March 4, 2008

Beastie Boys - Licensed To Ill (1986)




I'm entirely aware that the album that I'm about to write about already has millions of fans, so it doesn't really need my help. I'm also aware that the majority of the two readers of this blog probably don't fall into that category. They probably think that this space would be better filled with more write-ups about Wu-Tang z-teamers or, heaven forbid, some actual hip hop.

Well, that's just what this is. Seriously.

However, it didn't start out that way. The Beastie Boys, originally made up of Adam Yauch (MCA), Mike Diamond (Mike D), Adam Horowitz (Ad-Rock), and Kate Schellenbach (who went on to join Luscious Jackson after essentially being forced out - more on that later), were a New York underground punk outfit that got by performing as opening acts for such infinitely better bands like Bad Brains and The Misfits, but earned a following of their own anyway. They released two EPs, Pollywog Stew and Cooky Puss; the title track of the latter is considered to be their first recorded actual rap song, and true to the band's identity at the time, it's based around a prank call that one of the members made to a Carvel ice cream shop.

The rap style of the early Beastie Boys can be best visualized if you picture three of the whitest guys at your last frat party, the ones that aren't afraid to do some of the most ridiculous shit to get laughs, including pretending to "rap", as the kids call it, but inevitably hang out in the corner by themselves. Somehow, superproducer Rick Rubin figured that this would sell records, and off of the strength of "Cooky Puss", they were signed to the then-fledgling Def Jam Records, which at the time was run out of a dorm room (oddly, Rick Rubin and the other Def Jam co-founder, Russell Simmons, were apparently introduced to each other by the pretentious ass Vincent Gallo, of the "I made a movie just so I could record a blow job from my ex-girlfriend Chloe Sevigny" Gallos.)

Shortly after tripping over someone's chemistry textbook, the Beastie Boys lost the lone female in the group, who cited creative differences with Rick Rubin, who apparently didn't get the joke that a punk rock group called the "Beastie Boys" could also include a female within their ranks. (Her group, Luscious Jackson, later found themselves signed to the Beastie's own label, Grand Royal; glad to see they look out for their own.) Rubin felt that the inclusion of a woman would kill the joke altogether, that the Beasties were a trio of hard-partying jackasses who chased women when they weren't too drunk to sit properly. The Beasties found themselves on the manufacturing end of the second Def Jam record ever released, an EP titled Rock Hard, which is notable for two reasons: it is the first Def Jam single to actually feature what would later become their logo on its sleeve, and its title track was assassinated in the sample wars by AC/DC, whose "Back In Black" was utilized illegally. (This song, while relatively easy to find online, is damn near impossible to find in its physical form. It's considered such a large part of the Beastie history that the group attempted to include it on their anthology, The Sounds of Science, and even tried to do it the legal way, contacting AC/DC personally, but they were still denied the sample, since AC/DC is essentially a group of dinosaurs who would rather hoard all of the food than share even a pittance with everyone else.)

The Beasties soon found themselves touring again, this time opening for musical acts as diverse as Public Image Ltd, Madonna, and, obviously, the Rick Rubin Super Tour, otherwise known as labelmates Run DMC and LL Cool J. It was while on the hip hop tour that their first actual single, "Hold It Now, Hit It", took off and cemented their place on the label (because whenever you make a label money, you get to keep your slot - just ask Soulja Boy). They also scored a cameo in the film Krush Groove, and their own "She's On It" was one of the hit singles from its soundtrack.

Their official hip hop debut, Licensed To Ill, was released in 1986, which makes this album older than some of my readers. (It's original title, Don't be A Faggot, was quickly nixed by Russell Simmons, who preferred to not piss off a good chunk of the population in one shot: the group later apologized for their apparent arrogance and stupidity.) It quickly became the highest selling hip hop album of its era, remaining at the top of Billboard's album charts for no less than five weeks. It would eventually sell over five million copies, more than essentially everyone else on the label, at least until Run DMC jacked that Aerosmith song. The album is still universally beloved today, primarily for the group's biggest hit, "Fight For Your Right", which is still played at frat parties nationwide on a regular basis (along with Young MC's "Bust A Move" and Curtis Jackson's "I'll Still Kill").

Just because most everyone that picked up this album back them still owns it to this day, doesn't mean it's any good, though. Or does it?

1. RHYMIN' & STEALIN'
I love how the unsubtle scratching makes it seem like you're joining Licensed To Ill, already in progress. The chemistry between MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D is apparent right from the jump. This song pretty much rocks.

