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If you can feel what I’m feelling then it’s a musical masterpiece

May 5, 2012

I’ve been pretty nocturnal this week. So by the time I got up and moving this morning (around 1 a.m.), there was no shortage of “RIP MCA” posts to greet me.

There have been other musicians from my early years who’ve passed away — Bradley Nowell, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Andrew Wood, and Cliff Burton to name a few. This feels different though. Maybe it has something to do with the way I connected with The Beastie Boys’ music, maybe it’s just that I’m older, or maybe it’s a little of both.

If I think all the way back to 1992, I can remember at least three albums that I eagerly sank my young teeth into. There was “Dirt” by Alice in Chains, Dr. Dre’s first solo record and instant classic “The Chronic,” and “Check Your Head.” Besides being the first of those three albums to be released, CYH was the first time I’d ever heard live instruments used on a hip hop record. Modern groups like The Roots have made this more commonplace, but back in ’92 … not so much. You could point out that “Walk This Way” came out six years earlier, but that was more Rick Rubin just sampling an Aerosmith song than having Run DMC record backing tracks for and entire album. You could also bring up the “Judgement Night” soundtrack, but it wasn’t released until 1993.

To call CYH an eclectic album would be an understatement. In addition to the tracks the Beasties would rap over, it included a few extremely un-lyrical tracks like “Lighten Up,” “POW” and “Groove Holmes,” the Funkadelic-esque “Something’s Got To Give” and “Mark on the Bus” and even straight up punk rock songs like “Time For Livin.”

If, like myself, you’re less of a causal listener and more of a seeker of sounds, there’s a good chance that you experienced a simultaneous jolt of joy and curiosity when Money Mark dropped in the B3 at the beginning of “So What’cha Want.” I’d never heard an organ played like that before. That sound entranced me, and when the drums from “When the Levee Breaks” were dropped in, I wasn’t going anywhere. When people talk about how they freaked out back in 1968 when they first heard Tommy James singing through a tremlolo at the end of “Crimson and Clover,” that’s how I felt. I even bought a Hammond at one point, but I’ve yet to reproduce that sound in the ten years since I first heard it.

I should say that I’m not trying to take anything away from either “License to Ill” or “Paul’s Boutique.” They’re both great albums. The vibe on CYH just hooked me in a way that the previous two records never did. The Beasties continued that vibe through their next record as well — 1994’s “Ill Communication.” Both of these records have remained staples in my collection, as well as the lesser known “In Sounds From The Way Out(released in 1996), which contains instrumental tracks from the previous two albums, and a couple from the “Sure Shot” and “Jimmy James” singles.

Musically, I was in a completely different place by the time “Hello Nasty” was released in 1998, so I never ended up getting into it as much, but I ain’t ever mad at it if it comes on. To be honest, I haven’t really listened to “To the 5 Boroughs,” “The Mix Up,” or “Hot Sauce Committee Part 2,” but I’d be extremely surprised if I didn’t enjoy them. I did listen to “Some Old Bullshit” once in ’94, but I wasn’t really feeling the whole hardcore punk thing at the the time.

CYH is one of the albums that I’ve purchased a few times. Sometimes you lose a CD, or it gets scratched or stolen. Sometimes you get broke and need to sell CDs, and sometimes you get a little too religious and break them. What ever the reason, I’ve purchased CYH more than once on CD, and also on cassette, on vinyl and more recently from iTunes.

These days, most of my music lives in digital form on a couple of external hardrives, but I still enjoy a physical copy or two. I have fond memories of hours spent flipping through used CDs and vinyl. I know it’s an outdated medium, but all the “art” people are making out of vinyl records hurts my heart a little bit. “Digging” was one of my favorite pastimes in high school and college. Moondance used to have a “dollar box” of all the promos bands and labels would send them, and don’t even get me started on Cheapo in Austin. I could literally spend a week or more in there from open ’till close and never get bored. I’ve bought more than a few records based on their cover art alone, but I also copped many a  maxi-single and import in my day. For all you youngsters out there who’ve never known a world without the internet, we used to have to spend $30 -$50 for a copy of a record that was sold overseas. It was the same record as the $15 version sold in the US, but it would have one or two extra songs that weren’t available on any US releases. Sometimes you’d get lucky and there would be a US released maxi-single, which would have the radio and album versions of the song, and then a handful remixes. Sometimes they were cool, and then sometimes, you didn’t really need seven different versions of Ice T’s “New Jack Hustler.”

One day while digging, I came across copy of the “So What’cha Want” maxi-single. Three tracks in I saw something I couldn’t live without, and When I put it in my stereo, it didn’t disappoint. This gem was a Soul Assassins remix by DJ Muggs featuring B-Real at the end of the track. Muggs had already gotten my attention by producing most (if not all) of Cypress Hill’s 1991 debut and eight tracks on House of Pain’s debut in ’92. Muggs sat the Beasties original vocals on top of a sativaed version of the bassline from Lowell Fulsom’s “Tramp,” which he’d also used a year earlier in “How I Could Just Kill A Man.” He did get rid of the organ for this version, but the result still leaves this as one my favorite tracks from The Beastie Boys.

I’ll leave you this morning with that track, and I’ll sign off by saying thank you to Adam Yauch, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz for the music you’ve given us over the years, for making me more aware of the global community through your work with the Milarepa Fund. Thank you for years of memories (both good and bad) made while listening to your records. And thank you for this little trip down musical memory lane I got to take this morning. But mostly I like to say thank you for improving the quality of my life, three minutes and thirty seven seconds at a time.

Rest in Peace MCA.

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