See all those stars up there? That means I can’t walk down my block for a whole month. For a black man, championing the Beasties is like being down with Madonna or rooting for the Utah Jazz. Whether it’s from a well-merited overprotectiveness of our precious culture or from mildly sour grapes, we ain’t supposed to like people who take black culture and refract it through white lenses.
Now, I hate the Salt Lake Celtics as much as the next guy, but the Beasties are complicated. Unlike nearly all white rap acts, the Beasties aren’t white boys in blackface. They’re the embodiment of the modern lower-Manhattan street kid. If hip-hop is as much a New York thing as it is a black thing, if keeping it real means faithfully representing your social aesthetic, if it’s another way of saying perfect pitch, then the Beasties keep it as real for their peoples as Jay-Z and Snoop do for theirs. For modern lower Manhattan, Kids is The Godfather and the Beasties are Sinatra.
Now comes a ludicrously fabulous, oftmanic, sometimes mellow twenty-two-song long player of such astounding variety that it seems a lot longer than sixty-seven minutes: Hello Nasty. Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA opened their career with a pair of hip-hop albums (Licensed to III and Paul’s Boutique), then shifted gears for a pair of records that were more punk influenced (Check Your Head and III Communication). With their fifth proper album, a playfully mature Beastie record (if that’s possible), they turn the focus back toward hip-hop — there’s not one hárdcore punk song here — but with an understanding of how to conflate their two largest influences into one smooth-flowing package. Imagine the collaboration that Black Flag and De La Soul might have made, mixing jaunty samples and esoteric beats with punk-guitar crunch while shifting between that old we’re-havin’-fun-on-the-mike ethos and a primal, post-vocal wail. Imagine a sonic mix that’s about sixty-five to seventy percent the frenetic, sample-crazy hip-hop eclecticism of Paul’s Boutique and about twenty-five to thirty percent the funk-punk fun of III Communication — with a cool, Latin-influenced near-instrumental (“Song for Junior”) and a sublime Brazilian-flavored acoustic number called “I Don’t Know,” which is sweetly delivered by MCA(??): “I’m walking through time/Deluded as the next guy/Pretending and hoping to find/That distant peace of mind,” and at that point you, too, will do a double take What? Did my Smashing Pumpkins CD sneak into the player? No, that’s just one of the many nice surprises on Hello Nasty — they wail, they whisper, they sample Spanish, they sample a little kid, they let Biz Markie and reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry do whatever they want. Still, it all flows so neatly, it’s like a single, multigroove, multisample, multihook sound collage that kinda morphs into something else every few minutes, with movements titled in a classically smart-aleck Beastie fashion — “Super Disco Breakin,'” “Song for the Man,” “Sneakin’ out the Hospital,” “Dr. Lee, Ph.D.” Good luck digesting all this sonic info before Labor Day. Hip-hop hasn’t unleashed anything this fantastically dense since the heyday of De La and Public Enemy.
On “Unite” the Beasties chant, “We’re the scientists of sound/We’re mathematically puttin’ it down.” Here’s the equation. In one rhyme, Ad-Rock tells you, “Well, I’m the Benihana chef on the SP-12/Chop the fuck out the beats left on the shelf”; and later they add, “I keep all five boroughs in stitches.” That’s the Beastie dichotomy — they’re silly on the mike to make it fun, but they’re Ginsu sharp on the samples and beats, throwing their pure love of sound all over the place. And I’m not supposed to like it? I’m supposed to prefer formulaclinging stereotype promoters who, every so often, catch a ridiculous arrest and make us cringe? The Beasties, as innovative musicians and good citizens, contribute more to the hip-hop community than a lot of MCs. And I’m not supposed to like it? Yeah, right.