Review: Beastie Boys – Ill Communication (Deluxe Edition) (Capitol)

The Beastie’s 1994 classic, Ill Communication, has been reissued as a remastered “deluxe” edition, complete with a bonus disc of remixes and B-sides. Dated? Sure. But it still sounds good. Read my review below:

The Beastie Boys classic 1994 release, Ill Communication, was indisputably a milestone for the group. After the frenzied sample-fest of 1989’s Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head introduced the world to a new and improved Beastie Boys in 1992. Although hip-hop remained the binding force, MCA, Adrock, and Mike D proudly showcased their punk-rock roots by playing and sampling their own instruments on most of the tracks, simultaneously exploring funk and lounge. Ill Communication, now in full re-mastered glory, continued this trend, with hardcore rave-ups like “Heart Attack Man” buttressed up against Buddhist mediations like “Bodhisattva Vow” and the happy-go-lucky hip-hop of “Get It Together” (featuring Q-Tip at his carefree finest). And let us not forget that this was the album which spawned one of their biggest hits to date, the ‘70s-punk-funked “Sabotage,” and its MTV-dominating video directed by Spike Jonze.

Sure, it all sounds a bit dated now, but I can remember how much this album excited me at the time. The Beasties were masters at splicing genres without ever sounding cheesy (well, most of the time), something not many hip-hop groups can do these days. Mario Caldato’s production work fused the futuristic-for-their-time sounds the band was exploring with a lo-fi, almost DIY aesthetic. Everything was coated with distortion – vocals, bass, even drums were blown out the house. Yet songs like “Root Down” and “Alright Hear This” were crisp, clean visions of NYC/LA rap music that were executed brilliantly.

The bonus disc contains some worthy remixes, including The Prunes’ dark, 1990s version of “Root Down” and their European B-Boy mix of “Sure Shot.” Also included are several live tracks – most notably a killer version of Check Your Head’s “The Maestro.” “Mullet Head,” previously available on the Clueless soundtrack (and credited by some as bringing the concept of the mullet to the masses – thanks, Beasties), is another standout. The inevitable question posed by any reissue is if the album stands the test of time. In Ill Communication’s case, the answer is yes.

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