[Originally published 1994 |
Updated here 1999.06.20
The Beastie Boys are not like you and me. I dare to hope that the Human Genome Project will one day identify and classify the variant of homo sapiens which the Beasties represent - homo hepcatus, you might call them. Hepcats, in other words - a species long thought extinct once frat boys began to bellow that disco "sucked" and went on a hepcat killing spree.
If you've ever even skimmed through a magazine article on the Beasties, you'll have found their lingo all but incomprehensible. Remember that hoax played on the New York Times, in which a former Sub Pop Records employee dreamed up some fake jargon ("cob-nobbler" for a lazy oaf, that sort of thing) and passed it off as the official argot of Generation X? The Times went for it, had its journalistic pants pulled down in broad daylight, and is still living down the ignominy. The funny thing is, the Beastie Boys have always spoken in their own impromptu lost language of cranes, a hermetic dialect which ordinary mortals cannot hope to fathom.
And you might as well just completely forget about singing along with the Beasties. It simply cannot be done, even if you manage to read the tiny, hideously unfriendly type of the lyric sheets. The Beasties take linguistic abstraction seriously, processing their vocals so that they sound like a squelchy CB-radio conversation circa 1975. No fewer than three songs on the new LP Ill Communication feature that vocal equivalent of distressed denim. I thought the whole point of rap was to put the lyrics front and centre; not so, apparently, with the Beasties. On their planet, the voice is profane, not sacred.
Music fans concerned with true diversity might well consider what the Beasties' voices themselves have done for rap music. First of all, having three singers offers the chance for complexity, or at least vocal overlap (as in "Sure Shot"). When the dominant sound in rap kulcha is a deep male voice (think of Chuck D and various rappers named Ice), the whiny vocals of Jewish- and Swiss-American boys are a refreshing change. As the Beasties say on "Root Down," "the original nasal kid is doing damage." Darn tootin' they are.
When not acting as de facto spokesmodels for Arnet Raven Chrome sunglasses (surely the most severe pox on the fashion landscape of summer '94), the Beasties are busy expanding their repertoire. Don't fancy rap? Buy their records anyway, because jazzy lounge music of the sort you'd hear in instrumental breaks on 1960s talk shows - with warm meaty tremolo organs and the ts-ts-ts of brushes grazing cymbals - has become more and more prominent. It's delivered in a completely sincere way; these hepcats never sneer.
The Boys are rockers and speedmetalsmiths, too ("Heart-Attack Man" on Ill Communication, among others), and while they're not very adept at it, they get A for effort. The lads also gave us a fine rotoscoped video ("Shadrach," on the Skills to Pay the Bills home video) and, of course, the most overplayed clip of the year, "Sabotage."
As if all that weren't enough, here's what Michael Diamond, alias Mike D, told Alternative Press this year: "It's not even enough to say we're not homophobic. You have to go the next step and say we're actually anti-homophobic and pro-gay.... It makes me cringe if I think there's some guy with a Beastie Boys hat driving down the street saying, 'Hey, fuck you, faggots!' That's not how we live our lives." And at the MTV Awards this year, Mike D was heard to aver "I had my eye on Queen Latifah's date. He was looking pretty. He's big – and he's fine."
Genderfuck from a rap group? No, genderfuck from the Beastie Boys, a species unto themselves.
Within our diverse lesbiana, gay, bisexual, and transgenderist communities, it's nothing short of treasonous to knock any kind of AIDS benefit, but here goes anyway: The successful Kumbaya Festival, the annual music extravaganza to raise money for AIDS hospices, has put out another record (Kumbaya Album 1994), and with a couple of exceptions, all its songs are taken from existing albums. Hoping to hear sweaty kilted protostar Ashley MacIsaac burning down the house with his fiddle? Not on this disc, honey. Still, the Lost Dakotas' ode to closet faggotry on the long prairie, "Cowboys are Frequently Secretly," is here, as is Rush's "Nobody's Hero," which still works better as a video. Here's a Christmas suggestion: Just send the Kumbaya Foundation some cash directly, or opt for the far superior Red Hot & Cool compilation (more on that soon). (Kumbaya Foundation, Box 626, 50 Charles St. East, Toronto M4Y 2L8.)