Many people are aware of “Fight for Your Right to Party”. A little less went “Intergalactic”. Falling in between is an album that was seen as a failure on release. Now it’s considered one of the most ground breaking and important albums in not only rap and hip hop, but all of music.
Back in 1998 the Beastie Boys were thought of as “frat hip hop”. When their biggest hit was an ode to partying, it’s easy to see why. The rest of Licensed to Ill doesn’t do a lot to argue against this thought. “Girls” isn’t a song that holds up to what the Beastie’s themselves would later say in “Sure Shot”:
I want to say a little something that’s long overdue
The disrespect to women has got to be do
To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends
I want to offer my love and respect to the end.
“No Sleep til Brooklyn” is a great song and some would say the best from that album but again, there are many lines that fall into that frat boy mentality. Add in a fight with the record label and the Beastie Boys headed out west to plan their next move while enjoying L.A.
While there they meet up with two producers who were breaking new ground creating sample mixes. The Dust Brothers meant to create an instrumental album that DJ’s could play for dancing or others could put lyrics over top. The Beastie Boys bought these samples and the two teamed up with the Brothers producing this album.
The album features 105 samples from other works. At the time of recording it was easier to either get permission for a sample or ask forgiveness later. Either with a nominal fee. Now, any samples have to be pre-approved and usually the original artist is given a percentage of royalties from the new work. Without these limits though, Paul’s Boutique loads every second of the album with something familiar. Played straight, backwards, slowed down, sped up, chopped up. These sampled beats become a versatile ingredient opening up all possibilities within the songs.
Taking what is familiar then changing it up doesn’t stop with the music. The Beastie Boys prove they’re not three dumb kids with obscure and layered references to everything from westerns to Japanese baseball. Before everything was so easily available on the internet the only way to gain this knowledge was through experience. From world tours to digging through crates in a thrift shop. Through it all they formed an infinite new number of synapse connections looking for a way to come out.
Paul’s Boutique isn’t just about the genius of the Beastie Boys or the Dust Brothers, it is also a congratulations to the listener. Let’s take a look at the classic, “Shake Your Rump.” “Well I’m Mike D and I’m back from the dead.” This is such a ridiculous line now but it refers back to an urban legend that the reason the Beastie Boys weren’t in the public eye as much is because they were mourning his death. “Like Sam the butcher bringing Alice the meat,” is an easy Brady Bunch reference. This is the first full length song! Every year I get older there is another line in another song that I now get. What I previously thought were clever lines I now realize are full of references I didn’t get because I hadn’t experienced the original yet.
While I’ve known of the lyrical easter eggs for years I’m now digging to find the musical ones. “Shake Your Rump” features everything from The Sugarhill Gang to Thin Lizzy. As so many of us begin to shuffle play on Spotify or buy up someone’s old videos for a quarter a piece, more references will be discovered. Personally, I grabbed some old funk albums recently because they were cheap. While playing the first one in the stack I jumped up and yelled, “that’s the Beastie Boys!” It’s the other way around, by 10-20 years. But now I have that information in my head.
The appeal of the Beastie Boys is every time is a new first time. Every listen has something new jumping out into your ear. Something that then leads the listener to a classic new discovery. In the modern day love of movies, TV, and more calling back to the past no one has ever done it better musically then these Three MC’s. All of that starts right on Ludlow Street at Paul’s Boutique.