“Bodhisattva Vow” marked the birth of the enlightened Beastie Boys

“Bodhisattva Vow” marked the birth of the enlightened Beastie Boys

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. 

The Beastie Boys found sustained success by maturing with measured grace. Their career arched almost perfectly, steadily growing from hardcore roots toward Gen X tastemakers and, later, regal hip-hop elder statesmen. 1994’s Ill Communication found the Beasties once again reinventing themselves, this time as boho hep cats with a sweet taste for all things retro. The brash jerkoffs who once so proudly championed the right to party were now delving into the decidedly underground worlds of Jimmy Smith, Lee Perry, bossa nova, and pretty much anything else they could find. The Beasties were also maturing philosophically. Ill Communication found Adam Yauch, Adam Horovitz, and Michael Diamond standing up for women’s rights and a host of other social causes.

For Yauch, the group’s new tone also allowed him the opportunity to share his allegiance to Buddhism, which he did on “Bodhisattva Vow,” a song that introduced the world to a wiser, gentler, more worldly Beastie Boys. Set over a musical backdrop composed almost exclusively of Buddhist chants, Yauch pledges his newfound devotion to the religion with unapologetic forwardness. “As I develop the awakening mind / I praise the Buddha as they shine,” he says in the opening. It’s a pretty far cry from “Shake Your Rump,” but in true Beasties fashion it’s still plenty catchy and fun in its own self-serious sort of way.

The change marked on “Bodhisattva Vow” also transcended the trio’s music, as the Beasties would only sharpen their political edge in the years to come. Yauch would go on to found the Tibetan Freedom Concerts in 1996, and the group’s 2004 throwback masterpiece To The 5 Boroughs doesn’t mince words about the trio’s distaste for Bush-era politics. The Beasties’ evolution was an ongoing process more than 30 years in the making, and few songs crystallized that growth better than this enlightened deep cut.

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