The warning shot was fired with the notorious “In A World Gone Mad,” and now comes the sermonizing main course. It’s the Beasties Boys’ To The 5 Boroughs, which, despite politics playing a major force in only a handful of the album’s 15 tracks, basically comes off as the Rock the Vote commercial you have to pay for only to have anti-piracy filters ensure unplayability in half the nation’s computers. The Beasties’ period of enlightenment, their atonement for “Girls” and “Brass Monkey” (or at least the fans who took those tracks seriously), has been building steadily for years now. But To The 5 Boroughs is their first long-player that will be impossible to look back upon without immediately reflecting upon its overt political sound bites. “So step up to the window and place your bets,” they trade off halfway through “It Takes Time To Build,” “Is the U.S. gonna keep breaking necks?/Maybe it’s time that we impeach Tex/And the military muscle that he wants to flex.” These quips continue through the end of the track, and it represents the most sustained blitzkrieg against the current administration. More often than not, snippy broadsides are the order of the day, which might be a lot more annoying (the last thing American politics needs is another slow wit with a fast mouth) if quick verbal parries weren’t already the Beasties’ most salient legacy. It’s not syncopation or sophistication that made License To Ill the first number one hip-hop album in history.
Well, serious or just another example of the now nearly 40-ish Beasties attempting to find the zeitgeist’s most festering nerve and adolescently launching ollies off of it, Rolling Stone has responded with the requisite election-year five-star approval, the equivalent of giving the Palme d’Or to Michael Moore—5 Boroughs isn’t great but it wants Bush out of the White House. (The review started by mentioning everything that’s happened in the years since Hello Nasty, but neglected to invoke the most significant event: Eminem snatching the white hip-hop crown away.) They’re sure to win another Grammy next February, but their true reward may come on November 2nd. After that, what will be left? Well, luckily the album’s sound is as intriguingly stripped down as the Crossfire bits are jacked up. Most of the beats sound completely misplaced. “Shazam!” is built off a slowed down sample of Kool & the Gang’s “Open Sesame” that literally sounds dusted from the Genie of Sound’s crypt, but the lumbering downbeat and overlaid samples form a frenetic polyrhythm. “Ch-Check It Out” (which might as well be called “Neutral Ground”) is a popping “Intergalactic” retread without the surfeit of production tricks. And “An Open Letter to NYC” takes a sample from the Dead Boys, resulting in what must be considered their first successful G-Funk effort. Still, in short, To The 5 Boroughs intends to pay tribute to NY, but all the while keeps its eyes fanatically fixated on DC. By the way, this album includes the lines: “I’m a funky-ass Jew and I’m on my way/And yes I got to say fuck the KKK.” Just thought you’d like to know.