By Jake Cordiner (@jjjjaketh)
Check Your Head is the 3rd studio album by the (beyond) legendary New York hip hop/punk 3 piece Beastie Boys. It was released on April 21st, 1992 to, save for a few PHILISTINES (I’m looking at you Entertainment Weekly’s David Bowne *shakes fist menacingly*), critical acclaim. Looking back at this album, it can be seen as a turning point for the trio. It’s quite clear that Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA (R.I.P) just went into the studio and fucked about for a while. It definitely shows seeing as this album is genuinely MENTAL: there are so many genres and ideas thrown into the point that at times it can become quite jarring.
Take, for example, the first 5 tracks. You have a reverb-heavy, but still quite recognisably Beastie Boys track, album opener Jimmy James (with some absolutely transcendent scratch work on the beat). Then comes Funky Boss. A minute and a half long funk interlude that includes Mike D screaming like Tarzan in the background and MCA doing a weird moan/cry thing. Thirdly comes Pass The Mic, which is a fucking belter. 4 and a bit minutes of the act at their best. A quick side note, the Beastie Boys lyrics would sound corny as all hell coming from literally anyone else, but something about their delivery makes it seem incredibly cool, even two decades after dropping them.
Gratitude comes next, a big, sexy, almost stoner rock bass riff drives the song with some shouty vocals. The first of many call backs to the Beastie Boys punk past (this is the first full length studio album that the guys played their own instruments on). Lastly in this example of the trio’s scatterbrained-as-fuck list of influences on this album is Lighten Up. It’s like… an African tribal song with stabs of funk guitar and organ? Look when it’s described it sounds like utter shit but trust me it’s a cool little track.
The aforementioned jarring nature of Check Your Head, however, is more of a positive than a negative in my eyes. It shows that the Beastie Boys could tackle a wide range of genres and do it better than almost anyone else. Other highlights on the album include the incredible glam-like stomp of So What’Cha Want, the hardcore punk blast that is Time For Livin’, the all over the place yet somehow coherent The Maestro (I’ll never tire of hearing Mike D call me a motherfucker) and the album’s closing track Namaste, which sounds like what would happen if The Roots were commissioned to write an album of elevator music.
To conclude, as I said before this album is utterly bonkers in the best possible way. This is the sound of a group coming into their own and truly making themselves known as one of the most unique names not just in hip-hop, but in the music landscape in general. Not just debatably the best Beastie Boys album, but one of the best albums of the 90’s full stop. Vital.
P.S. I miss MCA more than I really should. R.I.P Adam Yauch.