Album review: Beastie Boys’ ‘Hot Sauce Committee Part Two’
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“Oh, my God –- just look at me / Grandpa been rapping since ’83”.
So goes a telling new rhyme from iconic hip-hoppers Beastie Boys off the New York City trio’s just-released eighth album, ‘Hot Sauce Committee Part Two.’ It’s factually correct: The group released its first rap single, “Cooky Puss,” nearly three decades ago -- more like three centuries in terms of hip-hop shelf life. None of the Beasties’ peers enjoy the contemporary relevance that Ad-Rock (Adam Horowitz) and his bandmates Mike D (Mike Diamond) and MCA (Adam Yauch) carry.
Most rap pioneers also aren’t known for making exciting new music, period -– including the Beasties. The group’s last non-instrumental effort, 2004’s ‘To the Five Boroughs,’ received a relatively tepid response. ‘Hot Sauce,’ however, is exactly the Beasties album that the public has been salivating for, and more -- not just a return to form, but a masterpiece on the level of ‘80s classics like their raucous debut ‘Licensed to Ill’ and the staggering sample odyssey ‘Paul’s Boutique.’
What makes ‘Hot Sauce’ so vital is that the Beasties sound hungrier than most musicians currently posting their first Internet demos. This is vintage Beasties, all exuberant pass-the-mike battle rhymes and gritty break-beats so funky, it’s near impossible not to head-bob through the entire record -- or slam dance, as the hard-core thump on “Lee Majors Come Again” so inspires. These aesthetics prove not so much dated as timeless: The Beasties don’t sound as if they’re repeating themselves as much as creating fresh grooves with a sensibility that’s proved enduring.
Revered MC Nas makes a stellar guest appearance here on “Too Many Rappers”; you can practically hear him grinning through his verses. Santigold also cameos memorably on “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win,” adding Brooklyn dancehall fire and a welcome feminine contrast to the b-boy stances. But the momentum on ‘Hot Sauce’ truly comes from the original members’ committed, energetic performances, in particular that of MCA.
The album was delayed for nearly two years due to his struggle with cancer, but you’d never know that from MCA’s impactful delivery -- his gruff rasp remains one of pop music’s most distinctive, electrifying voices. In fact, the entire band sounds simultaneously galvanized and relaxed. There’s long been tension between the Beasties’ politically incorrect early work and the sanctimoniousness of later years, but ‘Hot Sauce’ perfects the happy medium. No rhymes here are sexist or vulgar but all are deliciously unhinged, jumbling anachronisms with dizzying aplomb: Ted Danson, André Leon Talley, Eggos and La-Z-Boy all get shout-outs, alongside more current nods to, say, “Top Chef.”
In the past, the Beasties have worked with production talents such as Rick Rubin and the Dust Brothers, who have gone on to define eras. ‘Hot Sauce’ follows in that tradition: it’s mixed by Philippe Zdar, who hails from the Parisian electronic-music gene pool that spawned Daft Punk, and was co-producer of Phoenix’s 2009 ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,’ one of the most sonically thrilling albums in recent memory. Zdar is especially renowned as a keyboard alchemist, and likewise ‘Hot Sauce’ comes off as the Beasties’ love letter to classic synthesizers: “OK” squelches like first-rate Gary Numan, and buttery analog fatness underpins nearly every track. Zdar’s mix is startlingly raw -- each vocal is seemingly pushed through furry distortions, percolating delays, or robotic vocoders, every snare crack ripping through the speakers -- capturing the sound of artists inspired anew to run riot through their heritage.
The Beasties’ irreverence is what made them stand out in the first place; that their willful chaos continues to charm and mutate so many years on is the big surprise.
“Hot Sauce Committee Part Two”
Four stars (Out of four)
-- Matt Diehl