Released 25 years ago this week (31 May 1994), Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication is a majestic blend of rap, jazz, funk, punk and Tibetan chanting that could possibly be the greatest hip hop album of all time, if it wasn’t so diverse.
Preceded by the dazzling Sabotage, which quite rightly swept the board in terms of video awards, the album saw the group ditch the sampler in favour of musical contributions from instruments. It features musical contributions from the likes of Money Mark, Eric Bobo and Amery ‘AWOL’ Smith, which gave the album a warm, more compressed sound.
As Rolling Stone wrote in its 1994 review (lovingly titled Some Old Bullshit), the album conveyed “the Beasties’ more serious side as they pay homage to hip-hop’s New York roots”.
To mark its 25th birthday, 909originals counts down five of the album’s best (in our opinion anyway, sorry Sabotage fans!) tracks.
Bobo On The Corner
An instrumental oozing with 70s cop show cool, this track weighs in at just 1:13, but indicates just how far the trio had come from (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party), released just eight years previously.
The most ‘important’ track on the album, Bodhisattva Vow is the group’s most direct call to the world to the Tibetan freedom cause. “As I develop the awakening mind, I praise the Buddhas as they shine,” MCA’s heavily-distorted voice intones.
The album’s closer, this track showcases Money Mark’s funk-fuelled dexterity like no other, in a jam session that was reportedly recorded on the fly when Ad Rock remembered to turn on the DAT tape recorder. According to funk progenitors ESG, it’s a direct rip off of that group’s UFO, but we don’t mind if you don’t.
Ok, the iconic flute sample, from Jeremy Steig’s Howling For Judy, is quite an obvious steal, but it took the Beasties to make it a smash. One of THE all time great album openers, right down to the dog uttering ‘I love you’ at the very start.
Massive Attack may have invented trip hop, but the Beastie Boys took it to strange, violin-infused new levels on this downtempo cut. “You listen to it, and you know it’s going to fuck people up, because it’s crazy, but I’m into it because it fucked me up,” Ad Rock explained in July 1994. We couldn’t agree more.
Happy birthday Ill Communication!