1986 – Def Jam
Hip Hop/ Alternative/ Rock
The Beastie Boys’ Licensed To Ill is a wickedly inventive and original record full of hilarious juvenility, self-conscious excess, and tasty danceable beats. From the opening of Rhymin and Stealin we are instantly treated to a harsh burst of irreverence and joking nonsense as these three white boys from New York assault the listener with some of the angriest hip-hop I’ve ever heard about pirates, shotguns, drinking, and Ali Baba. Really, if Public Enemy reach the heights of honed streetwise politics then their label-mates The Beastie Boys do the exact opposite and plumb the depths, and that, dear readers, is precisely where this album’s magic lies.
I mean, instead of taking the problems of the world and the evils of stereotyping to try and counteract and make a difference this trio just grabs those preconceptions and runs with them to such an extent that the whole thing becomes a wonderfully self-conscious parody of itself. I’m talking about the well practiced flippancy about shooting people if they don’t stock your favoured beer thrown in with the high-school bragging about smoking in the bathrooms. Everything on here is just so intelligently juvenile and effortlessly turns the self-aggrandizement and brutality so common to rap culture on its head so it all becomes one massive joke at the expense of all the try-hards and wannabes.
This all reaches its pinnacle, I think, in the hilariously subversive Girls which just throws a big old brick into the face of the almost ubiquitous sexism of rap music and hip-hop culture. The track centres around a rather common theme of the acquisition of women as objects, but so quickly it flips everything into a weird fantasy of domestic life that is just so sexless that even Mr. Rogers could get behind it. It really was a treat to hear a track that so insidiously attacks the rotten core of rap and at the same time is just so fun and funky.
The music itself on this record is also just a delight to hear as it branches away from the standard hip-hop far of drum and bass records scratched out on the turntable. On Licensed To Ill the group incorporate elements of hard rock and metal (courtesy of Kerry King from Slayer), Tijuana Brass, and television ad jingles, and, while this might sound like an odd mixture of styles, it all blends so seamlessly together into a suite of eclectic tracks that make you want to shake your groove thing while at the same time it manages to stick true to its high-school locker-room hip-hop ethos.
Really the whole thing just pumps and pounds from track to track with unconventional rhymes and unexpected humour so that pretty soon the listener just has to embrace the joke and bang their head along reliving their teenage anger with a healthy dose of irony. I suppose you could just have no sense of fun or humour and wind up hating the entire record, but if that’s the case I might suggest that the whole concept of popular music isn’t really for you and that you’d be better off listening to a brick wall.
And so, to conclude I shall pose and subsequently answer this rhetorical question: What’s the time?
It’s time to get ill!
And here’s a great track from the album which I think really sums up the group and the record’s whole ethos.
- Jet Set Radio Vs. Beastie Boys: Spunky 90’s troublemakers (destructoid.com)
- Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” reenacted with librarians – Boing Boing (boingboing.net)
- Beastie Boys – Hardcore Punk Roots (danveymusic.wordpress.com)
- Old-age rappers fight for your right to hear (amplifon.co.uk)
- Album Released This Week In…1989: Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (recordhoarder.wordpress.com)
- Throwback Tracks: Beastie Boys (thedriftinggaze.wordpress.com)
- Retrospective: Paul’s Boutique (dpbeeson.wordpress.com)