White rappers, pioneers, punks, proto-hipster hippies…There are a lot of ways to describe the Beastie Boys, but perhaps none as fitting as “scientists of sound”—the moniker that has been placed on them since dropping their 1989 track “The Sounds of Science.”
In their 20-plus years as recording artists, the trio of Ad Rock, MCA and Mike D have seen both critical acclaim and extraordinary commercial success, all while experimenting with genres ranging from punk rock to Jamaican dub yet still maintaining a decidedly old-school-rap aesthetic. However, on Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, their eighth studio album (and first with lyrics since 2004’s To the 5 Boroughs), it seems that their experimentation has plateaued.
Originally titled Hot Sauce Committee Part 1, the Beasties’ latest offering was initially slated to drop in the fall of 2009. The album’s release was postponed when, in July of that year, Adam “MCA” Yauch announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer in his salivary gland and lymph node and was to begin treatment. Now nearly two years later, MCA is still undergoing treatment (not cancer free, as reported by some outlets), and an updated, rearranged version of the previously unreleased Hot Sauce Committee is finally seeing the light of day.
With the exception of a few surprises, like guest appearances from Nas (“Too Many Rappers [New Reactionaries Version]”) and alt-rock songstress Santigold (“Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win”), HSC2 is the type of album we’ve come to expect from the New Yorkers: quirky, funky, funny and weird (in the best way possible)—but not necessarily innovative or groundbreaking.
Their recipe is simple on paper, if not easily executed: pair simplistic, often silly braggadocio rhymes sprinkled with obscure pop-culture references and statements of social consciousness with rich and raucous multilayered musical compositions that are either played live, sampled or both. Throw in some distorted vocals and random sound effects for good measure, and, voila!, you’ve got a Beastie Boys album.
The formula works best on songs like “OK,” where, over an electric-guitar riff that alternates with playful synth stabs, the Beasties rail against those who talk loudly without saying anything. “Here’s a Little Something for Ya” finds Mike and the Adams trading lines like, “In Miami, I’m sleazy with John Salley/Shout to André Leon Talley,” over a stripped-down drum break and percussion. The Boys delve into dub territory on the aforementioned “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win,” with ghostly vocals from Santigold, reggae-style saxophone, and wacky rhymes from Ad Rock like, “You try to play to win/But now you lost/Like clams with no tartar sauce.”
But things go slightly awry on “Too Many Rappers.” Although the original version of the track was nominated for a Grammy last year, the “New Reactionaries Version” suffers from trying to do too much. Amid a wall of sound effects and distorted vocals, we get the Beasties taking phony MCs to task, with Nas letting them know that he “ain’t trying to hear your racket, you work for police, dog, you snitch, you rat, you wear that jacket.” There’s so much going on sonically that at times it becomes difficult to even understand what the MCs are saying, and when the verses actually are intelligible, you get rhymes from Mike D like, “We come together like peanut butter and sandwiches.” Pure “Step Your Rap Game Up” material.
Yes, they’re the Beastie Boys, and of course fans would expect them to be eclectic and kooky, but reliable and predictable aren’t the same thing. And while HSC2 is a solid and enjoyable album, we hope that our favorite scientists will tinker with a slightly different, more exciting formula moving forward. —Timmhotep Aku