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The Beastie Boys were three friends from New York who haphazardly became one of the biggest rap groups of all time. Blending the worlds of rock grime and hip-hop, the trio made it a point to not take themselves too seriously. The group was a heavy source of inspiration for middle class white kids, who finally had a sonic source of enjoyment when they didn’t quite resonate with the messaging of rap groups such as N.W.A. or Public Enemy. The Beastie Boys brought rock and hip-hop together like never before, delivering a sort of unfiltered tone of anti-establishment that stuck with the suburbs for good.

Permissive groups such as Rage Against the Machine or Linkin Park were clearly taking notes from The Beastie Boys. In the backdrop, you even had a young Eminem blasting the group while writing verses as a hungry Detroit teenager. He would even go on to emulate them. Em told Complex, “I knew we were about to show the ‘Berzerk’ video, so I was doing what I call the Berzerk face. The whole song to me feels like vintage Beastie Boys. And you know the ‘Pass the Mic’ video where Ad-Rock is making that face, kind of not looking the camera? I was doing my own version.” Like N.W.A., The Beastie Boys completely fell outside the traditional confines of the music industry. They proved that any voice, no matter how outlandish, could land on the top charts.

Pressure Was On The Group To Deliver

However, the group was no longer associated with the new kids on the block until 1994’s Ill Communication rolled around. There seems to be a make-or-break moment for bands who begin to come of age, a point where they are inevitably forced to move on from their once pervasive youth and crowd-surfing days. The growing pains are clear in the music industry, with plenty of groups disbanding at this conjuncture. However, their fourth studio album had the opposite effect. Ill Communication is their most mature record to date, a climactic connection between all their influences.

The Beastie Boys Grew Up On Ill Communication

Portrait of members of American Rap group Beastie Boys as they pose in front of a mural (by Keith Haring), 1987. Pictured are, from left, Mike D (born Michael Diamond), MCA (born Adam Yauch, 1964 – 2012), and Ad-Rock (born Adam Horovitz). (Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

With Ill Communication, The Beastie Boys were looking to condense all of their oddball interests into one project. From Buddhist spirituality to Miles Davis-infused jazz musicals, their fourth studio album comes from a group of thoughtful hipsters rather than enraged kids. “The Update” expresses a sullen disappointment at the ever-changing world. MCA states, “The waters are polluted as the forests are cut down / Bombing and drilling deep below the ground.” Mike D refuses to bend to the reality of his 30s, stating, “I’m still listening to wax, I’m not using the CD.”

Their lyricism is far more reflective and composed on Ill Communication than past records. When The Beastie Boys first blew up onto the scene, the trio was endlessly searching for outlandish shock value. Horowitz even apologized down the line for their initial projects. In 1999, he told Time Out New York, “The sh*t and ignorant things we said on our first record. There are no excuses. But time has healed our stupidity.” The Beastie Boys dialing it in, for the most part, aids the notoriety of Ill Communication. A flute sample meanders through the booming drums of “Sure Shot,” while “Root Down” slings a bass guitar amid a rapid pace. The record also got its iconic hit in the form of “Sabotage.”

The Beastie Boys Expanded On Their Existing Sound

beastie boys ill communication
Beastie Boys (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)

Ill Communication frequently rotates between the more modern early ’90s boom-bap of New York and The Beastie Boys’ classic underground live sound. In fact, the record’s distinctive sound compared to Licensed To Ill or Paul’s Boutique even has “Sabotage” sounding out of place. However, they would always be hard-pressed not to include a clear chart-topping track on the project. The track’s live rock band setting is a powerful nostalgia source for the band’s OG fans.

The Beastie Boys finally grow out of their growing pains on Ill Communication. After an awkward slew of records that saw them struggle to transition out of the unfocused turbulence of their early Rick Rubin-produced works, they finally brought it all together on their fourth studio album. Ill Communication is a holistic blend of spirituality and frustration, one that shows up as a wild form of funk, jazz, and rock. The result? The Beastie Boys’ second No. 1 album on the US Billboard 200, one that would eventually go 3x Platinum. Ill Communication was a successful coming-of-age revival, if there ever was one.

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