The Beastie Boys are the greatest rap group of all time and it is not close. NWA did their best work as solo artists. Outkast was all over the place and never matched Southernplayalistic's magic. Wu Tang was more of a loose collective who lack the depth and quality of the Beasties' resume. Run-DMC was great and ground breaking but never branched out and had a relatively brief run at the top. Public Enemy was more of a one man effort whose creative peak lasted only a few years. There is simply no group - and for that matter, no solo artist - who can match the Beasties for longevity, depth, diversity, or consistency.
The Beasties did everything. They had the best selling rap album of the 1980s. They were the first rap group to explode on MTV and top the music charts. They have a consensus top-5 rap album in Paul's Boutique. They reinvented themselves a dozen times without ever seeming artificial or dropping in quality. They are rock stars, rap stars, jazz musicians. They made the greatest music video of all time and a number of the runners up. They are Generation X's Beatles.
And, they're a bunch of obnoxious Jewish kids. To break into the business, to sustain their popularity and credibility as rap went through conscious periods, gangsta periods, g-funk periods, is unimaginable. They did it, however, because they are that good.
Picking the best of their work is like trying to choose the 25 best hugs from your mom, the 25 best kisses from your spouse, or the 25 best Mike Tyson knockouts. You just can't do it. Fortunately, however, I can, and here it is.
25. Hey Ladies: A great music video and a damn good track to boot. The public introduction to the historically great Paul’s Boutique album. Boogie Nights was half this video and half an amazing Mike Sager column.
24. Body Movin’ (Fatboy Slim Remix): Catchy, stupid, and fun. It’s the quintessential Hello Nasty track, capturing the Beasties at the crossroads of hip hop, dance, skater, and pop culture, with all their youthful exuberance and their grown up sense of humor in full force.
23. Make Some Noise: The track that proved the Boys still had it even as they pushed 50. On the heels of underrated To The Five Boroughs, and post-Yauch’s cancer diagnosis, expectations were low for what turned out to be the Beasties’ final album. The track completely squashed those doubts as the Beasties released what was arguably their most complete album since Ill Communication nearly 20 years earlier.
22. Gratitude: Epitomizes the Check Your Head era rock vibe and also is a perfect statement of how I feel about the group.
21. Hold It Now, Hit It: Looking unrecognizably young, the Beasties demonstrate the best of their old school NYC rap skills on this carefree track that contains some of the dumbest lyrics to ever grace a major album. We should all have Tide t-shirts.
20. OK: Another track off the superlative Hot Sauce Committee that would have sounded perfectly in place on Check Your Head.
19. An Open Letter to NYC: Like TT5B itself, I go back and forth on this one. A love letter to NYC written in the aftermath of 9/11, the lyrics are a bit corny and shallow. But it’s just a very well-delivered track and deserves its place on this list, although I may have it a smidge too high.
18. Triple Trouble: Sampling Rapper’s Delight? Check. Sasquatch in the music video? Check. Kanye West getting punk’d hysterically at the very end of the video? Check check check.
17. Off The Grid: The only instrumental song to make the cut. Anyone who thinks the Beasties are a one-trick pony is an idiot to start with, but this is the sort of track that proves just how much breadth these guys could cover.
16. Sabotage: Interesting fact: this was supposed to be an instrumental. Instead, it would wind up being the Beasties’ signature track. There can be no argument that it is the greatest music video of all time. For most groups, this would be a deserving crowning achievement, but for the Beasties, it’s not even in the top-10.
15. B-Boys Makin With The Freak Freak: “Cuz Yauch’s on the upright, this shit just ain’t funny. Got fat bass lines like Russell Simmons steals money.” Word. And that’s not even the highlight on this track.
14. Live at PJ’s: Just the Boys rocking in the best way possible. Gets lost on the loaded Check Your Head but is easily one of their strongest pure rock efforts.
13. The Negotiation Limerick File: Hello Nasty is loaded with great tracks that missed the list. Grasshopper Unit, Remote Control, Dr. Lee… But there’s no leaving off this classic Beastie style heavily distorted rap.
12. Ch-Check It Out: Whatever you think of TT5B, this is simply a great track that sounds so quintessentially Beastie that many assume it was on Ill Communication. Watching the Beasties deliver it flawlessly live on Letterman, while walking from the subway to the studio, in their 40s, is just incredible.
11. Pass The Mic: Check Your Head is the one album that can really make a case to be on par with the Beasties’ acknowledged masterpiece, Paul’s Boutique. The Beasties have never sounded better than rapping over this simple Mario Caldato track.
10. Shadrach: Such a great, complicated, fun, exuberant track. And yet it is a little underappreciated because it had the misfortune to be on Paul’s Boutique where everything is a great, complicated, fun, exuberant track. If you tell me this is your favorite Beasties track, I will have no problem with that.
9. Intergalactic: My first thought is that this seems a little high but upon further consideration, I’m not sure I have this high enough. This is the epitome of old school Beastie Boys rap, the flow could have been included on Licensed to Ill, and yet it reflects their maturity perfectly. If you want to battle, you’re in de-nial.
8. Jimmy James: Check Your Head was going to be a pure rock album until Yauch put this tribute to Jimi Hendrix together. As soon as AdRock and Mike D. heard it, they forced their way onto it, and Check Your Head (and most of what followed) represented that unique Beasties rap-rock synergy. Originally contained a number of Hendrix samples that had to be removed but listen carefully and you’ll find a few that still sneak in.
7. Sure Shot: Because you can’t, you won’t and you don’t stop. No matter what you think of the Beasties, you’re sure to love this one. Bow wow wow.
6. Car Thief: This haunting gem off of Paul’s Boutique features the best lyrics of any Beasties track. Maybe the most complicated multi-layered beat on the most complicated multi-layered album ever made. One of the first times the Beasties previewed their eventual political activism. It’s just stunning to think a bunch of guys in their mid-20s could do this.
5. No Sleep Till Brooklyn: At the other end of the spectrum, this represents the best of the Beasties’ immature and destructive side. The video flashes the first hints of the Beasties’ wit and the track is one hundred percent testosterone gone wild. Still the best party track on the planet, guaranteed to amp up any crowd.
4. Root Down: Maybe the most complete Beasties track ever. This tribute to the Beasties’ musical influences can be enjoyed by any human.
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
Like Harlem World Battles on the Zulu Beat Show
It's Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee
There's one you should know, (yeah)
Enough of that, I just want to give some respect due
MCA, grab the mic and ma bell will connect you
3. So Whatcha Want: The perfect “I don’t give a damn” track. When Yauch says “I’m cooler than a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce,” you know it’s true.
2. Shake Your Rump: Just listen to it and tell me I’m wrong. The perfect music video for that moment in time. Deserves this spot if just for the cat on the turntable.
1. The New Style: “Kick it over here, baby pop, and let all the fly skimmers feel the beat …. mmmmmm Drooooooooop. “ As great today as it was when it dropped nearly 30 years ago. The end.
Pissed that I didn't include Paul Revere? Brass Monkey? Fight For Your Right To Party? Time To Get Ill? High Plains Drifter? Then you have awful taste in music because none of those even came close, but let me know anyway at @ironmikegallego on Twitter.
UPDATE: You think you're better than me? RANK 'EM YOURSELF