2. THE NEW STYLE
This track is decent enough, but I'm more fond of the final verse, when the beat switches completely. The end part is what Reggie Noble paid homage to on his own "Beet Drop". Ironically, for a punk group, the part where the guitars disappear happens to be my favorite part on the song.

3. SHE'S CRAFTY
You may wonder if the sound of guitars dominate this disc. The answer is, not really, but should you expect anything less from a punk group making the genre switch to hip hop? Rick Rubin probably felt that his production would help ease the Beasties into their new musical choice, but that doesn't explain his production work on Run DMC's first album, as well as LL Cool J's, since all three of the Def Jam debuts sound like one overlong Rick Rubin jam session, with a drum machine on standby.

4. POSSE IN EFFECT
Sorry, I just listened to this song twice, and I still can't remember anything from it.

5. SLOW RIDE
War's "Low Rider" sample is overused, especially since now it reminds me of The George Lopez Show, but the song itself is pretty good.

6. GIRLS
This track is representative of the type of song the Beastie Boys would denounce today. Other than the sexist element, I can appreciate the Boys's honesty: they were horny. They wanted sex. From girls. I get it. That doesn't make this particular song any good, though.

7. FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT
You already know this song, and you either love it or hate it. No matter how many charitable causes the Beasties give to, no matter how many times they chant "Free Tibet" or how many whales they keep from crossing America's borders, everyone will remember the group for This. One. Song.

8. NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN
Features guitar playing from Kerry King of Slayer, who, hilariously enough, were also signed to Def Jam by Rick Rubin (he apparently had big plans for the label: Slayer thought otherwise of a deal that would pair them on mall tours with Run DMC), This song also fucking rocks, and I love the fact that this heavy-metal skewering track was later covered by M.O.P. That reminds me, where the fuck are my M.O.P. CDs?

9. PAUL REVERE
A violent (and obviously fictional) retelling of how the Beastie Boys originally formed. A lot of your favorite rappers love this song and can recite it from memory; when you hear it, you'll understand why.

10. HOLD IT NOW, HIT IT
For being one of their first singles, this song is only okay, but at least I now know where Just Blaze found the "Chilly-chill" vocal sample used in Memphis Bleek's "Murda Murda" (also known as Jay-Z's "Murda Marcyville"). Boy, those guys sure do love their White Castle, don't they? They mention it for seemingly the ninety-seventh time on this track.

11. BRASS MONKEY
Come on, you already know this song. And you love it. You know you do. Eazy-E loved this song, too (see: N.W.A.'s "8-Ball (Remix)").

12. SLOW & LOW
Originally written and performed by Run DMC (a demo version appears on the re-release of their Kings of Rock). The Beasties do very well rapping a song that they would be the first to admit they had nothing to do with (all they did was update a couple of the Run DMC-specific lines to Beastie sayings).

13. TIME TO GET ILL
A good enough song, but a weak way to end your debut album.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Yes, the rhymes are simplistic as fuck, and the lyrical content is of a singular focus (when they're not talking shit, they rhyme about chicks). But do you even remember what rappers were talking about back in 1986? Other than the skin color thing (damn, almost went the entire write-up without mentioning that), the Beastie Boys fit right in to the scene, promoting Def Jam to heights that would be later eclipsed by artists such as Shawn Carter and Warren G. Licensed To Ill is still the only hip hop album to consistently hit Billboard's specialty catalog album charts, placing it right next to Michael Jackson's Thriller and random Pink Floyd albums on a regular basis; it also always seems to be on sale at Best Buy for whatever reason. Licensed To Ill sounds like a boozy night in the studio committed to wax, and their obvious talent is only seen in short bursts, which is why their sophomore effort Paul's Boutique shocked the music industry. (More on that one at a later date.)

BUY OR BURN? Beastie Boys albums are always more fun to listen to than, say, Eminem's, or any other random white rapper you can name (unless you count To The 5 Boroughs, which was a chore at times), so if you're up for some old school shit, you could do worse than picking up Licensed To Ill. Like I wrote above, it's always on sale for some reason, so you have no excuse.

BEST TRACKS: "Rhymin' & Stealin'"; "No Sleep Till Brooklyn"; "Paul Revere"; "Slow & Low"; "The New Style"

-Max

19 comments:

  1. Yes! Quality review and i agree in most parts, although I am blinded to any weak points...I'm just too much the fan!

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  2. I hated this record when it came out. I like Paul Revere and No SLeep because I could figure out how to play it on the top guitar string (that and Smoke On the Water were my 2 songs) I recently checked out what was to be the original release with an alternate track listing and extra tracks and you know what? Besides the tracks I liked when it came out, and the nostalga of it all, I still think this album was a silly record. But "The In Sound..." was my favorite release of theirs anyway. That and check your head.
    Ok by
    oh
    and is that Gallo movie worth seeing besides his cock?

