The Beastie Boys — Mike D., MCA and Ad-Rock — are back after a three-year hiatus with their most unconventional outing to date. While their first two albums, Licensed to Ill and Paul’s Boutique, presented in-your-face rhymes, offbeat humor and a white-boy perspective on the hip-hop world, Check Your Head has a simple formula: no formula at all.
Returning to their instrumental roots — they started out as a thrash band — the Beasties play a good chunk of the music on the album, blending Parliament-Funkadelic-inspired bass with hard-core hip-hop, frantic DJ scratches and quirky samples of Bob Dylan and Jimmie “J.J.” Walker, headbanging punk, gospel sounds and any and every other element in their musical arsenal.
The three instrumentals on the album (“Pow,” “Groove Holmes” and “In 3’s”) are soaked in Seventies funk, while old-school-flavored tracks like “Pass the Mic,” “Finger Lickin’ Good” and “The Maestro” underscore the group’s rhyming skills. “Funky Boss” is a slick reggae cut propelled by a slinky guitar, whereas the riffs on “Gratitude” and “Time for Livin'” feature high-density punk-rock guitar textures. “Namaste,” an abstract poetic venture, drowns itself in fuzzy bass licks, and “Lighten Up,” lifted by African beats, journeys into the psychedelic. Determined to be as eclectic as possible, the Beasties even whisper-croon on the album (“Mark on the Bus”) and feature hip-hop funny man Biz Markie in a cameo (“The Biz vs. the Nuge”).
The cross-pollination of styles on Check Your Head is confusing at times, yet the album achieves distinction because of its ingenuity. Beneath the seeming chaos, the Beastie Boys have created a harmonious playground out of their musical fantasies.