BY MIN CHEN
20 years on, Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty is still a fucking blast. A heady, explosive sonic sweep, the 1998 album mines the trio’s roots in party-starting hip hop, swerving from the retro funk of “The Move” to the anthemic call-and-response flow of “Super Disco Breakin’” to the old-school beats of “Three MCs and One DJ.” Layered on top and in between all that is a sampled feast of traffic noise, loops, vocal effects, bells, and whistles. However dense the enterprise is, it sinks not down to earth, but is relentlessly buoyed by an upward drift.
In fact, as the Beasties would have it, Hello Nasty goes all the way to space. The album’s sleeve art marked a dimensional shift from the street-dwelling images of 1989’s Paul’s Boutique and 1992’s Check Your Head, embracing instead a whole other astro plane. Cover designer Bill McMullen (who, while working at Def Jam Records in the mid ‘90s, first met the Beastie Boys at a basketball game) revealed in 2013 that he’d actually planned to illustrate an underwater base, a “weird, bottom-of-the-sea type thing.” Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz, however, nudged him onto the opposite path. Recalled McMullen, “He was like, ‘Yeah, it’s cool, like, undersea stuff. But you know what’s really cool is a space station.’”
And so a space station it was. Hello Nasty’s front cover set the scene, sticking the trio in a tin of sardines—a visual callback to the line, “MCA, where have you been / Packed like sardines in the tin” from “Body Movin’”—the Boys cracking up as they lie in the path of a scorching sun. The inside of the sleeve took a broader view, opening up a panoramic view of the galaxy, dotted with planets and satellites, foregrounded by a dog in a spacesuit and the aforementioned space station, and in the distance, a tiny sardine tin, floating just a hair’s lick away from the flames of the sun. (In 1999, MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D’s likenesses on the Hello Nasty album were recreated on action figures, designed by Bathing Ape founder Nigo and appropriately packaged in a tin. McMullen, who, after working on several more Beastie Boy sleeves, has since emerged as a successful toy designer, may have rejoiced.)
The musical equivalent here was, of course, “Intergalactic,” the album’s first single and the band’s world-beating and Grammy-winning hit. A cosmic and comic showcase of braggadocio, the track was an unabashed reminder that the band’s style, flow, and rhyme routines are straight out of “another dimension, new galaxy.” And if you still aren’t getting whose style is wild, you could, as the track intimates, head straight back to Uranus.
Trailing the illustrious tradition of bragging, swaggering rap, the moves here are indeed old school—playfully mirrored in its video (which meshed science fiction and Japanese kaijū in a weird, cheeky, Devo-inflected homage) and in turn, its packaging. For, however space-bound its intent and subject matter, the look and feel of Hello Nasty never fell back on the clinical surfaces associated with the futuristic milieu. Instead, evoking the vividly kitschy aesthetic of the Space Age and the album’s style-reviving contents, it leaped off of yesterday to present a vision of tomorrow.