In June, 2004 the Beastie Boys released their 6th full studio album proper To The 5 Boroughs. Coming a lengthy 6 years after their crossover hit album Hello Nasty – To The 5 Boroughs kind of took things back to the hip-hop maestros roots. The album peaked at Number 2 in the U.K. album chart.
Although way more mature than Licensed To Ill, To The 5 Boroughs has its fair share of welcome goofball. The album is a love-in for New York City from three of it’s finest ever residents. It’s the first Beasties album post 9/11. This said the album is not overtly political in any sense. The vibe is genuine respect for their city. It has no ‘America Is Great’ leaning – and I don’t know why but I kinda like this.
Featuring sleeve artwork by Matteo Pericoli the simplicity portrayed in that New York skyline drawing is mirrored on To the 5 Boroughs. The sound is solid and similar throughout – gone is the all over the place meandering of Hello Nasty. It feels like an album – all the tracks are relatively short and there are no tracks to ‘skip’ over. Whilst not the genial dust magic of Paul’s Boutique it is, as all Beastie Boys albums are – a great record.
To the 5 Boroughs is probably their first album where they emerged as elder statesman of Hip-Hop. This is probably wholly down to their age at the time of this albums release (just over mid 30’s at a guess). Wise words pepper all of their albums with the exclusion of Licensed To Ill – but that debut is so brazen (and with hindsight) we can forgive them for practically anything.
To the 5 Boroughs is self-produced, this is credit to the Beastie Boys as the sound is as strong as any preceding album with the possible exception of the masterpiece that is Paul’s Boutique. Samples both musical and vocal lifts weave through the album so well that they organically blend into the respective songs simply effortlessly.
Although not generally reflected upon as a ‘classic’ Beastie Boys album To The 5 Boroughs was a very welcome reminder in 2004 of just how important to Hip-Hop and beyond (music) the outfit were. I imagine someone coming to their back catalogue fresh today could see / hear it clearly for the definite qualities it has. The fact that in June 2004 this was the first album I had bought, with hard cash, that year says more than I can type.
From the “we’ve got a president we didn’t elect” musings of Time To Build the album sees the Beasties show love for where they were raised without treading into mirky areas of patriotism. 9/11 would be a difficult subject to write about, for anyone, what the album gives is a love in vibe and a feeling to pick up the pieces, many metaphors suggest themselves both wholly and to every individual listener. That’s what makes this album great. Sensitively packing a punch and goofing around with it in equal measure.
Rhyme The Rhyme Well is one of my all time favourite Beasties songs. That John Carpenter trickle of electronic keys. It almost transcends Hip-Hop. That swirling doomy loop. The damn triple headed brotherly lyrics. The slow motion snowball fight. It should have been a smash hit single (wasn’t released in the U.K. as a single). It as hidden of a gem that they have. Loops of the Sugarhill Gang (Triple Trouble)and the Dead Boys (An Open Letter To NYC) fit the vibe of the album very well and one senses the respect musically with such samples.
The frantic album closer We Got The sums the tone of To The 5 Boroughs up. That final sample ‘empower everything’ subtle genius. Ad Rock and Mike D announced this week that there will be no new Beasties material after the death of MCA just over 2 years ago at time of writing. Whilst a few bands I hold really close to me (Joy Division as a prime example) there is no band that I grew up with that marked moments in my life like the Beastie Boys. I still can’t get my head around the fact that there’ll never be another new Beastie Boys studio album. Missing them already…