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  3. You forgot to mention the playing of FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT at hockey games when the gloves come off. I loved your review and I still play that CD on Fridays at work. I let the attitude flow from my office!

    P.S.
    That Gallo movie is boring as shit. It is endless! You would think that a BJ would excite things up, but even that was amateurish and boring. Only Chloe and Gallo could make a real-life blow job BORING!

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  4. in 87 i jacked a dubbed tape of this album, mistakenly thinking it was rundmc...i was'nt dissapointed at all, it rocked ...and has it's place on the "oldschool playlist" erry whenever

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  5. He's right, "The Brown Bunny" is terrible. I haven't actually been able to see the whole movie (if I really want to watch a blowjob, I'd rather watch actual porn: I'm efficient like that), but I have seen the scene in question, and I just ended up feeling really bad for Chloe Sevigny, kind of like how you always sort of feel bad for the donkey in Tijuana.

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  6. Excellent reviews (as always). My hatred of "Fight for Your Right" caused me to avoid this album when it came out. It was only after listening to "Paul Revere" and "No Sleep" that I really started to warm up this classic. When Paul's Boutique was released, I was completely blown away. THAT album is absolutely incredible.
    --Posi-D

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  7. I can't really understand how people can tolerate listening to this piece of shit. They have no skills, no lyrics, no nothing. Any 3 random white dudes can rap as well as these guys.

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  8. I thought this was a pretty solid review. I myself am a big Beasties fan but even I find myself skipping the occasional track.

    While I can't listen to Fight For Your Right these days, I found the longer version which oddly makes it tolerable to me. Also just for the record, I don't think thats a War sample on Slow Ride, its a couple of their friends on horns as credited.

    Do a Pauls Boutique review, thats my fave album and I would be interested in your thoughts.

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  9. Just FYI and to clear things up, Lowrider by War was NOT sampled for Slow Ride. It was played live (horns & percussion) by Tony & Danny and is credited as such on the album.

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  10. AnonymousJune 17, 2009

    good review max keep up the good work. i think you should do a Pauls Boutique review.

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  11. NO SLEEP TIL'!

    I hated all that rock shit but i learned that they were originally a rock band crossing over....it was cool to hear them actually rapping with a hint of cadence MCA was always the best to me the voice stood out tremendously........all in all good album hip hop classic? nah but it's good for what it was supposed to be...

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  12. pauls boutique review!!!:P

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  13. i can only think of one other song from 86 that sampled "low rider", and i ain't telling you what it is.jackass.

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  14. pauls boutique! coming.. when again?

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  15. Damn! You need to do Paul's Boutique already!

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  16. "He's right, "The Brown Bunny" is terrible. I haven't actually been able to see the whole movie (if I really want to watch a blowjob, I'd rather watch actual porn: I'm efficient like that), but I have seen the scene in question, and I just ended up feeling really bad for Chloe Sevigny, kind of like how you always sort of feel bad for the donkey in Tijuana."

    How do you find The Brown Bunny to be terrible when you haven't even seen it? It's a great film, depressing and lonely and atmospheric and engaging as hell. There's no reason to feel bad for Chloe, since she signed on to the film and was paid a lot for it and was simply sucking off her boyfriend at the time, something she probably did every day. Though the dick is clearly a stunt cock, making the whole thing even more fantasy-esque and ridiculous that people made such a big deal about it. It's a very artistic film, loaded with lots of great shots, and is just downright depressing (in a good way; in a Taxi Driver-esque way).

    Maybe stick to album reviews, not movie reviews?

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  17. One more thing, it's not odd at all that Gallo would introduce anyone. He was a b-boy back in the day. He's been up to all kinds of shit. He's very creative, and all over the place in a unique and interesting way. Also, Jay-Z is one of his best friends.

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  18. You just don't see many hip hop blogs where a film like The Brown Bunny is brought up, let alone discussed in such detail. Personally, I don't care for Vincent Gallo all that much as a person, but it isn't as though I know him personally or anything; there's something about his overall attitude that turns me off. I agree about needing to actually watch the full movie before passing judgment, though: I've grown a lot in the four years since I wrote this article.

    Thanks for reading!

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  19. Never connected with the Beastie Boys. Never will.

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