Starting XI:  Beastie Boys

Starting XI: Beastie Boys


Beastie Boys started their career as a punk rock band on tour with bands like Bad Brains and Dead Kennedys, and slowly but steadily evolved into elder statesmen of New York hip hop. Known for their jokey, adolescent lyrics and multi-genre influences, the band came to occupy an important slot in the pop culture cannon.

No matter what anybody tells you, there is only one logical place to start with Beastie Boys, and that’s ‘Fight for Your Right’. The NYC trio’s best known single is a mission statement that shows who they are and what they came for. That’s the launch pad. That said, most people are at least familiar enough with ‘Fight for Your Right’ to shout the title lyrics when they come on. With that in mind, here are eleven other tracks to take you further into a back catalogue that spanned thirty years and drew from almost as many styles and genres.

Paul Revere – The third of seven singles off Beastie Boys’ debut album Licensed to Ill, ‘Paul Revere’ is an origins story featuring bros, beers, and brawling. It has all the hallmarks of a classic early Beastie Boys’ track with a shuffling, percussion-heavy background.

Rhymin’ and Stealin’ – The bastard offspring of punk and hip-hop, Licensed to Ill’s opening track shows off the band’s hard-core roots with thudding percussion and a sneaky Clash sample. ‘Rhymin’ & Stealin’’ brings to mind frat-parties, and images of backwards-capped bros hopping around with beer cans held high.

Car Thief – Fan favourite ‘Car Thief’ appears on the band’s second album Paul’s Boutique, and has production team the Dust Brothers’ fingerprints all over it. The production is far sleeker than Beastie Boy’s earlier efforts, and hints at where they would take their sound on later albums like Hello Nasty and Hot Sauce Committee Part 2.

 Sabotage – Ill Communications represented a step-up in the band’s genre-hopping sound, but ‘Sabotage’ marked a return to their punk-rock roots. The song’s high-octane guitars and vocal have made it one of Beastie Boy’s most enduringly popular releases, with the track being covered by acts as wide ranging as Phish, Cancer Bats, and FIDLAR.

The Maestro –  Sludgy, sample-heavy classic hip hop from Check Your Head. ‘The Maestro’ sees the band move towards more sophisticated compositions and shows off their ability to cherry-pick from a range of influences.

 Intergalactic – The first single off album number five Hello Nasty is a choppy, industrial fan-favourite. Hello Nasty received some criticism for being too weighted-down with layers, but here Ad Rock, MCA, and Mike D are at their b-boy best.

Hold It, Now Hit It: Juvenile enthusiasm and trade-off vocals make ‘Hold It, Now Hit It’ an energetic early example of Beastie values and the style they’d frequently revisit throughout their career.

Shambala: The Tibetan monks sampled on the otherwise solely instrumental ‘Shambala’ demonstrate a turning point as MCA delved further into Buddhism and the band moved forward with musical experimentation.

That’s It That’s All – Beastie Boys’ sixth album To The 5 Boroughs re-examined their work and influences, taking a more balanced approach than seen on Hello Nasty. ‘That’s It That’s All’ is arguably one of the more effective tracks on the record, with a straightforward, no-frills beat that shows how the band matured over their career, finding the confidence to present their work with fewer adornments.

 Namaste – In a rare moment of Beasties-style introspection, ‘Namaste’ draws from MCA’s burgeoning interest in Buddhism. Its laid back psych-blues and soft-spoken lyrics are a welcome contrast to Beastie Boys’ more energetic work, and shows off their true versatility.

 Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win – The final track that Beastie Boys’ released prior to MCA’s death in 2012 is a glimpse of what could have been. ‘Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win’ featured vocal contributions from Santigold, who leant the song a greater pop sensibility that works well with its reggae feel and shows the Beasties remained as relevant as ever right up to their final record.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.