America’s favorite white rappers have made a career out of confounding expectations and continually evolving. I was a junior in high school when their debut album dropped, and I’ve been on board ever since. From juvenile rap punks to funk jam band to record label impresarios to world-conscious thinkers, the Beasties have taken a lot of left turns in the last two decades. It’s been a long strange trip lined with an impossible number of great tunes…
The song: Cooky Puss (from the album Some Old Bullshit)
What makes it great: This pre-Licensed To Ill curiosity is constructed around a prank phone call to a Carvel Ice Cream shoppe. Hilarity ensues…
Key lyrics: CARVEL: “Hello, Carvel?” BEASTIES: “Yo man Cookypuss there?” CARVEL: “Who?” BEASTIES: “Cookypuss, I want to speak to Cookypuss man!”
The song: She’s On It (from the Krush Groove soundtrack)
What makes it great: The heavy rock stomp of the samples used here hinted at what was coming on Licensed To Ill, but this is as good as anything on that landmark album. Plus, it’s got a phat old-school video.
Key lyrics: “She studies real hard – all night she’ll cram/In school she majors in advanced Def Jam”
The song: Rhymin & Stealin (from the album Licensed To Ill)
What makes it great: The first song on the Beasties multi-platinum debut sets the tone for the whole album: obnoxious, snotty, and totally awesome.
Key lyrics: “Because mutiny on the bounty’s what we’re all about/I’m gonna board your ship and turn it on out”
The song: Shake Your Rump (from the album Paul’s Boutique)
What makes it great: Includes no less than a dozen crazy samples, notably Funky 4+1’s ‘That’s The Joint’ and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Good Times Bad Times’. Sets an impossibly loose yet dense vibe that continues through the whole album.
Key lyrics: “A puppet on a string I’m paid to sing or rhyme/Or do my thing I’m/In a lava lamp inside my brain hotel/I might be peakin’ or freakin’ but I rock well”
The song: Funky Boss (from the album Check Your Head)
What makes it great: Terrific funk groove that marked a strong departure for the band. When I saw them at the Oakland Coliseum in ’98, they dedicated this song to everyone working in concessions on the concourse.
Key lyrics: “Funky Boss Funky Boss Funky Boss/Funky Boss Funky Boss Funky Boss/Get Off My Back”
The song: The New Style (from the album No Alternative)
What makes it great: For this benefit album dedicated to helping eradicate AIDS in children, the Beasties contributed a smoking live version of ‘The New Style’ that far exceeds the original cut from Licensed To Ill.
Key lyrics: “Down with Ad-Rock and Mike D. and you ain’t/And I got more juice than Picasso got paint”
The song: Bodhisattva Vow (from the album Ill Communication)
What makes it great: Over a swirling electronica world beat and chanting Tibetan monks, the Beasties rap earnestly about the path to peace and the enlightened mind.
Key lyrics: “I give thanks for this world as a place to learn/And for this human body that I know I’ve earned/And my deepest thanks to all sentient beings/For without them there would be no place to learn what I’m seeing”
The song: Deal With It (from the ep Aglio E Olio)
What makes it great: Just in case anyone thought they’d softened with their newfound Buddhism trip, the Beasties came out with this blistering hardcore ep that sounds like something released by Dischord or SST in 1983. Deal with it, indeed…
Key lyrics: “Rob and steal from the health food store/The ideas you shout that are so hardcore/Screaming at the phone man collecting the change/Ideas discovered then rearranged”
The song: Groove Holmes (from the album The In Sound From Way Out)
What makes it great: This album compiled the group’s instrumental jams in one place for the first time. ‘Groove Holmes’ – named after the jazz organist – is just one of the many fine pieces here that are as stout and funky as mid-period Meters.
Key lyrics: n/a
The song: Flowin’ Prose (from the album Hello Nasty)
What makes it great: Over a bumping bass, sparse scratching, and phased samples, King Ad-Rock pays self-fulfilling tribute to his sweet flow.
Key lyrics: “So like a cloud carries rain I’m gonna carry my rhyme/Coming like thunder with lightening timing”
The song: All Lifestyles (from the album To The Five Boroughs)
What makes it great: A complete about-face from the bratty, homophobe lyrics that littered Licensed To Ill, this track celebrates diversity over a driving, irresistible dance groove.
Key lyrics: “We gotta keep the party going on/All lifestyles, sizes, shapes, and forms”
The song: Suco de Tangerina (from the album The Mix-Up)
What makes it great: This track sounds like the kind of long-lost, instrumental funk jam from the 70’s that the Beasties would have sampled mercilessly on Paul’s Boutique. Like the rest of The Mix-Up, it’s a funky, fuzzy good time.
Key lyrics: n/a