Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Beastie Boys: To The 5 Boroughs

Beastie Boys has long claimed dual musical citizenship. The trio ranks as one of rap's most beloved (though least prolific) groups, but the rock world has not only accepted it, but embraced it in a way it never has any other hip-hop group. Beastie Boys' members have at least partially reciprocated rock's affection by straying from rap regularly on their last few albums, but they wholly return to the genre with To The 5 Boroughs.


The Beastie Boys singles "Intergalactic" and "Root Down" were permeated with old-school love, but Adam Yauch, Mike Diamond, and Adam Horovitz have never plunged as enthusiastically into hip-hop's past (and their own) as they do on their latest disc, a loving tribute to their home and to hip-hop's birthplace. The video for the infectious, horn-blasted first single "Ch-Check It Out" is illustrative: It's yet another gleefully kitschy game of postmodern dress-up, but it also has a greatest-hits quality, as if the group is rifling through its own back pages for inspiration. Boroughs unabashedly travels backward, but like Missy Elliott's similarly retro-minded Under Construction, it's so joyful that it makes regression feel progressive and growth overrated.

On the first Beastie Boys album in six years, the band manages the difficult feat of being responsible role models and irreverent goof-offs at the same time, casting one disapproving eye at the president—most notably on "Time To Build"—and the other on the scourge known as the sucka MC. When not raising pop- and junk-culture referencing to an art form, indulging their love for silly voices, sampling old-school sound bites, or spitting braggadocio, the Beasties soft-sell inclusiveness and basic human decency with the same infectious high spirit they once brought to celebrating boorishness and bad behavior.

Gone are Hello Nasty's singing and stylistic experimentation, Check Your Head's funky instrumentals, Ill Communication's breakneck hardcore, and Paul's Boutique's kaleidoscopic production. To The 5 Boroughs isn't anywhere near as ambitious as those records, but it's also the group's tightest and most cohesive album since Licensed To Ill.

It would be tempting, in fact, to call it a return to that breakthrough album, but many of its touchstones actually predate Ill, especially "Triple Trouble," which jacks the beat from The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," which in turn jacked its beat from Chic. With To The 5 Boroughs, Beastie Boys' members discover a musical entryway to an earlier, more innocent musical era, affording listeners the exuberance of youth along with the hard-won wisdom that can only come with experience.