Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Beastie Boys - Check Your Head

Capitol Records: 1992

Either the most important Beastie Boys album, or the most forgotten Beastie Boys album, depending on who you ask. Most folks fall into the latter category, and for good reason: Check Your Head generally lacks a variety of things that made their other LPs so memorable. There’s none of the instantly recognizable hits like Fight For Your Right from Licensed To Ill, Sabotage from Ill Communication, or Intergalactic from Hello Nasty. So What’cha Want was the only single that charted, and barely so at that. Hell, for the longest time, I didn’t even realize the track was from this album. For some reason I mistook it for a Paul’s Boutique or Ill Communication cut despite hard evidence to the contrary. Maybe the title’s just been so oft repeated and sampled, I never clued in it was an actual song itself.

Even the scant ’00 albums get more talking points than Check Your Head. Though folks were divided on the merits of To The 5 Boroughs’ throw-back hip-hop, the Beasties were at least praised for sticking to the concept in face of so many changes within their scene. And Hot Sauce Committee… well, that was gonna’ get talked about no matter what. For all intents, the history most know of the Beastie Boys goes like: “GROUNDBREAKING ‘80s! Something with live instruments. The SABOTAGE video! Moar awesome videos from Hello Nasty, with robots and ninjas! Content old geezers doing raps whenever between Buddhism. Aww, man, MCA died? That sucks.” Poor Check Your Head, barely a name check.

Still, this was the first album the Beasties produced themselves, which is note worthy for sure, but doesn’t illicit the same reverent discussion that Rick Rubin on Licensed To Ill or The Dust Brothers on Paul’s Boutique do. Nonetheless, Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D returned to playing their own instruments rather than pilfer coffers of records for samples. A good thing too when they did, legalities involving cribbing other people’s music turning incredibly costly in the courts. Time to start making your own beats and riffs, drawing influence of the multitude of funk, punk, jazz-unk, and turntable trickery they grew up around. They must have had these tunes building in their head for some time too, the music tight and fluid throughout. Shame they neglected including the rappity-raps half the time.

That’s the angle most approach Check Your Head from when claiming this their most important album. It marks an evolution of the Beasties from a three-piece white boy posse with witty, hilarious immature lyrics into Serious Musicians. They aren’t so concerned with wordplay as they are with musical interplay, and had yet to really branch out into experimentation as they would in Ill Communication. They still find time for a few back-n-forth cuts (Jimmy James, Pass The Mic, Finger Lickin’ Good, So What’cha Want, Professor Booty), but they’re outliers to all the funk jams throughout Check Your Head. It’s like the boys were all growed up now. Peace out in dub with Namaste.


ACE TRACKS:
Jimmy James
So What’cha Want
P.O.W.

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