How did the Beastie Boys approach writing Check Your Head? They were trying to live down their hit first record and live up to its flop follow-up. The Beasties ended up distancing themselves from both, picking up their old instruments and recording a 20-song college-rap collage that reads like it should be too smart to be catchy. That is until you hear "So What'cha Want."
As musicians, the Beasties are not virtuosos. I remember one review calling Mike D "Meg White's dad." But the Beastie Boys are never held back by their technical limits. Mike D's rhythm track on "So What'cha Want" provided the basis for the most infectious Beck song ever, while the chorus riff and sputtering organ are now lodged in hip-hop history. Pat Metheny wouldn't know what to do with an Ad-Rock progression.
It's still rare, but more hip-hop artists (Common, The Roots and Mos Def among them) use live instrumentation since "So What'cha Want" dropped in 1992. Even fewer artists were able to improve on the ideas that the Beasties brought up with Check Your Head, but some did, the most notable example being Ill Communication.