"The hiatus is back off ... again." As the posters say, the return of three of hip hop's elder statesmen, with the release of To The Five Boroughs, the Beastie Boys' first full-length album in six years has triumphed. Picking up where 1998's Hello Nasty left off, working again with Mixmaster Mike, the Beasties have crafted a sonically complex yet straightforward collection of beats that renders all future remixes redundant.
As rappers, they have never again matched the speed and intensity of 1989's criminally underappreciated Paul's Boutique. On Boroughs the Boys occasionally sound tired, and lines like "We've got a president we didn't elect/The Kyoto treaty he decided to neglect" are clunky. But their social conscience is a welcome change from hip hop's prevalent bitches-and-money theme, and how many MCs can name check Chauncey Gardner, Carl Sagan and Regina as in the lyrics of "Shazam!" and "Hey Fuck You"?
The centrepiece of the album is "An Open Letter to NYC." Unlike many of the chest-beating anthems that appeared after September 11th, "Open Letter" celebrates the city's diversity ("From the Battery to the top of Manhattan/Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin/Black, White, New York you make it happen") as the New York natives reminisce about growing up there.
But however solemn this may sound, the Beasties still excel at goofing around. From dressing up in Star Trek costumes in the video for "Ch-Check It Out," to the ludicrous English accents they bust out in "Triple Trouble," the Beasties seem determined, above all, to have a laugh. By not taking themselves too seriously, these middle aged men prove themselves still worthy of their youthful moniker, and of their place among the giants of hip hop.
Writer: Deirdre Swain