To be quite blunt, Ill Communication is one of the most important albums Beastie Boys ever recorded. Released weeks after Kurt Cobain’s death, the record was yet another musical leap for the critically acclaimed hip-hop group, who by then had become superstars. One of the biggest rap groups in history (Licensed To Ill was the first rap album to top the Billboard 200), their blend of hip-hop and rock eventually was refined over the years, resulting in some of their best work in the ’90s.
Ill Communication ended up being one of their most varied compositions in a career full of them, of course. Turning even more towards live instrumentation and fewer samples, the record challenges misogyny (“Sure Shot”) and clocks in at a staggering 20 tracks. Several of the Beasties’ biggest hits are here, especially the aforementioned “Sure Shot” and “Sabotage” – the latter of which was a pretty sizable rap-rock hit. There’s also experiments with jazz-influenced hip-hop on tracks like “Root Down” and cameo appearances by Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest) and Biz Markie on “Get It Together” and “Do It”, respectively.
It’s ludicrous to think this is the same group that wrote Licensed To Ill, especially when you read the lyrics – but also the extensive influences and instrumentation. As an album that brought so many disparate influences together, it acts as both a microcosm of Beastie Boys’ career to that date, as well as a snapshot of many of the ’90s in general. From their exploration of their distant hardcore punk past on “Heart Attack Man” to exploring Buddhist themes on “Bodhisattva Vow”, not many albums rooted (down) in hip-hop are this varied and interesting.