I go ahead and rank the Beastie Boys’ albums in order from best to worst
I’ve been thinking about doing this for a few months. Usually ideas like this kick around for awhile until I finally have to say, “ENOUGH, VOICES IN MY HEAD! YOU WIN, I’LL WRITE THE DAMN ARTICLE!” And writing the article will silence the voices…for a little bit. This is how my three part article on New Coke was written. You’re welcome, by the way, for that little “peek behind the curtain”.
So, the Beastie Boys released their first album, License to Ill, in Nov 1986. I bought that album, on tape, either later that year or early 1987. I had just started getting into rap at the time. I listened mostly to Run-DMC and The Fat Boys. I liked both group’s rap style, which wasn’t surprising since both of them were on Def Jam Records, famously portrayed in the movie Krush Groove. And, not surprisingly, The Beastie Boys were also a part of the Def Jam family. They even had a track on the 1985 Krush Groove soundtrack that I had completely forgotten about when License to Ill was released. That first album blew me away. I loved it and listened to it non-stop until I completely wore the tape out and had to buy another one. I have been a fan of the Boys ever since.
The Beastie Boys released 8 official studio albums beginning with that first one in 1986. There were also several other compilations, EPs and video albums that were released at various times throughout their career. However, I’m going to focus on the main 8 studio albums.
Here we go, The Beastie Boys albums in order of my personal preference.
1. License to Ill (1986) – Their first studio album and, to me, their best. You will never convince me otherwise. I learned pretty much every song back to front. It is still the album I listen to first when I want my Beastie Boys fix. You can tell they are very much influenced by Run-DMC on this album to the point that their song Slow and Low is a cover of an unreleased Run-DMC song. Some of my favorite tracks include Fight for your Right (To Party), Paul Revere, No Sleep till Brooklyn, She’s Crafty, Posse in Effect, The New Style, and Hold It Now (Hit It). Essentially, the whole album is a classic.
2. Check Your Head (1992) – This, their third album, is amazing. Whereas Paul’s Boutique (see below) was a more experimental rap album, this one is a grittier version of License to Ill. This is the album where the Beasties abandoned synthesizers and began playing all their own instruments on every track. They also started using on this album the “echo voice” effect for which they’ve become known. The soundscape of this album is just awesome and I love it to death. Classic tracks include So What’cha Want, Pass the Mic, The Maestro, Jimmy James and Professor Booty. Just so you know, I think So What’cha Want is probably my favorite Beasties song of all time. This album was remastered and re-released in 2009. This re-release added a bonus disc which featured extra tracks like The Skills to Pay the Bills which was the B-side of the So What’cha Want single.
3. Paul’s Boutique (1989) – It may be a bit controversial that Paul’s Boutique is not higher on the list. This was the B-Boys’ second studio album and the one magazines like Rolling Stone love to pretentiously put as a “greatest album”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really good and offers a nice variety of traditional and “experimental” rap. The singles Hey Ladies and Shake Your Rump are really good as are the tracks The Sounds of Science, High Plains Drifter, B-Boy Bouillabaisse and Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun. The Beasties were really stretching themselves to try something new on this album, but the important thing is that they didn’t overreach. An almost perfectly formed experimental rap album. Perfect parts traditional + experimental rap.
4. Hello Nasty (1998) – This is a great album. The Beasties turn back to the synthesized sound for this record. Most of the songs sound highly processed like they were run through a computer. It’s a fun one to listen to and I keep forgetting how much I really do enjoy it. Songs I like from this album include Super Disco Breakin’, Put Shame in your Game, Unite, Remote Control, Intergalactic and Three MCs and One DJ.
5. Ill Communication (1994) – The Beasties fouth studio album is definitely an evolution of Check Your Head but with plenty of their signature “experimental” sounds. I know everyone is in love with Sabotage, but I was sort of played out on it. From this album I love the songs Sure Shot, B-Boys Makin’ with the Freak-Freak, The Scoop, Get It Together and The Update. Honestly, this album has fallen further down this list with each year that passes. It really hasn’t been holding up too well with me. A lot of it has to do with all the short form, experimental stuff they put on it. If things keep going this way its spot will be taken over by the next album…
6. Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (2011) – Released in 2011, this album is still marinating for me. I’m still processing and learning it’s “secrets”. There are some crazy, weird songs on this album. Being a fan of their more traditional hip-hop songs, this is almost too over-the-top for me. However, there are a few songs I like; Make Some Noise, Too Many Rappers, Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win and Crazy Ass Sh*t. I like these songs, but I don’t love them. Yet. I tell you what, the video for Make Some Noise, which was a direct sequel to the B-Boys’ Fight For Your Right video, was awesome and almost single-handedly moves this album up a spot or two on the list. It features Elijah Wood, Seth Rogen and Danny McBride as the 1986 version of the Beastie Boys and it includes tons of other celebrity cameos. Honestly, I think the more I listen to this album, the more it’ll move up the list. In my original draft of this article, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two was at #7. Listening to it while writing the article, I moved it up one spot to #6. It’s growing on me.
7. To the 5 Boroughs (2004) – I was actually in New York when this album dropped in 2004. I bought it at the Virgin Records in Times Square. For many years I was disappointed with this record. It’s definitely a return to minimalist beats as compared to Hello Nasty‘s over-processed sound. And, as always, the Beasties excel in their lyric writing and delivering. Just amazing. However, and I shudder that I’m about to say this, but essentially the songs felt the same as what’s come before. My feelings on many of the songs have gotten better over time, but the record didn’t just wow me. And, I think, some of the songs were overly-political which removed some of the fun of the B-Boys music. Good songs include Rhyme the Rhyme Well, Ch-Check it Out and 3 the Hard Way.
8. The Mix-Up (2007) – This album is completely instrumental. I appreciate what the Beasties were doing here, but I’m a fan of their lyrics and delivery first. When I hear a B-Boys record I want to hear them trading crazy rhymes back and forth to a cool beat. So in those respects, it really doesn’t offer me anything.
The album in 2011, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, will be the last from the original members of The Beastie Boys as founding member Adam Yauch, aka MCA, died earlier this year after a long bout with cancer. It is unclear if the two surviving members, Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz, will continue making albums under the Beastie Boys name. Or at all.
I, for one, hope they do continue to make music.