – specifically 1989’s Paul’s Boutique, 1992’s Check Your Head and 1994’s Ill Communication – remain epochal joints, especially to "heads" of a certain age. The Beasties’ genius lies in compensating for their less-than-finessed flows by juggling an ineffable sense of cool that makes a virtue of their terminally-uncool nerdiness, their samples and references and goofy jokes cooking up a world of their own any dweeb would love to dwell in.
Beasties albums, at their best, are immense amounts of fun. Sometimes they’re more than that – MCA’s autobiographical Bodhisattva Vow from Ill Communication proving that the trio shouldn’t shy away from getting serious. Sometimes they fail at fun: hello, 2004’s arid To the 5 Boroughs. Their seventh full-length-proper, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, is scads of fun, its first half especially so. Their wizard blend of goofy creativity and deft discipline ensures that the best tracks here are simultaneously scattershot and focussed – like the way Too Many Rappers cooks up mean funk from Space Invaders noise and cranium-crushing low-end (and throws in a guesting Nas), or how Say It pulls nagging hooks from abstract feedback drones and then welds them to subterranean bass grooves that could level mountains, before collapsing into stoned synth doodles that’ll amuse all but the terminally dreary. On paper, both are messes; but on record they make canny sense.
The sound of the Beasties here is catnip for those who still revere their late 80s/early 90s output: vocals are drenched in reverb like a hippie dabs patchouli, while the tracks fuse live instrumentation and samples with a simpatico they’ve perfected since Check Your Head, delivering tracks alive with ideas and chaos and funk and noise and groove, dense enough to get lost in for at least a summer. They don’t shy away from pop moments, though: OK has a dippy new wave catchiness evoking Ad-Rock’s BS 2000 side-project – it’s as infectious as crabs – while the dub-a-delic Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win has Santigold playing straight-woman to their Marx-Brothers-of-Rap lunacy with an aplomb that could own the charts if the weather stays balmy.
The second half wanes, but only slightly: Lee Majors Come Again reminds us that the Beasties earned their punk cred ages ago and can leave it alone now, please; but instrumental Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament gets colossal with an ear for detail akin to the best dub, while Crazy Ass Shit closes the album on a seemingly-throwaway note. Truth is, to cook up such joyful nonsense probably takes a helluva lot of effort, but it’s the Beasties’ gift to make this seem easier than falling off a mountain bike, and an infinite amount more fun.