Music has always had an obsession with space. From David Bowie’s Major Tom to Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” to even Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” the stars and what lies beyond is a subject of fascination and admiration for many musicians. Space is a mystery to all of us, including those who know it well. With every passing day we learn more about the fringes of our solar system and everything else in the night sky. It’s understandable that so many people have created art based on the worlds outside our own.
But things have changed since Debussy wrote his quintessential composition, a time when people looked at the sky without thinking about actually going there. In the age of missiles and SpaceX and people selling seats on luxury shuttles, space means something different. It’s a bigger expanse, one we can potentially see ourselves visiting. Our modern world extends beyond the Earth itself in so many ways — in big data, broadband transmission, Bluetooth, radio, everything in between — so why would we anchor our artistic understanding of space to the easily-swallowable?
This is why the Beastie Boys’s “Intergalactic” is a song that makes the most sense for space as we know it today. Released in 1998 on the group’s fifth record and arguably most artistic interpretation of frat-boy-rap, Hello Nasty, the song finally made it out after being shelved for previous releases. It’s a crazy song, combining a crunched, synthesized chorus with arrogant and hilarious verses. From the moment the track begins with a repeated “Intergalactic, planetary, planetary, intergalactic,” the listener knows they’re in for something special.
The sheer loudness of “Intergalactic” mirrors the saturation of enthusiasm around space travel and exploration; it parallels the craziness of eccentric billionaires like Elon Musk and their idiosyncrasies perfectly. Each beat of the drum-machine instrumental, complete with samples from both Rachmaninoff and The Jazz Crusaders, fills your brain completely, forcing out all other thoughts for a full acceptance of the groove. You feel like you’re being beamed somewhere, and not somewhere you’re sure you want to go. But still, the ride is a whole lot of fun.
The Beasties even sample themselves halfway through the song, specifically “The New Style” off Licensed to Ill. “Beastie Boys known to let the beat / mmmMMM… drop!” they shout, and anyone listening can’t help but sing along. The thing that made the Beastie Boys popular in the first place — and gave “Intergalactic” a Grammy in 1999 for Best Rap Performance by a Group — is their sheer brashness. If anything could connect so truthfully with the space economy of today, it’s that. They simultaneously make fun of themselves and hype themselves up, throwing shoutouts to producer Mario Caldato and each member in turn. It’s pure, unadulterated energy in song form, with a beat fit to blast off.
So if you’re itching to see the stars, annoyed with the Elon Musk-Grimes-Azealia Banks love triangle or really just love Saturn, “Intergalactic” is a perfect song for you. The track is spacey, yes, but it’s also funny, angry and everything in between. It captures the frenzy of its original Y2K era in addition to our own, encapsulating the frenzied overstimulation of each big-boom decade with grace and, of course, synthesizers. Hell, put on the whole album if you’re really feeling it — the nastiness of our time is so deep you might as well say hello to it. You might even find yourself in orbit.