After a six-year layoff, the Beastie Boys are back with To the 5 Boroughs. Adam "MCA" Yauch, Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz and Mike "Mike D" Diamond produced the new album themselves during the past two years, working out of their own downtown Manhattan studio. Sitting in the studio a few weeks before the album comes out this summer, the boys have a lot on their minds. "How come we've never had our own lunchbox?" Yauch asks. "We should hook that shit up!"
With the World Trade Center on the cover, To the 5 Boroughs is a salute to New York, full of old-school hip-hop beats and political anger. But despite the serious themes, the album sounds as if it was fun to make. "Not for me," says Ad-Rock. "It was agony. A lot of spanking machines, a lot of pantsing, that kind of thing."
The boys are older and wiser – Ad-Rock even has streaks of silver in his hair, although today he's also wearing a ridiculous powder-blue Sean John tracksuit. What was it like working without an outside producer? "One less person to fight with," he says.
The first single, "Ch-Check It Out," has a video directed by Yauch's alter ego, Nathanial Hornblower. In "An Open Letter to NYC," Ad-Rock rhymes, "We're doin' fine on the 1 and 9 line/On the L we're doin' swell." Other tracks shout out to Mike Piazza (who rhymes with "hide the matzo") and Murray's Cheese Shop.
The Beasties attack Bush and the Iraq War on tracks including "That's It That's All." But there are also playful goofs such as "Oh Word?" "The Brouhaha" and "Shazam!" "The band has clearly agreed that 'Shazam!' is top dog on Goofy Island," Mike D says. "When we were doing the final sequencing for the record, it was a Survivor meets American Idol kind of process."
"We realized that certain songs were on different islands," Yauch adds. "There was Goofy Island, then there was B-Boy Island, and then there was Serious Island," Mike D continues. "Some songs have one foot on more than one island. Like 'Time to Build' is on Serious Island, but it can also hang out on B-Boy Island, in a way." "There's bridges, is what you're saying," Ad-Rock says.
"It's a system of tunnels and locks," Mike D muses. "Like the Panama Canal." One more bit of New York inspiration: The band insists that its studio is the same site where the 1970s cop sitcom Barney Miller was shot. Says Mike D, "I'll bet you right now that Fish had his own lunchbox."
This story is from the May 14th, 2004 issue of Rolling Stone.