30 years on from the release of ‘Licensed to Ill’ how much has the landscape of pop music changed and is there any room for The Beastie Boys brand of tongue and cheek, balls to the wall, punk hip – hop crossbreed anymore?
In short, yes, you can’t imagine a world in which there is no room for The Beastie Boys signature unruly style and more to the point wouldn’t want to live in one. Starting their musical life on the hardcore New York punk scene as The Young Aborigines it’s hard to imagine how these three Jewish Americans made such a successful segue into the world of 80’s Hip – Hop. Perhaps single releases such as Black Flag’s ‘TV Party’ may have something to do with it. In fact it would be fair to say that the 1982 EP release ‘TV Party’ gave rise to the New York trio (that is of course if we ignore Run-DMC, Madonna and MTV).
The Beastie Boys debut studio album ‘Licensed to Ill’ was released in 1986 by Def Jam and Columbia to great critical reception, being the first rap LP to reach the top of the billboard album chart. The record featured now infamous tracks such as ‘Fight for Your Right’ and ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn’. The Beastie Boys present an unusual challenge in regards to critical reception as the only alt-rock, hip-hop, semi ironic cheesy music video, teenage house party group that are not only passable but widely praised. It is probably fair to speculate that not many acts, be they rap or rock, could remain credible after having thrown pies at each other in a house party mock up music video.
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Tracks such as ‘Brass Monkey’ show early promise of later Beastie Boys and showcase the signature lyrical cohesion and dexterity of the lads that would be used to great effect in tracks such as ‘Sure Shot’ and ‘Intergalactic’. ‘No Sleep till Brooklyn’ is critical in later day movements as it fuses hard rock and rap so well using Kerry King of ‘Slayer’ for the main riffs and solo. Given that this is a first studio album it does exactly what it’s supposed to in spades as it provides a contract, in effect, outlining expectations.
It’s no secret however that The Beastie Boys early lyrical discretion in the way of gender equality left a sour taste and somewhat sullies the otherwise admirable record. It’s clear that in their early and still blossoming career M.C.A, Mike-D and Ad-Rock had attempted to carve out images as (quote, unquote) ‘bad boys’ before falling into more comfortable personas as activists and hip-hop empresarios.
It is of course important to note that the boys made amends in later life changing lyrics such as “M.C.A.’s in the back because he’s skeezin’ with a whore” to “M.C.A.’s in the back with the mah-jong board” and writing more progressive if not somewhat clunky rhymes such as “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue/ that disrespecting women has got to be through” which can be found on ‘Ill Communication’ released in 1994.
It would be criminal at this point to round off any material on ‘Licensed to Ill’ without mentioning the genius of Rick Rubin as producer and the use of Led Zeppelin in sampling. Tracks such as ‘She’s Crafty’ feature Jimmy Page’s mammoth riff from ‘The Ocean’ to stellar effect whilst ‘Rhymin and Stealin’ fuses the wardrobe – falling – down – the – stairs Bonham drum track from Zepp’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’ with Toni Iomi’s riff from ‘Black Sabbath’s’ ‘Sweet Leaf’, something any music fan worth his salt would crawl over broken glass to hear … presumably.
In conclusion ‘Licensed to Ill’ retains a certain boyish charm appealing both to Jackass fans and serious music connoisseurs alike, although the two are not mutually exclusive. 30 years on from its release this album is as raucous, self satirising and entertaining as it ever was, showing undoubtedly The Beastie Boys won their right, through fighting, to party.