5 Must-Hear Songs from Beastie Boys’ ‘Ill Communication’ to Celebrate the Album’s 30th Anniversary

Beastie Boys recently announced the 30th-anniversary edition of their legendary 1994 album Ill Communication. According to the group’s website, the limited-edition deluxe reissue is “a rare version of the album that was originally released as a limited run in 2009. It features lenticular cover art and includes a bonus LP with 12 bonus tracks [of] remixes, B-sides, and rarities.”

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The reissue vinyl collection ships on July 26.

In 1992, the Beastie Boys released the landmark album, Check Your Head. By the time they dropped Ill Communication two years later, they began a run of three straight No. 1 albums. The trio had evolved their Meters-in-the-garage funk jams from Check Your Head and transformed them into jazz-rock improvisations inspired by Miles Davis’s Agharta. (Listen to Davis’ “Prelude (Part 1)” live in Osaka, Japan to trace the source.)

In honor of the anniversary edition of this release and the groundbreaking work of Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, Michael “Mike D” Diamond, and the late Adam “MCA” Yauch, here are five must-hear funky (“Ill”) classics from Ill Communication.

“Get It Together” (with Q-Tip)

Beastie Boys perfected the art of making loose records. Experiencing the slackness of their albums feels like time-traveling to another dimension when hip-hop and sample-heavy recordings still sounded human. Maybe it’s the difference between manipulating vinyl and samplers versus simply pressing the space bar on a laptop. Q-Tip’s rap sounds easy and lazy but flows better than most of the overtly edited raps that dominate today’s hip-hop. Still, Kendrick Lamar’s albums have retained the loose collage impression of the Beastie Boys, enduring like ageless jazz.

Ad Rock’s down with the Ione
Listen to the sh-t ‘cause both of them is boney
Gotta do it like this, like Chachi and Joanie
’Cause she’s the cheese and I’m the macaroni

“Flute Loop”

On “Flute Loop,” the Beastie Boys sampled “Flute Thing,” a 1966 instrumental by The Blues Project. The Blues Project formed in New York City and featured legendary producer and keyboardist Al Kooper, whose credits include Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” and The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” He also produced Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first three albums. “Flute Loop” transforms the psychedelic folk of ’60s Greenwich Village into hazy rap, using the kind of distorted dub-echo effects honed by Lee “Scratch” Perry.

So, so, so, just sit back and max and relax
Off the tracks that I kick, come on and live it up
’Cause I get funky like diaper rash
And you know I’m mad spunky and I’m making cash

“Root Down”

Beastie Boys had blurred the line between sampling and live instrumentation on Check Your Head. Working again with Brazilian producer Mario Caldato Jr., they followed one iconic album with another, Ill Communication, and for the first time in their career didn’t entirely reinvent their sound. Album four sounded like an extension of album three. On “Root Down,” they sampled Jimmy Smith’s “Root Down (And Get It),” one of the funkiest grooves in both catalogs.

Well, I’m not coming out goofy like the Fruit of the Loom guys
Just strutting like The Meters with the “Look-Ka Py Py”
’Cause downtown Brooklyn is where I was born
But when the snow is fallin’, then I am gone
You might think that I’m a fanatic
A phone call from Utah, and I’m throwing a panic
So break it to the root when we kick it on down
Jimmy Smith is my man, I want to give him a pound

“Sure Shot”

Ill Communication is a long way from Licensed to Ill. It sounds like the boys growing up a little. Though Mike D and Ad-Rock continued writing goofy (and clever) rhymes, they were offset by MCA’s growing conscience. On paper, the disparity between absurdity and earnestness might feel paradoxical, but like the Beastie Boys’ prolific blend of hip-hop, funk, punk rock, and jazz, the result is a hypnotic mix tape curated by hip crate diggers. “Sure Shot” is built on a sample of flutist Jeremy Steig’s “Howlin’ for Judy.”

Well, you say I’m 20-something
And I should be slacking
But I’m working harder than ever
And you could call it macking
So I’m supposed to sit upon my couch just watching my TV
I’m still listening to wax I’m not using the CD

“Sabotage”

If you are of the age to remember when MTV played music videos, you’ll recall, perhaps, the greatest music video of all time, the Spike Jonze-directed cop clip for “Sabotage.” Beastie Boys’ signature song isn’t “Fight for Your Right,” it’s not one of their spectacular funk jams, it’s not even a rap song. It’s “Sabotage,” a punk rock track driven by MCA’s fuzzy bass, Mike D’s garage-drum groove, and Ad-Rock’s hardcore top-of-his-lungs declarations.

I can’t stand it, I know you planned it
I’ma set it straight, this Watergate
But I can’t stand rockin’ when I’m in this place
Because I feel disgrace because you’re all in my face
But make no mistakes and switch up my channel
I’m Buddy Rich when I fly off the handle
What could it be, it’s a mirage
You’re scheming on a thing, that’s sabotage

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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