A fuggy haze hangs low over the East River between Manhattan’s Financial District and the brownstones of Brooklyn. Clattering like one of those wooden toy snakes across the Williamsburg Bridge weaves a long, low train, lazily rolling its way along the J line. Sprayed in a dulling array of pinks, greens and primary colours, tagged to within an inch of illegibility to those over 35, its contents sit in silence, oblivious to the multi-coloured carnage in which they are cocooned. Inside is not much different. It looks violent. It feels violent. Doors, windows, seat coverings; every available surface space is thick with the same chunkily inked shout-outs to whoever is reading. Every passenger finds a point in front of themselves and focuses, daring not to lift their head and avert their gaze lest they happen to catch the eye of someone close by. Women clutch their bags and count the stops until they can get off. Men, the good ones, the ones who’d like to think of themselves as the have-a-go hero when something bad kicks off in here, try to look both non-threatening yet tough. The bad ones just look threatening. And tough.
If this was the start of a movie, it’d be soundtracked by this, Shambala from The Beastie Boys‘ Ill Communication LP. Purveyors of the finest gravel-throated shouty hip hop since 1981, Beastie Boys also did a mean line in often-overlooked instrumentals. Shambala is spacey, droney and built upon a bed of Buddhist chants and brooding wah-wah. Kinda vegetarian funk, I suppose. There’s a nice drop out where the hi-hat does its best Theme From Shaft impersonation before the clipped wah-wah brings us back to the incidental music in a 1976 episode of Starsky And Hutch. That wee scratchy noise you can hear in the background isn’t authentic vinyl hiss – it’s the sound of the Stone Roses taking notes in preparation for their next set of ker-ching! comeback dates.
Also on Ill Communication is Bobo On The Corner, another fantastic slice of Beastie funk. More clipped wah-wah and droney bass, this time the sampled Stubblefield-aping shuffle beat comes from, presumably, one of those New York street musicians who can make 3 oil drums and an empty can of vegetable oil from Chinatown sound like a particularly funky octopus playing Give It Up, Turn It Loose. A bit like this guy…(maybe he’s the real Bobo on the corner. Or maybe not)….
If you prefer yer Ad Rocks ‘n MCAs ‘n Mike Ds rrrrrrappin ‘n rrrrrrhymin’, ch-check this out- Ch-Check It Out from 1997’s Hello Nasty, devoid of loops, samples and other assorted musical flim-flam. Just the 3 voices a-riffin’ and a-goofin’ off one another, like Benny and the Top Cat gang recast as super-bratty teenagers. And, bringing us back to where we came from, a vocal-only Stop That Train. Hot cuppa cwawfee and the do’nuts are dunkin’, Friday night and Jamica Queen’s funkin’. Essential!
Ach. Y’know you’re gettin on a bit when Beastie Boys start dying round about you. Rap on, MCA!