By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
The actual feel of New York - walking, not driving, plus all the kids there and being in such close proximity to more hip-hop and whatnot - must have had a big impact.
"I think it does in some way, but I think it's kind of oversimplified, or overrated. I've noticed that writers comment on that, saying like, 'There's a lot of hip-hop on this album, so certainly that must've been influenced by the fact that you were in New York.' And I think, yeah, though we very well may have gone back to playing a lot of hip-hop on this record if we'd been in L.A. I think wherever you are influences what you do, but . . ."
It's not as simple as that?
"Yeah. That's what I'm trying to say."
What Mike is saying is that Hello Nasty is selling like hot cakes (681,000 copies the first week, a couple hundred thou per since then) to every Tom, Dick and Harriet not just because it was made in New York. And certainly not because, as the street buzz had it before the record came out, Nasty is a radical departure from the direction of the last two records (Check Your Head and Ill Communication) and a return to the Sargasso Sea of sarcasm and B-Boy bouillabaisse of silly similes and familiar samples found on Paul's Boutique.
In fact, Nasty follows the format of a few funky instrumentals, a smattering of semi-rock semi-songs and a handful of historicist hip-hop that seemed so stupid fresh on Check Your Head and increasingly just stupid on Ill Communication. The only real departure is, thank goodness, from the trio's impulse to play hardcore, which I didn't mind but which many bitched about for its lack of authenticity.
And while there's no obvious standout rocker, no "Sabotage," the slap-in-the-face conspiracy rant from the last record, and no "So Whatcha Want," the bitchen bullying bad boy from Check Your Head, there are several forays into uncharted territory where even no Beastie has gone before. In addition to their not-half-bad Latin jazz jam ("Song for Junior") and the more-Lancelot Link Secret Chimp-than-Super Ape Lee Perry lark ("Dr. Lee, Ph.D."), these new stylings include a Yauch bossa nova ("I Don't Know") that really is kind of boss, Mike's out-of-character Neil Peart complaint about encroaching electronicization ("Remote Control"), a lilting Lilith Fair/Curved Air a kind of cut with watery-Doorsy organ sung by their fellow NYC musician Brooke Williams (Picture This"), and Horovitz's trio of vital mellow-outs - the Al Kooper-era Dylanesque jug jam ("Song for the Man"), an electro-infantile Kraftwerk-meets-Beach Boys beaut ("And Me") and the creepy-not-weepy bittersweet Ouija board plea for his late best friend, Dave, and late mom, Doris, to help him get over the bummer presumably brought on by his marred marriage and subsequent exodus from Los Angeles ("Instant Death").
These tunes are basically bourgeois ballads, rather adult. So the Big Question is not so much "Where do they go from here?" (after all, how long can this 30-something gang growl and prowl onstage for provincial pubescents?) but more like "Isn't this where they should go from here?"
Probably not, because the thought of Beastie Boys without rap is as heretical as the thought of rap without Beastie Boys. For 14 years now, since 1984's "Rock Hard" sampled AC-DC to even greater effect than Run-DMC revitalized Steven Tyler (and thanks a lot for that, Run), they have made the grade ("Got an A from Moe Dee for sticking to themes") by, first, earning the respect of black audiences, and secondly by continuing to cut the mustard by refusing to rehash the Rick Rubin-formulated secrets of their early success. Because urban radio - the eternal rotation of "Brass Monkey" on Power 105 notwithstanding - isn't on their jock, and because audiences at their concerts are a sweaty sea of reddened necks and dirty white faces, the ignorant assume that they are irrelevant to and not above and beyond day-to-day hip-hop. But playlists of black music can be just as unyielding as Jim Ladd's wack classic-rock programming, and the fact that not many white faces are seen at hip-hop shows never led any pundit to opine that teen crackers no longer want to kick Cross Colours like Corky Nemec.
At any rate, of the 22 tracks on Hello Nasty, about 14 are raps - "about" because Mike's "Remote Control" is fetchingly "rockist," as his friend Robert Christgau might lament, while Mike's other solo vocal, the delightfully dippy "Dedication" ("To all the people in the Dead Sea/To all the people in Newcastle, where Venom come from") and the Lee Perry guest doctoral dissertation are just that: dedications and dis-sertations, full-clout shout-out filler that may be less filling but still tastes great.
Of Nasty's 11 "formal" raps, at least four - "Putting Shame in Your Game," "Three MC's and One DJ," "Electrify" and the obligatory-though-less-hectoring-than-usual Yauch solo sermon "Flowin' Prose" - are not exactly the coolest cubes in the ice tray. Yet a fair amount of the raps are killer, not murder. "Intergalactic," with its Vocoder chorus and cosmic (un)Kool Keithisms, starts making sense in addition to dollars after a few listens. And the album's opener, a deliberately interminable battle-type tape of calisthenic rhyming called "Super Disco Breakin'," vastly improves upon "B-Boys Makin' With the Freak Freak," the old-school fiasco of similar intent from the last LP. Meanwhile, the buoyant second single, "Body Movin'," and the remarkably fun (not just funny), warm (not just cool) and human (not just superhuman) "Unite" both achieve sweet-and-sour vocal colorization that complements unusually pastel-y rhythm tracks.