Loved it then, love it now.
Admittedly, away from the music itself I remember it being such a great time. I was mid-teens and it was the first B-Boys record released that I could actually look forward to, having discovered the band at the turn of the millennium. I remember the interview that Mike and Yauch gave with Zane Lowe in early 2004, and I think that was the first one they'd given for some time. When Yauch said 'this one's all hip hop,' I just couldn't wait. Ill Communication was probably already my favourite album by then - and I loved the mix of styles - but ultimately I wanted to hear them rhyme. I also remember a lot of chat / interviews in the build up where they clearly said they wanted to strip it back a bit more and keep it simple. I found it strange, then and now, that people complained that it was lazy or too simplistic or that they didn't know what they were doing without Mario C. I think TT5B is exactly the album they wanted to make, but I appreciate its comparatively minimalist sound may have still been underwhelming for some.
I thought C-CIO was a brilliant comeback single, and that the rapping was amazing. It was obviously very old school, but it somehow sounded like the freshest thing in a long time. There was some basic excitement at hearing them rhyme again, but the song still stands up for me, and it got a lot of airplay here in the UK. There was also a sense of relief that it was a million miles better than IAWGM. I suppose C-CIO was slightly unrepresentative of TT5B, only in that the drum samples and horn stabs are samples of actual playing, as opposed to the more computer-generated beats that dominated the rest of the album. The album I envisaged on the strength of C-CIO was probably better in my mind than the final release (if that makes sense). In any case, I remember RRNN, TT and AOLTNYC being played on Radio 1 on the eve of the album's release and thinking that they were as strong as anything in the band's back catalog. Aside from TT, which I find a little poppy and contrived, I still feel the same way.
My first listen to the album as a whole was slightly underwhelming, as it often is when there is so much anticipation. I loved it from the moment I played it on the headphones the second time though. I personally love the focus present throughout, the four bar verses, the fact the vocals are actually at the front of the mix (first time really since LTI), the stripped back approach that still incorporated some interesting sounds... But ultimately I just loved that there were so many good hip hop songs on there. I love the rhyming - me and a few friends spent years reciting things back various couplets and verses to one another. I remember the lyrics to Rhyme The Rhyme Well were posted on here before the album's release and it was obvious, to me at least, that this was a major step up from HN. Obviously some people love HN, and fair enough, but for all its inventiveness I think it falls way short of the standard of Ill Communication. It sounds like a cartoon Beastie Boys, and there are worse things than that, but it remains my least favourite album of theirs. So I suppose I was coming into TT5B pleased that the new record was going to be, well, almost back to basics. I prefer actual versus as well, as opposed to the tag-team style. A lot of it is just down to personal preference. But like someone said on here at the time, I felt that TT5B 'pisses all over HN' despite having none of its variation.
Having said all that, TT5B is not flawless. For the most part, I think the beats sound fine - Time to Build is one of their most underrated cuts! - but I think something like AOLTNYC would have been more effective with some sort of drum machine or live rhythm sample to go with the Dead Boys riff. As it is, it sounds very processed. I also agree with the general consensus here that some of the b-sides would have made stronger album cuts. Certainly, Brrr Stick 'Em, TGNATU and possibly And Then I would have been better selections than Crawlspace (sorry), All Lifestyles (nice sentiment but ultimately lightweight for me) and We Got The, which is an absolutely forgettable conclusion to what is otherwise an excellent record.
And, as also outlined here, this was a great late era for the band. The pageant shows were arguably their best ever, and the preceding club (and all hip-hop) tour was also very strong. I remember watching them play RRNN at the first Hip Hop Honors thing, and thinking that they were still clearly the coolest band on the planet. It's a shame the other singles didn't do much. Throughout HN, the band just seemed to get bigger and bigger, and they were probably at their peak of worldwide popularity then. It was always going to be hard to recapture that six years later, but I remember being slightly disappointed that the album didn't do better overall. Coming on here it was obvious that I was in a minority of people who genuinely loved it, so that's fair enough I suppose. In any case, thanks for letting me reminisce