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To the 5 Boroughs
Artist: Beastie Boys
Label: Capitol
Length: 15 tracks, 42.12 minutes

 
From the opening rhyme on this, the first Beasties album in six years, it’s clear that the boys are now men. Adam “MCA” Yauch’s voice sounds old, graveled and tobacco-hoarse as he spits out the couplets over the old-school style beats and reassures the listener “No, I didn’t retire”; alluding to the rumor that the trio’s 1998 album Hello Nasty was to be their swansong. A best-of compilation might have almost confirmed that in 2001, but as these self-proclaimed “funky-ass Jews” push 40 years old apiece, they prove they’ve still got enough gall and guile left in the vocal chords to get the party on and spin some great jams. 
 
While they’ve now invested in their own studio, divested themselves of their Grand Royal label and taken greater creative control of the music, perhaps the clearest evidence of the Beastie Boys maturity is the lyrical content of this album. Where their 1986 debut Licensed to Ill has been referred to as “misogynistic frat-boy rap”, To the 5 Boroughs is no less crazy - stylistically infused with their trademark humor - but the predominant agenda is serious and political. “I’m a man that’s on a mission”, raps Adam “Adrock” Horowitz in the opener and superb first single “Ch-Check it Out”. That mission is simple; to end the presidency of George W. Bush in 2004. 
 
In between the quirky rhymes and occasionally dated samples, the Beastie Boys lay into the Bush administration with a direct, sustained polemic. 

I’m getting’ kind of tired of the situation.
The US attacking other nations.
And narration, on every station. 
False elation’s got me losing my patience. 
(“Right Right Now Now”) 
 
Back on the scene for the people’s delight.
You want peace for the people then you say all right.
‘Cause George W’s got nothing on we.
We got to take the power from he. 
(“That’s It That’s All”)  
Where the Boys once sung about fighting for the right to party, they now claim to “party for the right to fight.” And fight they do, but with reason and wisdom. 
We’ve got a president we didn’t elect. 
The Kyoto Treaty he decided to neglect.
And still the US just wants to flex. 
Is the US gonna keep breaking necks?
Maybe it’s time that we impeach Tex 
And the military muscle he wants to flex.
By the time Bush is done, what will be left?
Selling votes like E-pills at the discotheque. 
Environmental destruction and the national debt. 
But plenty of dollars left in the fat war chest. 
What’s the real deal, why can’t you connect?
Why you hating people that you never met?
Didn’t your mama teach you to show some respect?
It takes a second to wreck it. It takes time to build.
(“It Takes Time to Build”)  
The phase of youthful nihilism embodied in their name perhaps began to pass with the group’s advocacy for the Free Tibet movement around the Ill Communication and Hello Nasty years. Longtime fans may miss those early Beastie days now that an uncharacteristic touchy-feeliness permeates the band’s tunes. Take a shot of this for example:  
I gotta spread love in society. 
We got to keep the party going on
All lifestyles, sizes shapes and forms. 
(“All Lifestyles”) 
Still, it’s clear that the love in their heart, as well as the fire in their belly, is being stirred from a deeper place; that of course being the events of 9/11. This is, after all, a New York album, made by three New Yorkers, with reference to New York in the title and a sketch of the city itself on the cover, notably with the World Trade Centre towers still standing. The focal track, “An Open Letter to NYC” pours out the emotion and, for me, gives a picture of what genuine community should be: 
Dear New York, I hope you’re doing well.
I know a lot’s happened and you’ve been through hell. 
So, we give thanks for providing a home. 
Through your gates at Ellis Island we passed in droves. 
Dear New York, I know a lot has changed. 
Two towers down but you’re still in the game. 
Home to the many, rejecting no-one,
Accepting people of all places, wherever they’re from.
New York, you make it happen.
(“An Open Letter to NYC”)  
Interestingly, there is no ire for Bush in this song. Again, it seems that their maturity raises them above pulling Michael Moore-ish style conspiracy theories out of the obvious connections between the 9/11 tragedy and the subsequent military response. But before the record ends, the Boys are back on their collective soap-box for one more rant at the US government, with a practical pep-talk for the like minded.  
Who got the chance to make things right?
Why the politicians always want to fight?
The Christian Coalition and the right wing, oooh!
Let me tell you what you can do.
Step outside the cone of silence. 
Too much hatred, too much violence. 
It’s time to rewind. We need a military decline. 
If you want it, be the change. Like Gandhi and MLK.
Wake up, got to change the system. 
Need knowledge, power and wisdom. 
Take the power back, let them react, 
And let’s show ‘em what we mean. 
We got the power to make a difference
We got the power to make a change
(“We Got The”)   
Now that the Beastie Boys have grown up and got a mortgage, some of their renowned musical experimentation seems to have been sacrificed in a back to basics approach. For all the classic hip-hop on this record, I still prefer their 1994 album _Ill Communication_ for its edgy, funkier, punkier flavour. Still, that they choose to be politically relevant while most other rappers today just sing about bling earns them my deepest respect.  
 
Brendan Boughen  7/31/2004


 
 
 
 
 
 

 

   
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