A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Track #25 on Thommy Ford’s Playlist
I grew up in a household full of all different kinds of music, especially Soul and Funk which my Mom loved to play around the house and in the car. One thing I didn’t grow up with was Bible stories. Never Bible stories. I’m sure that sounds negligent to some, but I think I turned out alright. My own kids will probably end up exposed to more Rufus and Chaka than Cain and Abel too. I will admit, however, that my lack of bible study has let me down in one respect: I completely missed the best reference in The Beastie Boys’ best song, “Shadrach.”
When I first heard “Shadrach” all I could think of was “Loose Booty,” the Sly & the Family Stone sample that’s the heart of the song. Before the Beasties made it famous it was just a deep cut from Sly’s last good album, the underappreciated Small Talk. I was overjoyed to hear a hip-hop group give it some attention.
That’s one of the greatest feelings when listening to sample based records, catching the references. Paul’s Boutique is a goldmine for this kind of nostalgia. In no particular order here are ten tracks sampled in “Shadrach.” I’m not sure the list is definitive. It’s culled from a number of sources like whosampled.com and the fansite beastiemania:
It’s great fun for anyone, like me, with a passing knowledge of 70’s soul records to pick out the pieces they know. But focusing on my favorite sample in this song I totally missed the forest for the trees. It took me a hundred listens or so before I even noticed that it’s kind of a strange song title, and to then wonder why the chorus was just a bunch of gibberish. Turns out the Beasties are actually shouting the biblical names Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego. What’s more, it’s a chant sampled from the very track I thought I knew so well, “Loose Booty.”
Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego were Jewish leaders in Babylon who refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzer’s claims of divinity. They were only saved from being roasted alive as punishment by God’s grace. It’s a story about the rewards of righteous rebellion, and it’s also a somewhat relevant story for the Beastie Boys to reference. They were, after all, three Jewish kids who had to fight both the hip-hop community and the big record companies’ expectations to find their artistic freedom. They sum it up best themselves: “Do what they tell us? Hell no! Shadrach, Mesech, and Abednego.”
So actually picking up on the lyrics not only got me one Bible story closer to my neglected Judeo-Christian heritage, it also changed the song from just another great Beastie Boys track into something truly anthemic, into a declaration of their independence from the music establishment. And yeah, sure, most of the lyrics are still just clever rhymes and odes to partying, but then again, no amount of research has ever turned up why Sly Stone put the biblical names in a straight forward dance track like “Loose Booty” either. At least the Beastie Boys make a stronger claim to the original story.
Watch the official video below (it’s one of the Beasties’ best, in my opinion), and stop by the library to check out Paul’s Boutique (781.66 BEA).
Review by Matthew