“People how you doing? There’s a new day dawning…” that’s the opening line from the Beastie Boys’ third album ‘Check Your Head’. It’s a sign that things are now a little different in the Beastie’s camp. Their priorities have changed and they’ve got work to do. A new and improved Beastie Boys were evolving into an all encompassing, genre spanning all rock hip-hop behemoth and that evolution started right here.
In 1992, Ad-Rock, Mike D and MCA were long removed from their heights as rap’s first global pop stars, touring with Madonna and spawning front page notoriety in the wake of debut album ‘Licenced To Ill’s’ incredible success. As they re-emerged into a music world fully immersed in the rage, furry and nihilism of grunge they did so on the back of a long hiatus following the ultra lukewarm reception given to follow up ‘Paul’s Boutique’, arguably their masterpiece but a record that would take years to get its well deserved dues as a bona fide classic. The trio were searching for ways to reconfigure the Beastie Boys for a new decade. They were in search of a direction and a purpose. They found one by going right back to the past and embracing the spirit of their early punk rock youth.
‘Check Your Head’ is the most ‘musical’ of all the Beastie Boys albums. In a way it’s the quintessential Beastie’s record. The band returned to their roots as instrumentalists for the first time since their days squatting in the Village in New York. Ad-Rock on guitar, Mike D on drums and MCA on bass. They had freedom to do whatever they wanted. They were still on a major label in Capitol records but nobody had any expectations this time. They were largely forgotten and left to their own devices. The wilful sampledic experimentalism of ‘Paul’s Boutique’ would be replaced with predominantly organic sounds. If they wanted to do a jazz instrumental then they would. If they fancied a three minute punk thrash then they would revel in it.
‘Check Your Head’ is the first Beastie Boys record to contain all the elements in one place that made them special and it points the way to the result of their career. Indeed, the relationships they forged during this period brought together an inner circle that lasted throughout the next 20 years. It was the first album produced by Mario Caldato Jr and the first to feature Money Mark on keyboards. They also importantly built their own studio in Los Angeles, G-Son, which enabled them to jam and indulge in all their sonic fantasies.
The album is still recognisably a Beastie Boys hip-hop album but in taking steps towards alternative rock they were broadening their approach in a way that brought in multiple different audiences. Some of those audiences may have wanted more rhymes than distorted guitars or more fuzz over bars but it made for a hugely intoxicating palette of sounds that when merged together like on iconic bangers like ‘Pass The Mic’ and ‘So What’cha Want’ truly united people together in a way like never before.
‘Check Your Head’ represents who the Beastie Boys really are. It showcases their musical fluidity and dexterity that became their calling card. It’s not their most successful album but it’s their most pivotal. It’s a sonic musical odyssey that is all their own, steeped in their own playful image but with serious musical chops. Right from that iconic album cover that you can still see worn on t-shirts today, “Check Your Head’ feels like a rebirth. The dawn of a hip-hop band conquering the alt rock generation and pointing the way forward for the rest of the 90s and beyond.
‘Check Your Head’ has been re-issued on vinyl.
Words: Martyn Young