From its release in 1994 to the present day, “Ill Communication” remains one of my favorite Beastie Boys albums (R.I.P. MCA). I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that I was the right age when it came out to be a college student with cable television for the first time in his life. Growing up I had to ask my Aunt and Uncle to record Yo! MTV Raps for me just so I could watch it. It’s fair to say that once I had my own access “on demand” that I binge watched the hell out of MTV, which meant I probably saw every video from this album dozens of times, “Root Down” included.
Although it’s undeniably a funky jam, “Root Down” hardly struck me as an ideal choice for a single, and given it was the last one released from “Ill Communication” you might think they’d agree… but in fact you couldn’t be MORE WRONG. Instead of just tossing off a video and a twelve inch and being done with it, the Beastie Boys released an entire “Root Down EP” that features two brand new mixes of the song. I’m all in favor of rap production legend Prince Paul putting his own take on any song, but I have to be honest and say … it’s not as good as the original? The original has some undeniably heavy, thick and STANKY bass. Paul’s mix is fine but it doesn’t put any STANK on it whatsoever.
I actually find the self-produced “Free Zone” mix the more interesting of the revisits. Like Paul’s it still doesn’t equal or exceed the original (and shouldn’t that be the point of a remix anyway) but at least it sounds like a crazy Beastie Boys track that would have fit into “Ill Communication” nicely. The scratching, the drums, the slightly off key notes, they all merge together well with the “yeah that’s the fucking shit” lyrical vibes of the track.
If you didn’t already know that the “Root Down EP” came alone pretty late in the life cycle of “Ill Communication,” that point is only exaggerated by the inclusion of live performances from their WINTER tour of Europe. My favorite of these is “Something’s Got to Give,” an almost entirely instrumental song from “Check Your Head” that’s perfectly suited to being a concert jam. I also pick up more of a reggae vibe from the track hearing it this way as compared to the studio version. I dare say it’s better this way.
The question I always have to ask though when a group spins off an EP from an album is “Was it really necessary?” My first instinct is NO but the “Root Down EP” having these live in concert performances gives me pause. I think the group labelled it the way they did to piggyback off the single and accompanying video, but if they had called it the “Beastie Boys Live in Europe EP” and then thrown the alternate takes of “Root Down” on to pad it out, it would have been more honest and might have even sold better. The title track is ultimately not what you’re coming to this EP for.