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Beastie Boys
Hello Nasty Noel Gardner , November 4th, 2009 10:12

Assuming that the Beastie Boys and their paymasters aren’t going to gild the lily by tarting up the little-loved To The 5 Boroughs five years after its release, this release brings to a close the reissue campaign for all their significant post-Def Jam work. I’d be surprised if there was a large clamour among Beasties superfans to have 1998’s Hello Nasty subjected to a remaster: opinions on the studio stylings of the group and their longtime desk jockey pal Mario Caldato Jr may very well be divided, but this is surely a stylistic issue, rather than one of ability.

Flipping between the remastered Hello Nasty and my ‘98 copy (by the way, how much do CD digipaks suck balls? I don’t think this copy has left any of my successive rooms in eleven years and it’s still beaten up to shit), it’s hard to pinpoint much obvious improvement outside of the fact it’s a bit louder. As they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but pretend you have done anyway and give them a bonus CD if anyone objects. 
Of Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head, Ill Communication and this album, the latter is the only one that sounds inescapably of its time. The median, in effect, is sample-based, loud-drummed party hip hop analogous with the inescapable-in-the-UK big beat of the era. The album’s first three cuts (‘Super Disco Breakin’, ‘The Move’ and ‘Remote Control’) all answer to this description, likewise ‘Intergalactic’, which has proved to be one of the four or five most enduring Beasties songs.

With 22 tracks – some significantly more lightweight than others, granted, but including no unfunny skits or jazz-funk drum solos – there’s ample scope for Hello Nasty to deviate. ‘Flowin’ Prose’ is possibly the album’s most Ill Communication-y moment, consisting of echo-drenched vocals, lardarsed wah-wah and rickety old funk drums; ‘Picture This’, featuring the voice of the largely unknown Brooke Williams, sounds a little like Broadcast, if Broadcast were one of those strawperson Lilith Fair bands.

The most obvious catalyst for the changes the Beasties made to their aesthetic is Mixmaster Mike. A scratch DJ who was part of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz – the mid-90s DMC championship’s equivalent of the early 80s Liverpool team – with Q-Bert, Mike is pretty seminal in the development of turntablism. As much as this might merit a sarky “thanks for that, pal,” he’s tended to avoid the drily academic DJ Spooky end of things, as well as Yngwie-of-the-decks showboating, and is actually a great fit for the Beasties. The trio were so happy about it they gave him a whole song for which to provide the sole instrumentation, ‘Three MC’s And One DJ’, and he kicks a fair bit of hind. Although the overall result sounds pretty different to ‘Licensed To Ill’, a Beasties track stripped back to little but rhymin’ and scratchin’ proves to be a tonic. He’s a pretty big presence on single ‘Body Movin’’ (the one that had a prominent Fatboy Slim remix, just in case it wasn’t sufficiently of the time) and ‘The Grasshopper Unit (Keep Movin’)’, too.

The tendency of the Beasties to cross the line separating chucklesome goofiness and cringeworthy clangers is fairly well-documented: “Everybody’s rapping like it’s a commercial / Acting like life is a big commercial,” from ‘Pass The Mic’, is pretty much a meme, droppable when skating on the issue of dodgy rhymes. (It was supposedly one of those deliberate mistakes which the group deemed funny enough to include, but still.) Hello Nasty does not avoid this habit.

“Order in vegetarian shark’s fin / Try to keep my life non violent,” from ‘The Grasshopper Unit (Keep Movin’)’, may well have your ears rolling their eyes; “I’m up to my neck like Toulouse Lautrec”, from ‘The Move’, is… what does that even mean? Why not Johnny Paycheck or Selma Hayek? “Don’t grease my palm with your filthy cash / Multinationals spreading like a rash,” scolds ‘Putting Shame In Your Game’; a stance no doubt shared by the anarcho-socialist co-op, Capitol Records, who released the album. (As self-awareness goes it’s about on par with their feeble war of words with The Prodigy which occurred around the time of their respective Reading ’98 sets; the Beasties’ Down With This Sort Of Thing objection to the sexism of a song called ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ might have been better observed if they’d acknowledged their less than spotless record in this department.)

The bonus disc, let’s be real, is only really useful to Beasties completists, and they’ll have all but a handful of its 21 tracks already. Everyone else will listen curiously once or twice, maybe iSolate the few worthy listens and give it little further thought. The ‘Dub Mix’ of ‘Dr Lee, PhD’ – where they cemented their affinity with Jamaican musical god/senile liability Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry by having him contribute vocals – is of a song already in the dub realm. To this end, it is less than essential.

The Prunes, Danish Mo’ Wax signees now firmly in the “whatever happened to…?” file, give ‘Putting Shame In Your Game’ a sweet galactic dancefloor makeover. Ad-Rock puts on his rarely unearthed 41 Small Stars production hat to dice, slice and boost the drums on ‘The Negotiation Limerick File’. Kutmasta Kurt’s ‘Body Movin’’ holds up a lot better than Fatboy Slim’s, you may not be surprised to hear. About a quarter of the tracks aren’t even songs, just recordings of the three of them having conversations in the studio and making funny noises and suchlike.

All of which barely makes a dent in the basic status of Hello Nasty as a loveable and admirable work. It’s probably futile to try and put it in any real historical context; aside from the apparent Wall Of Skint influence already mentioned, it doesn’t have much to teach younger purchasers about the mood of 1998. It was just one of the most entertaining things that happened in that time. You won’t find a lot of ‘best rap of ‘98’ lists with this album on. There are myriad reasons for this, but it isn’t because Hello Nasty is anything less than a blast, or that it falls short when looked at from a more hip-hop-centric perspective (granted that lyrics like the previously quoted ones, and some of the MCing, might not make the strongest case).

It chiefly indicated that the Beastie Boys, more than ever, were able to walk a path that hardly had to interlink with the hip hop scene of the time at all. This has led to solipsistic makeweight releases like The Mix Up and The In Sound From Way Out, but it’s also allowed them to use their ‘institution’ status to good ends – to be able to both overlook fashion bliptrends, and magpie-grab the shiny bits poking out of developing genres. And get away with it. And make records like this one that you really should own, actually.

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