Is it rap? Is it rock? Does it matter? The genre-bending Beastie Boys released an album with a little something for everyone 20 years ago this month and the influence of "Ill Communication"'s rapid-fire rhyming, musical mash-up can still be felt in all the rap-rock hybrids dominating the radio today.
With "Sabotage" and "Sure Shot" teased ahead of its release, this was the album I (and probably a whole lot of other fans) ran out after school to grab the day it came out. Immediately. With my best friend and his cousin, we went straight from school to Sam Goody the moment the final bell rang. Once we finally ripped off that impossible shrink wrap, I'm pretty sure "Ill Communication" stayed in the CD player for the remainder of the summer.
We feasted on the album's 20 tracks, but there was a lot more to "Ill Communication" than what came out of our worn-down speaker. For instance...
1. The first lyric on the album is sung by a dog. The muffled sound that leads off the bombastic "Sure Shot" is a dog, allegedly saying "I love you." It is awesome and it is from this early '90s Little Casear's commercial:
2. The album coveris an unpublished 1964 photo of a customer placing his order at Tiny Naylor's, a well-known Los Angeles drive-in. The Beasties found the photo and received photographer Bruce Davidson's permission to use it after he took a listen to the album and liked what he heard.
3. So that's the front cover. Here's an annotated version of everybody on the back cover. So about some of those faces...
4. Mario Caldato, Jr. (aka, Mario C) produced three Beastie Boys albums and is the fortunate recipient of untold shoutouts in their songs, including in some of their biggest hits such as "So Whatcha Want," "Sure Shot" and "Intergalactic".
5. Longtime collaborator "Money Mark" played keyboard on several Beastie Boys albums and his body mass is comprised of 100% Pixy Stix, judging by his on-stage antics, where he often leaps and jumps around while still managing to hit the keys. He was also just on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" on April 30.
6. The Beastie Boys toured behind "Ill Communication" in the summer of 1994 as part of one of the most ridiculous Lollapalooza line-ups ever assembled, though not without some misgivings. The band was initially reluctant, as Adam Yauch (MCA) told Spin: "We told 'em we wouldn't do it unless they replaced the piercing guy with one of those games where you shoot water into the clown's mouth."
7."Ill Communication" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts and was the Beasties' second No 1. album, after "License to Ill." It eventually went triple platinum.
8. Probably because of brilliantly funky, inventively wicked songs like this:
"Ad-Rock's down with the Ione / Listen to the s*** cause both of them is boney / Gotta do it like this, like Chachi and Joanie / Cause she's the cheese and I'm the macaroni"
10."Ill Communication" was the band's second release on their own label, Grand Royal. By 1994, they'd begun signing other bands to the label and launched Grand Royal magazine, which was sort of like a music and fashion-oriented how-to guide for any kid trying to be cool in the in mid-'90s.
11. One of the acts signed to Grand Royal was the singer-songwriter Ben Lee, who became Ione Skye's second husband after she and Ad-Rock divorced in 1999.
12. On "Get It Together," Mike D boasts about being able to "freak the Patty Duke." Fair enough. Now here's how you can learn to freak the Patty Duke, just like Mike:
13. Q-Tip's so-breezy-it-feels-freestyle guest spot on "Get It Together" is the only appearance by another rapper on "Ill Communication".
14. The album came out at the peak of the New York Knicks' 1990's power and their three famous fans namecheck John Starks, Patrick Ewing, Anthony Mason and Madison Square Garden on "Ill Communication."
And yes, that's Sofia Coppola as your faux-host, who would marry the director of the real "Sabotage" video, Spike Jonze, in 1999.
16. Hey, speaking of great videos, can't believe we haven't gotten around to "Root Down" yet. Very sorry.
To make up for it, here is what I humbly submit is the best Beastie Boys remix (out of literally thousands) ever made. It's the guys doing "Root Down" at the 1997 Tibetan Freedom Concert with a generous helping of "Apache." Song starts at :55, explodes at 2:10.
17."Ill Communication" was the Beastie Boys' first album where they really revealed their social conscience, which would be a staple of their music from that time forward. The environmental alarm-ringing in "The Update" and MCA's Buddhist monk-backed, scratch n' drum "Bodhisattva Vow" were the final signals for any "Licensed to Ill" fans that it's that album -- not the ones which followed -- that was the major stylistic outlier.
18. When the Beastie Boys wrote "Sure Shot" they hunched it would be a hit... if they could find a chorus. Stumped, they turned to their go-to guy in the middle of the night. Ad-Rock explained in 1999:
"Not that a song is not a song without the usual pop verse-chorus math. But this song needed one. We couldn't come up with anything. So we knew what to do. We called DJ Hurricane cause he's always got something. We woke him up maybe around 2 a.m. And from bed he came up with the chorus and did it over the phone."
And that is how "Cause you can't, you won't, and you don't, stop!" was born.
19. While the screaming fuzz-rock anthem "Sabotage" dominated the summer of 1994 and became one of the signature alt-rock songs of recent history, it never even charted on the Billboard Top 100. It only peaked at No. 18 on the Modern Rock chart. Yet "Sabotage" was named one of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
20. The definitive ranking of the 10 best songs on "Ill Communication":
Get It Together
Alright Hear This
B-Boys Makin' With the Freak-Freak
Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN