Beastie Boys
Check Your Head


3.5
great

Review

by Nick Butler EMERITUS
June 28th, 2007 | 17 replies | 15,461 views


Release Date: 1992 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The difficult third album - a confusing, but great listen.

Naturally, the Beasties were in a pretty weird position when it came to Check Your Head. They'd had a debut that was commercially an absolute blockbuster, breaking all manner of records and, really, marking the moment when most people had to accept that rap was a legitimate musical form, rather than just another subcultural movement that would fade into obscurity within five years. And yet, about half the songs on it were offensively bad; "Fight For Your Right" and "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" may have been gold, but as an album it was mediocre at best. It still stands today as the worst album the Beasties have ever made. The follow-up, Paul's Boutique, was exactly the opposite - as groundbreaking artistically as Licensed To Ill had been commercially, it remains one of the most untouchable documents in hip-hop's history. Naturally, nobody bought it. The contrasting fates probably damned mainstream hip-hop to a future of general mediocrity, but that's an argument for another time.

The M.O. for Check Your Head was simple - combine the two albums, and somehow come up with something that was artistically valid, and would still sell. This album was their first step into the world they'd stay in, and effectively are still in - hip-hop that displays a sense of musical intelligence and invention and a finely-tuned sense of humour, but doesn't stray too far from the frat-boy friendly vocal trade-offs that made a million white kids buy their first album. "Intergalactic", "Check It Out", "Sabotage", "Sure Shot" - the blueprint is here. Naturally, they had to sacrifice the psychedelic sample-heavy collage of 1989's Paul's Boutique, for financial reasons as much as anything - De La Soul's 3 Feet High & Rising, also released in 1989 (and seen by some as Paul's Boutique's nearest musical twin), had seen the group sued for one of the many samples used. The ground that hip-hop stood on had changed forever - songs built from dozens of carefully pieced-together samples were out. So a fresh musical outlook was needed.

They kept it simple. There's effectively only two songs on Check Your Head - the first is a stomping, guitar-driven rap track that allowed the group to do what they do best (rap, basically), while the second is a lightly funky, vaguely dubby downtempo lounge track with little or no vocals. They'd return to the latter on 2007's The Mix-Up for a full album, but here's it's slightly jarring - it really does feel like you're listening to two albums. Those instrumental (or near-instrumental) tracks might add variety to the album, and they might actually display some good musical ideas here and there, but put them next to the hip-hop powerhouses elsewhere on this album, and well....they're pretty boring, to be honest. It's especially jarring when "Something's Got To Give" follows on from the album's feted excursion into hardcore on "Time For Livin'", making it sound like a new age track in comparison.

Which is a shame, because the straight-up rap tracks are excellent. The musical simplicity that underpinned everything on Licensed To Ill is still here, but the group have matured, and got much better as rappers to boot - unlike something like "Girls" or "Slow & Low", this album doesn't glorify the art of being a retard. The imperious "Pass The Mic", "Finger Lickin' Good" (with its very subtle Bob Dylan sample), and "Jimmy James" are impressive enough, but "So Whatcha Want" is the jewel in the crown here - quite possibly the best single the Beasties have ever released. The most simple drum beat in hip-hop, distorted vocals, a choppy organ riff and a 3-note guitar lick is all there is to it, and it's hard to explain exactly why such a simple song makes the listener feel like they're the baddest mother***er around, but it does. It's punchy enough to soundtrack a fight scene, AND sleazy enough to get played in a strip club. Really, what's to dislike?

The blend of styles on here and ability to swap between moods and textures this effortlessly was probably a big deal to rap music back in 1991. But today, listening to this album fresh with the knowledge of what's happened since, it feels more odd than anything. Still, what's good here is excellent, and what's bad really isn't bad at all, just bizarre. This is an album that, much like Paul's Boutique, begs to be dissected, but for entirely different reasons. On that album, you're trying to discover exactly how The Dust Brothers made it sound the way it does, and trying to figure out where the hell this or that sample came from. Here, it's just to find out what song does what, so you can take the album apart and put it back together in an order that makes more sense. The programming does hurt this album - as the album progresses, the rap tracks are fazed out and the instrumentals take over, and that can't help but be an anticlimax. But hey, let's not complain too much - while their talents may still be up for debate in some quarters, there aren't many artists in hip-hop who've made as many great albums as the Beasties have, and this is another. As far as blending their two previous efforts together goes, they basically succeeded - this is fun, upbeat, and NOT retarded, with a lot for both B-boys and bedroom music lovers to enjoy.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
The Jungler
June 28th 2007



4827 Comments


I don't have Paul's Boutique :/
Great review, I'm shocked it hadn't been done.

Iai
Emeritus
June 28th 2007



3553 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

So was I, actually.

Two-Headed Boy
June 28th 2007



4527 Comments


Paul's Boutique is such a great album, but that's as far as I've gotten with the boyz. Great review, I third the "shocked it hadn't been done" thang.

blackmilk
June 28th 2007



584 Comments


Their first two '90s albums are awesome.

Fort23
June 28th 2007



2475 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

[QUOTE=niobium41;14899299]Paul's Boutique is such a great album, but that's as far as I've gotten with the boyz. Great review, I third the "shocked it hadn't been done" thang.
[/QUOTE]
Definetly check this out and Ill Communication if you liked Paul's Boutique. Might as well go for Licensed to Ill it's a fun job.

Fort23
June 28th 2007



2475 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

[QUOTE=Two-Headed Boy;14899299]Paul's Boutique is such a great album, but that's as far as I've gotten with the boyz. Great review, I third the "shocked it hadn't been done" thang.
[/QUOTE]
Definetly check this out and Ill Communication if you liked Paul's Boutique. Might as well go for Licensed to Ill it's a fun job.This Message Edited On 06.28.07

MassiveAttack
June 29th 2007



2688 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This album is a fun listen but I prefer Ill Communication, as for strides forward with their sound yes it was in a big way. It's a good Beastie album, very underrated imo. Nice review btw.

kalkal50
July 15th 2007



2386 Comments


great review

Trez
May 20th 2010



90 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"So Whatcha Want" is the jewel in the crown here - quite possibly the best single the Beasties have ever released."

Yup, and "Gratitude" aint all bad either.

jefflebowski
March 29th 2012



8110 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

perfect for zoning out to on sunny afternoons

Digging: Pantha Du Prince - This Bliss

random
August 7th 2012



2261 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"So Watcha Want" is great.

AnthonyFantastimo
August 7th 2012



51 Comments


yeah

ExcentrifugalForz
March 5th 2013



1707 Comments


Love the albums that they play their instruments on. Thats how you get the bass line on Gratitude.

Digging: Renaissance - Grandine il Vento

Jeffrulesyou
October 24th 2013



209 Comments


Awesome album, 2nd or 3rd fav beasties

FourthReich
December 23rd 2013



17482 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

ridin around town on my low rider bicycle

fromtheinside
December 23rd 2013



18097 Comments


i need to listen to the boys more

Digging: Transcending Bizarre? - The Serpent's Manifolds

NeroCorleone80
March 6th 2014



28832 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Probably my least fave of their first 4

Digging: Howlin Wolf - Howlin' Wolf/Moanin' in the Moonlight



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