To mark the 25th anniversary of their landmark album Ill Communication, surviving Beastie Boys members Mike “D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz appear in the short documentary, Still Ill: 25 Years of Ill Communication.
For those who may have missed their excellent book, the 15-minute documentary provides a behind-the-scenes look at the crucial five-year period in the group’s history, combining interviews from the duo’s recent appearance at this year’s South by Southwest conference along with archival footage and commentary from musical collaborators Mario Caldato and “Money” Mark Nishita.
Though short in length, the doc covers a lot of ground, tracing the period after the Beasties decamped to Los Angeles and split from longtime producer Rick Rubin to team up with the Dust Brothers to create their groundbreaking (but divisive at the time) album, Paul’s Boutique.
Following the backlash to the now considered classic, the group went about reinventing themselves, leaving behind the fancy studios that Capitol Records afforded them and rediscovering the love of playing live instruments from their early hardcore days. This creative reboot can be heard in the two albums that followed, 1992’s Check Your Head and Ill Communication, two years later.
Among the archival footage is the former president of Capitol Records prophetically calling Paul’s Boutique the “Sgt. Pepper of rap”, atop of the label’s rooftop followed by footage of the group’s new studio space complete with a basketball hoop and skate ramp.
During the recording process of Check Your Head, Caldato talks about group’s pursuit of funk, ingesting the likes of James Brown, Sly Stone and The Meters.
“Because we were listening to so many different kinds of music because of sampling, we all had this lightbulb moment where we thought, we should try playing some stuff like that,” recalls Mike D. “But also, in a weird way, what were we thinking, none of us were trained musicians.”
The group toured extensively for Check Your Head and this newfound confidence on the road set the wheels in motion for Ill Communication. The two also reflected on the lyrical influence that the late Adam Yauch brought to the record.
“In the middle of all of these dumb jokes about whatever, your boy says some super heavy feminist s__t in the early 90s,” says Ad Rock in reference to the song ‘Sure Shot’.
The short also follows Ill Communication’s rave reception and the surreal moment when the group played Lollapalooza.
For those looking to dive a bit deeper, there’s also an extended 40-minute audio interview exclusively on Amazon Music, which can be accessed in the US by prompting Alexa-enabled devices to “Alexa, play Still Ill on Amazon Music”.
Watch the documentary here.