Ranked: Beastie Boys' Greatest Albums

Rough Trade Records

June 5th, 2024


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“if you know me you’ll know this is impossible. MCA, Adrock and Mike D aka the Beastie Boys have been, still are and always will be the best band ever. They shaped my life in so many ways.”

Hip-hop, punk, sampling, guitars and pop influence. The Beastie Boys multifarious nature has defined their evolution into producing countless hip hop epics. From comedy rap songs to being established as the third ever rap group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The New York bred band have long cultivated a dedicated following amongst true hip hop heads and beyond, identifying their mission as “making rap music as creative and free as the music we sampled”.

Originally formed in 1981 out of the members of experimental hardcore punk band The Young Aborigines (of which just Mike D was a member) the Beastie Boys started out as various iterations before ending up as the renowned trio of Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz (vocals, guitar), Adam “MCA” Yauch (vocals, bass) and Michael “Mike D” Diamond (vocals, drums, programming). The group hit the ground running in the ’80s, quickly scoring several hits which took over the New York underground dance clubs and nightclubs, going on to release seven platinum-selling albums from 1986 to 2004. With 2024 marking thirty years since the release of the gang’s critically acclaimed fourth studio album Ill Communication, we celebrate the enduring popularity and enjoyment of their music with a considered ranking of their catalogue.

30 years of Ill Communication
Now celebrated by a 30th Anniversary Limited Edition deluxe reissue. 

Beastie Boys rapper Adam 'MCA' Yauch dies at 47 - syracuse.com
(L-R) Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D. Photo by Thomas Rabasch.

A legacy to behold. Rough Trade West Bossman and long time Beasties fan Chris Summers takes on the challenging task of ranking the much-adored discography of the genius hip-hop group.

“My love for Beastie Boys started in 1989. I was 17. I bought the only copy of Paul’s Boutique (on cassette) that Our Price in Woking had available on release day. Total life-changing moment.

When asked to rank their eight studio LPs my first thought was… well, if you know me you’ll know this is impossible. MCA, Adrock and Mike D aka the Beastie Boys have been, still are and always will be the best band ever. They shaped my life in so many ways. It is an impossible task. Still, I like a challenge and as I write this today, this is the order, for now at least.

RIP MCA x

8. The Mix Up (2007)

Here’s where the boys flex their dark cocktail lounge band style. The sunglasses. The matching suits. Mike D’s hair! A wonderful set of instrumental jams – funky, dubby, psychedelic – this has it all. If that’s the side of them you like as often heard weaving in and out through their albums then you need to check this.

7. Licence to Ill (1986)

Kind of where it all began for real (though there were releases before including the amazing post-punk hip hop of Cooky Puss) and what made them global stars at a very young age. It’s a legendary record. Ignoring the obvious big hitters it’s home to some absolute seminal moments – Paul Revere, Slow And Low and Rhymin And Stealin‘ to name but three. It also has one of the most famous sleeves ever made.

6. Hello Nasty (1998)

Having this at six is sure to give me the most problems. As I stated at the beginning – putting these in order is impossible (except number one) – this is just today’s order. Ok? Yep, it’s the one with Intergalactic on but there’s so much more to it. This is them definitely pushing it more out there. The breaks and samples fly in and out all over the place (check The Move for proof) while Remote Control brings to mind the funk of The Incredible Bongo Band with its distinct raw groove. Again they mix their own skills as players with that of creators and make for one hell of a fun ride. Could I please ask that from now on you ignore the awful Fatboy Slim mix of Body Movin and stick with the original please? (Sorry Norman).

Album artwork for To The 5 Boroughs by Beastie Boys

5. To The 5 Boroughs (2004)

The boys were so proud of their hometown that it’s documented that MCA wanted them to make a straight-up hip-hop album in honour of their city and the birthplace of the genre. Busting out of their Oscilloscope studio that’s exactly what they did. No instrumental jams here. Just straight-up beats, breaks and some of their finest rhymes yet with their own slant on social commentary for where the world was in those post-9/11 times. A very underrated record.  

4. Check Your Head (1992)

From License to Paul’s to this is how history ran and what an album this is! Check Your Head is the sound of them finally dropping more of their instrumental chops within the grooves. Check Pow! or Live at P.J’s for them in full funk flow and then mix in the heavy breaks and rhymes of So What’Cha Want, Stand Together and Pass The Mic and you get the perfect blend and a glimpse into where the boys were now at. With their own G-Son studio, the kick-off of Grand Royal and the clothing label X-Large – the boys’ ideas were exploding down every avenue. I have one question though: how did B-side (and my second favourite Beastie Boys song ever) Skills To Pay The Bills not make the final cut? It’s insanely good. Especially when that bass line drops over MCA‘s verse.

Please note: seek out the album The In Sound From Way Out for all those tasty instrumental cuts in one place.

3. Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (2011)

Sadly their last album proper but what a way to end up! Musically this is the sound of the boys at their most far out with their live instrumentation and psychedelic breaks and samples all bouncing off each other perfectly. Kind of in the same area as Hello Nasty but wonkier. It all kicked off with the title track Make Some Noise and the accompanying video which came in under the Fight For Your Right (Revisited) title. I implore all of you to see it. The full 29-minute version if you can. You’ll love it.

2. Ill Communication (1994)

Next up is 94’s Ill Communication. Yep, it’s the one with Sabotage on it (the way they sequence the end of Root Down with it is perfection itself). Like Check Your Head it’s split evenly between sampled-based bangers and live instrumentation – the two worlds collide beautifully. I defy anyone not to get down to Root Down or Sure Shot, head nod to Do It (RIP Biz) or Get It Together and have a slight giggle along with Mike D and his hefty bag at the start of Heart Attack Man

Please note: Beastie Boys were an amazing hardcore band. It’s where they started. Check the Aglio E Olio for full confirmation on that.

Chris with his Beastie Boys #1.

1. Paul’s Boutique (1989)

Where most bands and artists would do anything to get Rick Rubin involved, Beastie Boys did the right thing and moved away from him. Now License To Ill is a classic and put them on the map but it wasn’t them – it was a version of them that they soon grew tired of. Basically, after swapping NYC for LA and hooking up with The Dust Brothers (not Tom and Ed but Michael and John – Google ’em!), the two Adams and Mike created Paul’s Boutique. It’s an absolute masterpiece and to my mind the best album ever made! It’s so packed with samples I still hear something I’ve never heard even to this day. It chops and changes constantly yet flows so beautifully. It’s funky as all hell too. Oh yeah, it’s also has my favourite song by them ever – Shadrach. (Check the live version of this – really captures what it was like seeing them live!)


Other Mentions…

I’d also like to highlight some Beasties’ records that don’t quite fit in this list but are just as essential. Some are mentioned above…

Beastie Boys Book, Some Old Bullshit, Hip Hop Sampler, Lpaglio E Olio, Love American Style 12″, An Exciting Evening At Home With Shadrach, Meshach And Abednego 12″, Frozen Metal Head 12″, Root Down EP, Alive At Yauch’s House 12“, Start! 12, The In Sound From Way Out!, Anthology – The Sounds Of Science, The Skills To Pay The Bills (VHS), Video Anthology DVD, Awesome – I Fuckin’ Shot That! DVD.


Super7s

Straight out of the action-packed “Sabotage” music video comes Super7’s Beastie Boys ReAction Figure set! 


Further Reading…

Originating in New York, the Beastie Boys join a long list of esteemed rap artists representing the East Coast scene, characterised by aggressive and hard-hitting beats. Discover other essential names who ruled the East Coast…

READ NOW: Rough Trade Essential: East Coast Hip Hop

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