My life revolved around three things in 1989; MTV, Skateboarding, and Thundercats…. I was six.
While my sister would be going nuts for Paula Abdul and her stupid cat video I would wait up all night to catch the Beastie Boys “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” which was getting played twice a day despite having been out for almost three years.
One of the most defining days in my entire life was the one when I bought Licensed To Ill. I had been hanging onto my birthday money for weeks and finally my dad had time to take me somewhere to spend it. We stopped at N’ Orbit a skate shop my cousin helped run and he hooked me up with a Vision Street Wear poster. I’d planned on buying a new deck but spotted a record store across the parking lot, Karma Records, which would become a convent of sorts throughout my adolescence, that was where I asked to spend my gold.
I wanted Danzig‘s self-titled album and Eazy-E’s Eazy Duz It, both were vetoed with a quickness by “The Man”; Danzig for the “Satanic” cover and Eazy Duz It for the parental advisory label. Obviously there were other issues keeping me from Compton’s finest because when I pulled Licensed To Ill from the shelf there were no arguments. The kicker of the whole thing is while my dad was looking for the new Guns N’ Roses album I pocketed both Eazy E and Danzig cassettes, I’m not ashamed “I do what I do best because I’m illing and able.“
My mom worked at a video store and, unlike my father, refused to censor what I watched (I had seen every Friday The 13th, Toby Hooper‘s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Night Of The Living Dead while the rest of my classmates were complaining about not being allowed to see Batman because their parents were afraid they would have nightmares from the violence). I grabbed a copy of The Search For Animal Chin (Bones Brigade 3), which I’d been waiting for weeks to be in stock, and headed home for what would be one of the best nights of my life.
I watched “The Search For Animal Chin” first and was jacked beyond belief when it was over. Eazy Duz It didn’t keep my attention, it would still be a few years before I got into it. Danzig blew my mind because of the lyric imagery I’d never experienced before, but at two in the morning, with my headphones all the way up, it was Licensed To Ill that had my yet to be diagnosed A.D.D. self literally bouncing around my room. The closest moment I’ve ever had to having my jaw paralyzed in awe was the second I heard that opening line “because mutiny on the bounty is what we’re all about,” from that point on the album just keeps getting better.
Everything about Licensed To Ill is thought out perfectly without ever having a loss in creativity for the sake of commercial appeal. It was one of the last albums where the art/ packaging felt inseparable from the music itself. From the moment you peeled the plastic wrap off you were taking part in an experience. That half jet-plane when pulled from the case unfolded to be a plane crashing which in turn looked like a burning joint, the 3MTA3 decal innocently placed on the tail, the entire album feels like some sort of inside joke that we’re all in on. 3MTA3 by the way says “Eatme” when its reflection is read in a mirror.
I’m sure there were die hard early Beastie Boys fans who were upset with them shedding most of their punk skin to go in a new direction but look at what came out of it, bands changing isn’t always a bad thing, Licensed To Ill is a perfect example.
The opening track alone shows why this album was epic; you’ve got Toni Iommi‘s guitar riff from “Sweat Leaf” cut in with John Bonham‘s drums from “When The Levee Breaks” yet they practically go unnoticed with what Mike D, Ad-rock, and MCA did with the opening verse. “Rhymin’ And Stealin‘” not only set the tone for the entire album it laid out the foundation for what would define their sound for the next twenty-plus years. Here were three white dudes from Brooklyn rapping about being hard yet no one took them seriously, not even themselves, and that’s what made it so great. “The New Style” made Run DMC, Ice-T, and LL Cool J sound like amateurs. “She’s Crafty” felt like a homage to Too $hort without having that residual feeling of needing to get tested afterwards. Anyone who doubts Beastie Boys‘ influence in hip-hip should play “She’s Crafty” back-to-back with N.W.A.’s “Dopeman“ which came out a year later, if it hadn’t been for the Beastie Boys America would not have been ready for N.W.A..
“Posse In Effect” is simple yet more in-line with what the guys would give us ten years later on Hello Nasty. “Slow Ride” and “Brass Monkey” showcase their most commercially endearing quality of having the ability to create songs that contain some intense, nearly offensive, lyrics (remember this was in 1986) and have them come across as fun halfhearted tracks to drink with your buddies to. “Girls” is the one track I’ve never enjoyed, I’m not sure what it is but never once has it resonated with me, I wrote it off completely when I started hearing people say things like “I don’t really like the Beastie Boys but I do like their song ‘Girls‘.” By now it’s common knowledge that “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” was meant to be ironic, what threw people off though was that they make “bro” music and here was a song making fun of bros, a duality lost on a sub-culture not exactly known for a sharpness of wit. At the age of six it was lost on me as well, I was fighting for my right daily “to hell with those green beans mom.”
To this day “Paul Revere” is my favorite Beastie’s song, it lays out each members style in less fragmented pieces and has a format that was duplicated on the west coast for the next ten years….not one single word is believable, “I hit him with a wiffle ball bat soooooo.”
“No Sleep Til Brooklyn” is Beasties at there best and for some reason this is the one song where they actual seem honest, it might not be believable for these three to be sticking up bars and shooting people at random but for a band that opened for everyone from Bad Brains and The Misfits to Madonna this track just felt autobiographical. “Hold It Now, Hit It” may actually be the strongest song they ever made and yet it seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle of time.
“Slow And Low” is a rare rap song born to be performed live, if you had the chance to see them live then you know what I’m talking about, the place just erupts. For how strong they opened the album, closing with “Time To Get Ill” almost one-ups it, making Licensed To Ill one of the strongest start to finish albums of all-time.
There’s a scene in 8 mile where they are talking about different rappers they love and Cheddar Bob (Evan Jones) mentions the Beastie Boys and everyone else in the car laughs it off. That scene has always bothered me because the Beastie Boys should be without a doubt mentioned, they were as influential as any other artist or group has ever been. The trajectory they put on hip-hop should never go forgotten, I mean, you can’t get to Deathgrips without acknowledging the path the Beasties cleared out twenty years earlier.
The passing of Adam Yauch (MCA) has hit home for me more than any other loss we’ve had in recent years. His voice gave the Beastie Boys their punk edge, his presence and life focus the epitome of how all of us envision our idols should be, the art he created is pivotal, timeless, important, there is no better time than now for celebrating all that he gave us.
Beastie Boys – “Posse In Effect” - mp3
Beastie Boys – “Slow Ride” - mp3
Beastie Boys – “Paul Revere” - mp3