Blending rap, punk and more, the trio's fourth album, 1994's 'Ill Communication,' was the right sound at the right time
In 1994, the world caught up to the Beastie Boys.
The now iconic rap trio surprised the industry when its fourth album, "Ill Communication," released 20 years ago on May 31, 1994, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (dated June 18, 1994), displacing Ace of Base's global smash "The Sign." The former has sold 2.3 million copies to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
It's not like the Beasties were unknown, of course. Their blockbuster debut, "Licensed to Ill," became the first rap album to top the Billboard 200 (for seven weeks in 1987). But its follow-ups, 1989's "Paul's Boutique" and 1992's "Check Your Head," ditched the jokey frat-anthem sound that made the Beasties stars, and as a result found smaller success, peaking at Nos. 14 and 10 on the Billboard 200, respectively.
By the time "Ill Communication" arrived, listeners were ready for the new Beasties. The album expanded on the melange of live-instrumentation funk, hardcore and hip-hop they had pioneered with "Check Your Head." The difference? Timing. Thanks to Snoop Dogg and the then-recently deceased Kurt Cobain, rap and alt-rock were invading keg parties in suburban backyards at the same time. Genre lines were blurring. The 1994 film "Reality Bites" had just codified a new Gen-X slacker aesthetic for the world. The Beasties' sly, stoned, polyglot style fit the zeitgeist like an orange Sunkist T-shirt. Led by straight-up rock single "Sabotage" and its hilarious, Spike Jonze-directed video, "Ill Communication" was exactly what a new breed of music fans was craving.
"There's an audience for everything from hip-hop to the rare-groove funky shit to hardcore," the Beasties' Mike D told Billboard in the June 25, 1994 issue. "There are actually kids now that have grown up on all those kinds of music – like we have."