Beastie Boys: “Hot Sauce Committee Part 2”

The Beastie Boys could have made Hot Sauce Committee their big, guts-and-glory comeback album– but then, of course, they simply wouldn’t be the Beastie Boys. Though nothing if not showmen, the original whiteboy rap pack has always come down squarely on the front end of the rock/art divide, too much so to make an album that functions as a Grand Statement, either on the state of the world, the state of the rap game, or simply the state of the Beasties. They’re just here to party– and if they happen to make a seminal, genre-defining (and genre-scrambling, at the same time) record on the process, so be it. They’ve done it before, and if they don’t quite do it again here, they’ve at least made a thrilling Beastie Boys album that proves middle age is no match for such inspired, perpetual adolescence.

God knows they had every right to make this their big comeback; actually, cashing in on their group narrative, circa the late 2000’s and early 2010’s, would have won them some enthusiastic reviews. They could have made the album a survivor’s story– a glorious testimony to their own resilience as Golden Age rap pioneers still going strong, a document of what hip-hop looks like when you’re past age 40 (something The Roots beat them by a year, anyhow), a monument to the triumph of cancer survivor MCA, whose illness is what delayed the release of this album by a couple of years. They could have at least acknowledged it to be their first non-instrumental album since 2004, and their first album to receive generally good press since the 1990s.

Instead, they tweaked the tracklisting a little, added Part 2 to the album title, and dropped a low-key and lo-fi banger that acts like nothing’s really happened in the past dozen years or so. Really, the album could have been released as a perfectly organic follow-up to anything they’ve ever made, and it does nothing to confront mortality or even address the Beasties’ recent struggles, either as a band or as individuals. And despite a couple of ace cameos– and a star-studded promotional video– the music itself lacks even one iota of flash; it’s the sound of a band picking up where they left off, doing what they do best, and refusing to make a self-aware fuss about it. Bless them.

Indeed, the only references to age here are the Beasties’ own nods to their status as elder statesmen– something they’re obviously proud of, but don’t take as an invitation to get serious. They’re doggedly old-fashioned in their B-Boy mindsets, reveling in goofy jokes and put-downs and mostly rapping about how dope they are, the oldest trope in the hip-hop handbook and one the Beasties do particularly well; they’re not the most technically proficient rappers out there– and they never have been– but they’ve got the swagger to make up for it, and they’re somehow able to play up their own whiteboy nerdiness even as they make everything they say sound terminally cool, whether they’re dropping nonsense lyrics or quoting “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” as they do twice here– perhaps to flaunt just how classically-inclined their tastes remain, or perhaps to create an association between their own music and Dylan’s 60s classics, a way of suggesting that the really good stuff is built to last, no matter how much it may fly in the face of fashion or trends.

And to show just how unconcerned with fashion and trends they really are, they’ve made an album that’s as lacking in glamor as any they’ve ever released; everything here is groove-oriented but never in a way that suggest club appeal. They’re dingy, low-fi bangers birthed out of a love for classic funk and soul but uninterested in playing the retro card. They’re largely unwilling to play up their own classic sound, actually, dipping into punkish rock and roll only once, on “Lee Majors Come Again.” The rest of the album is built around warm and unfussy grooves that allow the Beasties to revel in their own mad-scientist studio aesthetic, littering the album with weird little instrumental segues that give it character and a sense of flow, stacking the singles around messy little experimental numbers like “Tadlock’s Glasses,” and just generally giving the vibe of an unpretentious and unaffected love of words, beats, and sound itself– something that’s always been the band’s greatest asset.

It’s telling, then, that the banner song here is “Too Many Rappers”– not just because it’s the best song or even because it’s the first single. No, it’s the key to the record’s charm first because of its Nas cameo, which ties the Beasties of 2011 to the old-school Brooklyn scene and reveals these guys to have a real chemistry together, to the extent that Nas’ not-particularly-flashy rhymes are hardly a detriment but rather fit with the whole record’s easygoing, casually mischievous allure. It’s also key because of its hook, proclaiming there to be “too many rappers and not enough MCs.” With one fell swoop, the Beastie Boys set themselves apart as craftsmen who still get a rush from the basic act of constructing killer rhymes– and want nothing to do with the gaudy, more personality-driven rappers whose work makes it onto the pop charts these days. In other words, they prove beyond a doubt that they’re unashamedly old-school to the core, but they also make a convincing case for the old-school as the far superior school– and that makes this not just an utterly thrilling Beastie Boys banger (and the most appropriate kind of “comeback” album they could have made), but also proof that an old-fashioned devotion to craft still rocks harder than any reliance on gimmicks or cheap tricks.

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