Underneath The Sky Scrapes

So how we gonna kick it?

As any of us in the Beastie Boys’ fanatical commando fan camp can attest to, there’s only one answer to that question.

Gonna kick it root down!

Welcome to the incredibly cool world of Beastie Boys Root Down EP, from all the way back in medieval times before iPhones and suchlike, or 1995 as the local yokels called it back then.  I’ve always really loved this release, who wouldn’t love a single with 10 tracks on and 29:38 worth of music? that’s like two Van Halen albums worth!  From the awesomely cool looking cover* on in, this is a hoot.  We have three versions of the title track, the album version and remixes by the Prunes and Prince Paul and 7 live tracks recorded ‘live in Europe, Winter 1995’ and a very good-looking album insert.

I’m electric like Dick Hyman
I guess you’d expect to catch the crew rhymin’**

Hopefully you know what time it is guys and gals, the Beasties had moved on from being just my favourite band in the world to being pretty much the biggest and coolest band and the, umm, illest gang in the whole world by 1995.  They were impossibly, sky-scrapingly cool – dropping a million cultural references in every track, writing incredible jams and mixing up the sampling with their own playing to an extent that no-one had seen before in a hip-hop crew.  They were so ahead of any of the competition at this point in time that they just seemed to be channelling something greater than themselves, maybe it was the very zeitgeist itself.

So how you wanna kick it?
Gonna kick it root down

The original version of ‘Root Down’ is still the best by far and is one of my fave Beasties tracks, stat.  Building a track around a Jimmy Smith sample is an idea that just inherently rocks, this track is the reason I now own three of his LPs and counting – ‘Jimmy smith is my man, I want to give him a pound’, indeed.  You know what to expect, mucho wit delivered in their unique triangular rap formation, bits of wisdom and a gazillion throw away bits of entertaining nonsense.  I don’t need anything else.

The Root Down EP has the ‘Free Zone Mix’ of the title track, which is an entertainingly downbeat mix, not unpleasantly akin to playing on a trampoline with your bloodstream full of downers^.  The ‘PP Balloon Mix’ is a different kettle of fish entirely, Prince Paul gives the track a good-natured De La Soul bounce with added samples, it doesn’t really work as well for me.

The live tracks are a mixed bunch, ‘Time To Get Ill’ is delivered much more aggressively with an updated backing track, the Boys get to play at being Minor Threat on ‘Heart Attack Man’ to great effect, it has to be said and another favourite of mine, ‘Flute Loop’ benefits from a shot of live adrenalin.  The most changed track is ‘The Maestro’ which is extended beyond recognition and just generally totally frantic-ised off the scale, it pitches beautifully into the groovetastically laid-back ‘Sabrosa’.  At the tail end of the EP are ‘Time For Livin” and ‘Something’s Got To Give’, neither of which gain much in these live versions, although the addition of a strange Korean-sounding karaoke interlude sneaked in after the latter live track ends adds some colour.

So how you wanna kick it?
Gonna kick it root down

The Root Down EP is a decent addition to any halfway obsessive Beastie fan’s collection and the coolnessosity of it outweighs the few ropey parts.  As always though when I listen to the Beasties now I just find myself getting totally bummed out, yet again, by MCA’s untimely death at age 47.  The last verse on ‘Root Down’ is his and a bit poignant in its’ own right too:

Bob Marley was a prophet for the freedom fight
“If dancin’ prays to the lord then I shall feel alright”
It feels good to play a little music
Tears running down my face ’cause I love to do it
And no one can stop this flow from flowing on
A flow master in disaster with a sound that’s gone
I’ll give a little shout out to my dad and mom
For bringing me into this world and so on

770 Down.

PS: Kudos to the B-Boys for the surgery they performed on the English language to rhyme ‘battle tapes’ with ‘sky scrapers’, sort of …

Every morning I took the train to high street station
Doing homework on the train, what a fucked up situation
On the way back up hearing battle tapes
Through the underground, underneath the sky scrapes

*which was designed by, the very cool, Mike Mills and which was borrowed from a jazz LP, that I can’t find online.

**that’s there just for you Bruce.

^I’d imagine.

22 thoughts on “Underneath The Sky Scrapes

      1. I have actually started to listen to them this past week. I will do a review of Licensed to Ill on my next music-related post. =)

  1. Yas! Big fan of this tune (in fact, I’ll Communication is my favourite Beastie Boys album, so there you go), though wasn’t aware of this EP. It’s pretty great that there’s so much included even if some of it is sketchy… besides, this does look like a very wonderful object!

    1. Definitely on to pick up if you see it on your travels, it should be a pretty reasonable priced buy too. I just think you can’t go wrong up to ‘Hello Nasty’ which is where they lost their invincibility for me, I’ve never liked that LP very much.

      1. I figured as much! My buddy Craig is the biggest BB fan in the world and he always sneaks in tracks on his radio show. Lots of Paul’s Boutique tracks.

  2. Lots to love here, Joe, even for a non-BB fanboy. ‘Root Down’ is a fabulous Jimmy Smith album, and, as you remembered, we’re big Hyman fans around VC.

    They loved their cover-borrows, didn’t they? I really liked the ‘In Sounds from Way Out’ homage (especially as it’s the only BB I own!).

    1. Cheers Bruce. Yup they do love their cover-borrows, I just wish I could remember where this one was lifted from. I’m a big fan of ‘In Sounds …’ too.

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