So why is Beastie Boys’ To the 5 Boroughs on this best 1,000 albums ever thing?
I was born in Flushing, New York, which is located in NYC’s borough of Queens.
My family lived in Forest Hills (also in Queens) at the time, then moved to Long Island a few years later, where I lived until I went off to college, in Binghamton, New York. After college, I lived in England for six months, then lived in Astoria, Queens for a spell before moving to California.
Roughly speaking, I lived the first half of my life in the orbit of New York City. While there are many great cities and places to live (and I adore living in Seattle these days), I’ll never waver on the notion that New York City is the greatest city on the planet: nothing beats its relentless energy, its throbbing manic pulse to live, engage, hustle, struggle, and thrive. And nothing beats its people – who are by design in your face, in your space, in your head, under your skin, and part of your spirit if you’ve spent any real time there.
On 9/11, I had been living in San Francisco’s East Bay for a few years and was working the overnight (read = zombie) shift at a television station in SF, where I produced the news “ticker” for a live news show focused on technology. So I was in the TV studio when the planes hit the World Trade Center, and stood in shocked silence as the entire world as I had known it completely changed. I called my girlfriend (and now wife) as soon as I could, and raced home over the Bay Bridge, wondering what other terrorist acts of war could be happening at any moment.
And like everyone in the United States, I mourned for the families and people who lost loved ones, and lived through the freaky paranoid years of the early 2000s.
Now, let’s head back for a moment to the mid-1980s, to my childhood on Long Island. While I didn’t become a serious fan and student of hip hop until the ‘90s, two rap albums circa 1986 or so were a big deal to me: Raising Hell, by Queens-based Run-D.M.C., and Licensed to Ill, by the Manhattan- and Brooklyn-based Beastie Boys.
“Fight for Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” are childhood songs for me, comforting songs even as they remain fresh and deliriously exciting to this day.
I mention all of this because when the Beasties released To the 5 Boroughs in 2004, it was a big deal to me.
“An Open Letter to NYC” is a masterpiece, a post-9/11 love letter to a place that is deeply important to me on a molecular letter. I get emotional every time I listen to it, and I have tears streaming down my face as I write these words.
It’s wonderful in every way, from the specificity of its lyrics to its shout out to not only all parts of NYC, but to all of the incredible diversity of peoples who make and continually remake the city that never sleeps.
Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten
From the Battery to the top of Manhattan
Asian, Middle Eastern and Latin
Black, White, New York you make it happen
And will never back down.
Okay, next topic. Some of you might even be surprised that you got this far into a piece about To the 5 Boroughs and you’re like, Isn’t he going to talk about “Ch-Check It Out”?
Answer: here you go.
“Ch-Check It Out” is arguably a Top 10 Beasties number, and perhaps it’s even Top 7 or 8. As earnest and emotional as “An Open Letter to NYC” is, “Ch-Check It Out” is classic Beasties as pop culture-drenched pranksters, and its production and the fellas’ rapping and rhyming schemes are super on point, aggressive, and sharp as a tack.
And it helps of course that the “Ch-Check It Out” music video might be the second funniest* that they have ever produced.
* First place for all time: I’m telling y’all its “Sabotage.”
The rest of To the 5 Boroughs ranges from good to quite good beyond those two classic tracks.
“It Takes Time To Build” is a good representative, with its staccato beats that help to update the old school hip hop rhyme schemes. I also dig the line about how “maybe it’s time to impeach Tex,” which is speaks to the rising backlash to the Bush administration’s overreaction to 9/11 by way of the Iraq War and Patriot Act.
Some stats & info about Beastie Boys – To the 5 Boroughs
- What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Rap, Hip Hop, East Coast Rap, Underground Rap, Alternative Rap
- Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – not ranked!
- All Music’s rating – 4 out of 5 stars
- When was To the 5 Boroughs released? 2004
- My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #378 out of 1,000
Beastie Boys’ To the 5 Boroughs on Spotify
A lyrical snippet from Beastie Boys’ To the 5 Boroughs that’s evocative of the album in some way, maybe
Dear New York, I hope you’re doing well. I know a lot’s happened and you’ve been through hell.
What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?
Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.
But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective review of what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.