How the Beastie Boys Reached Another Dimension

An Electric Shock

“Intergalactic,” the lead single off of Hello Nasty, blazes out of the speaker like it’s 1983 fronting like it’s 2023.

Ad-Rock’s vocoder “intergalactic, planetary…” refrain kicks things off, telling exactly where (and when) the guys are beaming in from. Vocoders, a portmanteau of “voice” and “encoder,” are old tech from an analog age that yearned to be digital. No less a luminary than Robert Moog developed the first solid-state vocoders for electronic music in 1968. From there, the robotic sound leaked into albums by Kraftwerk, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock throughout the’70s. Mike D had brought an old vocoder into the studio and the guys played around with it, waiting for the right moment to use it. When that moment came, it was obvious. According to Adam Horovitz, “We’d been thinking about the vocoder thing for a while, and when we put ‘Intergalactic’ together, it just fell into place.”

You could say, it brought them to another dimension.

Recorded over four years on two coasts and released on the cusp of Y2K, Hello Nasty was a transitional album for the Beastie Boys. It saw the band moving its base of operations back to New York from Los Angeles where they’d been working since the recording of Paul’s Boutique. Michael Diamond and Horovitz followed after Adam Yauch led the way, returning to Brooklyn. The past and New York were clearly on their minds, and this can be seen most clearly in “Intergalactic,” which even samples “MMM, Drop” from “TheNew Style” off License to Ill.

We had this beat off of a Bo Diddley record called ‘Another Dimension.’

The Good Stupid

The electro-funk of “Intergalactic” had a false start in 1993, according to Horovitz, when it didn’t make the cut for Ill Communication: “We had this beat off of a Bo Diddley record called “Another Dimension,” and we made this song all space doodoo rhymes. Like about Carl Sagan, Lieutenant Uhura, dilithium crystals, shit like that. And the break was ‘intergalactic planetary intergalactic.’ The cornball space song—which Horovitz called “just bad stupid and not even good stupid”—would have been little more than a gimmick. But when revisited a few years later—to frame what is essentially a tour down the family tree of old-school hip hop with a report card from Kool Moe Dee and one bright momentwhere MCA’s flow is so worthy it could hold Thor’s hammer that ends with a boast that his style is so strong it could render you as inert “as a pinch on the neck of Mr. Spock”—it’s a classic. And it still has a Uranus joke.

The video—shot in Japan and directed by Nathaniel Hörnblowér* (who bears a striking resemblance to Yauch)—perfectly situates the song back in the cheeseball mode that’s maybe its original inspiration, but this time it all works. The Beastie Boys dressed as mad scientists piloting a giant robot and also wearing construction worker uniforms while dancing on location in the Shibuya and Shinjuku train stations in Tokyo is the good kind of stupid. The video, inspired by Japanese kaiju movies (which begin with Godzilla then get real weird, weird fast), features that giant robot fighting a giant octopus played by actor Joey Garfield in a rubber suit.

*The Whalebone Film Archives Division did its damnedest to determine who was dancing in the robot costume, but Mr. Hörnblowér was unavailable for comment.