Beastie Boys: Bringing Back That Old New York Rap
By
Mike Glader
6/9/2004 2:11:59 PM

For whatever reason, the rap community seems to have a short memory. Record stores are rarely stocked with rap albums over five-years-old. MTV rarely plays videos by hip-hop artists from the past unless their doing some retrospective. You never pull up at a stoplight and hear Run DMC booming from someone’s car stereo. When you do, it’s never a stereotypical fan of the genre. Maybe it’s because part of rap’s appeal is pushing society’s buttons. Therefore, when some little old lady starts rapping a classic in an Adam Sandler flick, the rap fans want nothing more to do with it, regardless of the fact that most Adam Sandler fans couldn’t name the song, much less the artist; and are probably clueless as to the importance of said song. Which is why the new Beastie Boys album, To the 5 Boroughs [Capitol], is such a surprise. The album is an unabashed love letter to New York City and an acknowledgement of the profound influence the city has had on their career. Nearly every song is centered around a sample used in a classic rap song; like their tip of the hat to the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” or by using a sample from Chic’s “Good Times” on the track “Triple Trouble.”

Considering that the Beastie Boys almost single-handedly changed the rap world with their first three albums, To the 5 Boroughs takes some getting used to. Most of the beats you’ve heard before. Much of the album is little more than the Beasties bragging about their mic skills. And honestly, on most of those tracks, the Beastie Boys sound bored. They’ve been boasting for nearly twenty years. It’s really only when they start talking politics that album becomes energized.

Things start out brisk enough with the opening track “Ch-Check It Out,” an ode to Seventies television that could have been a throw-away track from any of their last three albums. The next three tracks have them taking aim, and it’s obvious that they’re passionate about gun control, the war in Iraq, the 2000 election. They even take a jab at their former label Def Jam, “execs at Def Jam don’t recognize me/I’m Mike D, the one who put the satin in your panties.” Problem is that most of their political rants amount to little more than, “We hate Bush.” On “Right Right Now Now,” they proclaim, “I’m getting kinda tired of the situation/The US attacking other nations.” On “It Takes Time to Build,” they say “We got a President we didn’t elect/the Kyoto Treaty he decided to neglect” and “maybe it’s time to impeach ‘Tex’/and all the military muscle he wants to flex.” Clearly, Michael Franti they’re not. And it’s a shame because they’re obviously passionate about the issues and these are some of the best tracks of their career. Most of the middle of the album consists of the aforementioned old-school boasting, and while none of the songs are bad, it could have benefited from a different running order. Mix some of the political stuff in to keep things from being too monotonous. Then, things really don’t take off again until “An Open Letter to NYC,” which is pretty self-explanatory. The closing track “We Got the…” is another highlight.

All in all, To the 5 Boroughs is not a bad album. It grows on you with repeated listens, but it does feel a little monotonous. Maybe a song or two acknowledging their NYC hardcore punk roots would’ve helped. Still, a new Beastie record doesn’t come around often, so enjoy it. The hiatus is back off again.

 

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