"Make Some Noise"
It’s no coincidence that the video for “Make Some Noise” kicks off with three guys crawling out of a room blasting “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!),” the anthemic Beastie Boys track that many associate with their youthful late ‘80s braggadocio. In many ways, the Beasties have been working under the substantial influence of Ill Communication – and the party that came with it – for years. Nor is it a coincidence that the video ends with three younger Beastie incarnations, played by Seth Rogan, Elijah Wood, and Danny McBride, facing off against their aged counterparts – John C. Reilly, Will Ferrell, and Jack Black respectively. The video is a tacit acknowledgement that it’s more or less impossible to listen to a Beastie Boys track without referencing, in some way, another Beastie Boys track that came before it. As “Make Some Noise” comes to a close, the six Beastie Boys look at each other with an apropos mixture of reverence and bemusement. “Well, here we are. What now?”
What now indeed. After Adam Yauch’s throat cancer forced the Boys to take a hiatus, the trio is back with their best album in over a decade, a throwback that’s closer to Ill Communication than to any album since. The beats are unmistakably Beastie and the Boys sound as good as ever trading barbs and grandstanding on the mic. Most importantly – and perhaps most intangibly – Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 just sounds like the Beastie Boys. After 2007’s foray into instrumental music, Ad Rock, MCA, and Mike D are back to making good old fashioned rap music, and they’re doing it the same way they always have – with exuberant verses full of boasts and stories. Rather than emptying their closets of specters, the Beastie Boys grab those skeletons by the hips and start to dance.
Indeed, on Hot Sauce, the Beastie Boys fully embrace their position among hip hop’s elder statesmen. “My rhymes age like wine as I get older/I'm getting bolder/ competition is waning” raps MCA on the album’s opening track. On “Too Many Rappers” he lays it out again: “Grandpa been rappin’ since ’83!” The Beastie Boys aren’t hiding their grey hair. Instead, they’re busy reinvigorating the group’s early sound with a couple of new flares and some amped up production value. Ad Rock, MCA, and Mike D aren’t necessarily pushing the edge of the envelope – they’ve done that already. Rather, they’re taking the sound they pioneered and adding some new grit on the low end and some flourishes on the top. Here they’re partying for the right to fight rather than the flipside. They’re flaunting their resumes. In the late 80’s, the three youngsters’ unfounded claims of being the best added to their cheeky charm; here, those claims seem less like thumps on the chest and more like pats on the back.
If there’s one thing hip hop won’t stand, it’s a phony. In recent years, Rick Ross has had his character (or characters, as the case may be) called into question, 50 Cent’s mainstreaming has been derided by fans of his underground work, and – most recently – Lupe Fiasco’s admitted lack of involvement with the production of Lasers resulted in a flop. Fans want artists to write from the heart; indeed, anything else sounds hollow and forced. The Beastie Boys have perhaps learned this lesson better than anyone, after two attempts to redefine their sound even slightly were met with lukewarm response. So they’re back to their old mischief, pointing their lenses inward and touting their lyrical skills and various exploits. The lyrics on Hot Sauce aren’t revelatory or particularly profound, but then again, the Beast Boys never have been much for that sort of weight. I don’t want to hear MCA rapping about cancer or Mike D rapping about his kids; I want verses like “Ad Rock is in the bathroom with chocolate fondue” and “all these crab rappers, they rappin’ like crabs.”
On Hot Sauce, the Beasties don’t go too far outside of their established boundaries, content to thrive within the realm of familiar sounds and sentiments. “Lee Majors Come Again” is a nod to their punk rock roots, while “Say It” and “Make Some Noise” evoke songs like “Sabotage” and “B-Boys Makin’ with the Freak Freak.” “Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament” is an instrumental track that may remind listeners of The Mix Up, but it’s a mere sidestep on the journey through the Boys’ back catalog. More present and memorable are songs like “Nonstop Disco Powerpack,” which would slide in nicely next to old stand-bys like “Paul Revere.”
Additionally, each time the trio recruits outside help, the result is spot on. On “Too Many Rappers,” Nas easily fits in as a temporary fourth Beastie Boy – a feat that would seem nearly impossible on paper. Similarly, “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win,” rides a sunny reggae hook that sounds like it couldn’t be sung by anyone but popstress Santigold. Both tracks, rare collaborations for the Beastie three, are album highlights. Rather than recruiting young talent in a grasping attempt to stay hip – cough cough Jay-Z – the Beastie Boys only pick up the phone when an outside spark is needed, and it shows.
Now in their mid-40’s, the Beastie Boys seem to have hit a point of acceptance. Of realizing that it’s possible to drive in different cars without reinventing the wheel. Hot Sauce is neither an attempt to relive the glory days nor is it an attempt to rebalance a working equation. Instead, it’s three old friends getting back to spittin’ on street stoops about how fly they are, without paying attention to who might be walking by. These dudes paid their dues in the eighties and nineties, and will have albums like Paul’s Boutique and License to Ill go down among the best of their time. Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 is not such a classic, but it’s a reminder that the Beastie Boys won’t go out without a fight, and they’ve earned the right to party.