Amazon today released “Still Ill: 25 Years of ‘Ill Communication,’” a 15-minute documentary focusing, obviously enough, on the 25th anniversary of the Beastie Boys’ landmark album “Ill Communication.”
While a 15-minute documentary might seem short, the format is actually quite informative and effective: By focusing on an eventful five-year period in the group’s history — spanning from their groundbreaking but initially commercially unsuccessful 1989 album “Paul’s Boutique” to their comeback “Check Your Head” to the Lollapalooza tour supporting “Ill Communication” — the video dispenses with much of the introductory and background clutter common to most music documentaries and gets right to the action.
(Anyone seeking a deeper dive can find a playlist along with the doc at amazon.com/beastieboys , and the extended 40-minute audio interview, which Amazon Music customers in the U.S. can hear by asking, “Alexa, play Still Ill on Amazon Music,” on all enabled devices and with Alexa in the Amazon Music app.)
Combining Amazon’s live Q&A with surviving Beastie Boys Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Mike Diamond from this year’s South by Southwest conference with archival footage and commentary from musical collaborators Mario Caldato and “Money” Mark Nishita, we see the group move to Los Angeles in the wake of the backlash from their 1986 “Licensed to Ill” album and their separation from producer Rick Rubin and create “Paul’s Boutique” with collaborators the Dust Brothers. They and many fans at the time knew it was a groundbreaking album, but it was a commercial disaster — so the group decided to reboot their sound by renting their own studio, playing live instruments and digging deep into old-school soul inspired by the Meters and Sly & the Family Stone. In the process, they rediscovered the fun in making music — which comes across on the two albums that ensued, 1992’s “Check Your Head” and “Ill Communication” two years later.
“We sucked, like really bad, at first, and it didn’t get that much better,” Horovitz laughs, “but that was the thing that was really fun – we figured out a way to do it for ourselves.”
The doc also follows their reinvention and maturation as people, despite the sarcasm and occasionally juvenile humor that was always a trademark of the Beasties — particularly that of the late Adam “MCA” Yauch, who spoke out against the kind-of-joking-but-kind-of-not sexism and misogyny of the group’s early years and embraced Buddhism and Eastern philosophies.
His actions “made us really proud of our music and proud of Yauch,” Diamond says, “but at the time we were just like, ‘That’s really dope.’” The two obviously still dearly miss their friend and bandmate, who died of cancer in 2012.
Amazon Music’s head of editorial Nathan Brackett says of the doc, “I couldn’t be more excited to share this project. The Beastie Boys had a few crucial pivots in their career, but for me, the ‘Ill Communication’ era could be their most important transformation: it was the moment in the early 1990s where they brought so many of their influences full circle into one sound, and, in a sense, became the best version of themselves.”