When Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D – aka the Beastie Boys – came together in New York City in the early 80s, they united two worlds with their explosive blend of rap and rock.
Starting life as a hardcore band, propping up bills alongside the likes of Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys and the Misfits, it wasn't until the mid 80s that they started incorporating rap and a live DJ into their music. The result was a sound that inspired everyone from Rage Against The Machine and Limp Bizkit through to Eminem and Radiohead, and which aimed to blend genres without limits and reach fans from all walks of life. And it worked: they're still one of the best selling rap groups of all time.
From goofy party animals sporting VW badges round their necks to socially aware music geeks, the Beastie Boys covered a lot of ground in the 30 years they made music together. Ten years on from their final album Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, we rank the Beastie Boys back catalogue in order of greatness.
8. The Mix-Up (2007)
It’s the Beastie Boys like you’ve never heard them before. This curveball instrumental album is steeped in jazz, funk and latin influence, showcasing their collective ear for a good beat. While it might not have been business as usual, it did win the trio their third Grammy award. Sure, this album isn’t for everyone, but if you want to hear the three stooges show off their funky rhythms for 40 minutes, dive right in.
7. Hello Nasty (1998)
Clocking in at over an hour long, there are points where Hello Nasty risks becoming a bit of a slog to get through. In contrast to their other 90s albums, this is more of a lo-fi Paul’s Boutique than the alternative, live band-orientated sound they’d been building on earlier in the decade. In part that’s due to the addition of Mix Master Mike behind the turntables, who gets a proper introduction on Three MC’s And One DJ. The stand out moment is Intergalactic, which takes us to another dimension, but the rest is very much grounded back on earth.
6. To The 5 Boroughs (2004)
The Beastie Boys were older, wiser and more aware of their position in the grand scheme of hip-hop (opens in new tab) by the time To The 5 Boroughs was released. Their first album of the 2000s, and their first self-produced effort, TT5B finds the trio with a renewed social conscience – affirmed early on in Right Right Now Now, where they proclaim 'we’re gonna party for the right to fight'. The singles Ch-Check It Out and Triple Trouble are some of their best cuts, but the standout moment here is the poignant Open Letter To NYC, a post-9/11 love letter that captures the mood of the city.
5. Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (2011)
Originally conceived as an album of two halves, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two ended up being the Beastie Boys’ swan song, as the group disbanded following the death of MCA in 2012. The album captures the magic of their earlier records, adding in some slick modern sounds and two standout collaborations – one with Nas (Too Many Rappers) and another with Santigold (Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win) – to make the Beastie Boys sound as fresh as they did when they first fought for the right to party in 1986. The main downside to this record is that we never got to hear them make some noise again.
4. Check Your Head (1992)
At the start of the 1990s, hip-hop was dominated by Gangsta Rap, but committed as they have always been to their own sound and vision, Beastie Boys turned away from all that and instead returned to their punk roots. Sort of. The NYC three opted for a more DIY approach, favouring their own instruments over sampling, resulting in one of their weirdest records to date. It’s part punk (Time For Livin’), part funk (Funky Boss), socially aware and soaked in pop culture. From sampling Cheap Trick (opens in new tab)'s At Budokan to paying homage to dub legend Lee “Scratch” Perry (Something’s Got To Give), this record is the sound of a band ripping up their own rulebook.
3. Licensed To Ill (1986)
Clearly influenced by Run-DMC, Licensed To Ill is built on raw, primitive sampling with a stop-start drum beat. It feels like it could all fall apart at any minute, but that’s what makes it so good. Rhymin & Stealin kicks the album off, sampling Led Zeppelin (opens in new tab), Black Sabbath (opens in new tab) and The Clash (opens in new tab), nailing their rock colours firmly to the mast. Throw Slayer (opens in new tab)’s Kerry King (opens in new tab) into the mix on both No Sleep ’Til Brooklyn and Fight For Your Right (thanks to Rick Rubin (opens in new tab) producing Reign In Blood (opens in new tab) around the same time) and it’s easy to see why the Beasties had such crossover appeal. This is a debut like no other.
2. Ill Communication (1994)
If Check Your Head walked it was so Ill Communication could run. By 1994, the Beastie Boys were more eclectic than ever, and this album proves it – the opening one, two of Sure Shot and Tough Guy here showcase a band inspired by both Miles Davis and Minor Threat – it’s a wild ride and no style is off limits. Things get weird on B-Boys Makin’ With The Freak Freak, there’s rapping over Jimmy Smith’s Hammond organ on Root Down, Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest pops up on Get It Together and of course there’s the bona fide classic that is Sabotage. Ill Communication is the Beasties at their genre-hopping best.
1. Paul’s Boutique (1989)
Paul’s Boutique is a landmark album not only for the Beastie Boys but for hip-hop as a whole. Distanced from Rick Rubin and Def Jam Recordings, the trio opted for an entirely different approach for their second album, signing to Capitol Records and working in Los Angeles with the Dust Brothers. Musically, it's a world away from their debut – the drum machine and rock riffs are gone in favour of a dense wall of sound, built almost entirely from multi-layered samples courtesy of the brothers Dust. But the Boys' energetic, playful swagger is still very much intact, and hits like Shake Your Rump and Hey Ladies play right into that. What makes this album so important is that it brought extensive sampling to the forefront of hip-hop, up until laws around sampling changed in the 1990s. A record like this just couldn’t exist today. Paul’s Boutique perfectly captures one of hip-hop’s most exciting, collaborative moments.