The Beastie Boys are one of those groups I’ve spent way too much time thinking about. I’m white, I’m Jewish, I’m from an upper-middle class suburb, and I was a total rockist before they drew me into hip-hop — life isn’t that surprising sometimes. I’m one of those people that considers Paul’s Boutique one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time (if not the greatest); I’m one of those people that’s managed to write about them in final papers; I even thought their 2007 instrumental record, The Mix-Up, didn’t totally suck. But at this point I also know exactly what to expect from the Beastie Boys: Heavy bass lines, a heady instrumental, po-mo funk and disco throwbacks, vocal tracks soaked in reverb, choruses that will either (a) assure you that there are still three Beastie Boys, (b) pronounce their willingness/ability to rock the house (or some variation on that theme), or (c) implore you act out your basic hip-hop imperative; there’ll be obscure samples here and there, myriad pop-culture references, plenty of braggadocio, and unabashedly sophomoric humor. Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, the Beastie’s long-awaited hip-hop follow up to 2004’s To The 5 Boroughs (The Mix-Up doesn’t count), delivers all of this in spades.
No one else makes hip-hop like the Beastie Boys — while their style has fluctuated over the years, there is that distinct Beastie Boys sound (see above) and you’ll be hard-pressed to find similar lyrical throwbacks (the closest anyone came were the Cool Kids, and after four years I think they’re still working on that debut album). These are cypher beats with cypher rhymes. It’s difficult to tell though whether the Beasties have cornered this market because they’ve simply been doing it (and, a lot of the time, doing it better than most) for 25 years, or because this style is clichéd. Mike D, Ad-Rock, and MCA’s brand of up-beat, rump-shaking hip-hop walks this fine line between retro cool and cheese-tastic; and when it’s being done by three white guys in their mid-40s, regardless of their credentials, there’s bound to be lots of fluctuating.
The Beasties’ age shows itself on Hot Sauce Committee Part Two’s worst moments. You’ve got your fair share of lyrical clunkers, like MCA sharing his penchant for both phad thai and phad se-ew or the two separate moments they quote Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which not even a self-aware nod the second time around can save. “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win,” an otherwise fine reggae-infused cut, is brought down by guest-singer Santigold, whose lackadaisical, even monotonous, delivery fails to match the Beastie Boys’ enthusiasm. Then there’s “Ok,” where the three MCs cross completely over into crotchety old man territory: “Now I don’t give a fuck who the hell you are,” raps Ad-Rock, “Please stop shouting in your cell-u-larr / I never asked to be part of your day / So please stop shouting in your phone, ok.” But it’s not like this is the kind of stuff that dominates Hot Sauce Committee Part Two — well it least it doesn’t seem that way. Throughout the record the Beastie’s let their proclivity for vocal effects run rampant, drowning their rhymes in seas of reverb, distortion, and pitch shifting. Again, it’s not like this is new territory, only on previous records the Beastie Boys, as producers, showed tact, never obscuring their own words as much as they do here.
But Hot Sauce Committee has plenty of classic B-Boy moments. “Nonstop Disco Powerpack” is your timeless Beastie Boy showcase — Ad-Rock’s nasally voice bounces with a syncopated ease, while Mike D punches each syllable with a subdued force to match the sparse bass line and a straightforward drumbeat, and MCA’s cavernous growl sifts effortlessly alongside the beat, this time not letting the studio effects get in his way. Elsewhere synth-heavy bangers “Make Some Noise” and the Nas-assisted “Too Many Rappers” pulse furiously, and its impossible not to visualize that classic Beastie Boys video shot: The camera at their feet, angled up — probably with a fish-eye lens — as they bound down the street, slightly hunched, weaving in-and-out of each other with each verse. Lyrical gems throughout the record range from Ad-Rock’s Yiddish-checking, “I’m Adam Horowitz, I take a shvitz / I’m known for my glamour and my glitz,” on “Funky Donkey” (which is just as enjoyably ridiculous as you’d think) to the declaration of Mike D as the “Jewish Brad Pitt,” to MCA’s wonderfully absurd tirade, “Pass me the scalpel, I’ll make an incision / I’ll cut out the part of your brain that does the bitchin’ / Put it in formaldehyde and put it on a shelf / So you can show it to your friends and say ‘That’s my old self’.” And even though it’s an obvious rip-off of “Sabotage,” rocker “Lee Majors Comes Again,” echoes its predecessor’s manic energy well enough that it hardly seems to matter.
Accompanying Hot Sauce Committee Part Two is Fight For Your Right Revisited, a star-studded thirty-minute short film/quai-music video. It’s plot (if you can even call it that) involves the Beastie Boys (played by Seth Rogen, Elijah Wood, and Danny McBride), leaving the party they crashed in the original “Fight For Your Right” video, breaking into a bodega, stealing some beer, dropping some acid, doing some whippets, and then getting into a dance-off, Breakin-style, with their future selves (played by Will Ferrell, Jack Black, and John C. Reilly). At least for me, it’s hard not to pick apart the video; as far as I’m concerned it’s a meta-narrative about Beastie Boys’ entire career, one that brings up issues of authenticity, maturity, and reconciliation with the past. And then all six Beastie Boys pee on each other. Seriously. And so here’s what it all means: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two is a solid Beastie Boys record that will have something for any fan. “Grandpa been rapping since ’83,” declares Ad-Rock with that snarky British lilt on “Too Many Rappers” — and I wouldn’t have it any other way.