"'Cause you can't, you won't, and you don't stop." Those are the prophetic lyrics that kick off the Beastie Boys' beloved fourth album, Ill Communication. To mark the 25th anniversary of the hip-hop-meets-punk-and-jazz record that gave us such classics as "Root Down," "Sabotage," "Tough Guy," "Get it Together" and "Shambala," Amazon Music has just released a 14-minute short, Still Ill: 25 Years of Ill Communication, featuring B Boys Mike D and Ad-Rock reminsicing about the making of the landmark LP.
The film opens with Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) and Mike D (Michael Diamond) talking about how the thumping hit "Sabotage" came together in a single day after late third member MCA (Adam Yauch) started plucking out the song's iconic bass line, prompting Diamond to jump on the drum kit and add the signature whipcrack beats.
"It was the only song really that we recorded in a day, like just the instrumental track…then 'boom, that shit sounds cool,'" Horovitz says over vintage footage from the sessions.
The doc — recorded during the 2019 SXSW festival with Amazon Music's Nathan Brackett — includes commentary from co-producer and longtime associate Mario Caldato about how the trio's move to from New York to Hollywood to record 1989's sample-packed "Sgt. Pepper's of Rap," Paul's Boutique, helped spur them in a new direction in the wake of the then-poor notices for what they were certain was a masterpiece.
Realizing they were broke and spending way too much time on expensive professional recording studios, they built their own spot and spent several years on 1992's Check Your Head, which began their push into expanding their already-eclectic sound to include more live instruments and influences from their early days as punk rockers. "Because we were listening to so much differnt kinds of music because of sampling we all had this lightbulb moment where we were like, 'Wait, we should try playing some stuff like that,'" Diamond says.
They admittedly "sucked" at first, but once they fleshed out their playhouse with a studio, skate ramp and basketball court the trio and keyboardist "Money Mark" Nishita, went on their second major tour and came back much tighter musicians. "Then we did have a better idea of how to put things together," Horovitz says. "By the time we got to Ill Communication we figured things out a bit," adds Diamond.
The film mashes up clips from the Communication music videos, snapshots from the time and b-roll of the trio recording and hanging out, with the entire crew marveling at how Yauch's budding consciousness and lyrical dive into feminist themes expanded the parameters of the group, whose earlier work and stage show frequently trafficked in misogyny and puerile humor. "That makes us really actually proud of our music and really proud of Yauch," says Diamond, explaining how Yauch's nomadic travels to India, Bali and Nepal in search of enlightenment helped integrate new sounds and colors into the trio's already double-stuffed musical pallete.
The Beastie Boys broke up in 2012 following Yauch death from cancer, though Diamond and Horovitz recently co-authored the nearly 600-page Beastie Boys Book, which was accompanied by a speaking tour. As a companion to the Amazon film, a 38-minute audio documentary is also available from Amazon Music.