IN A YEAR that have us Doolittle, Three Feet High And Rising, Straight Outta Compton and The Stone Roses, three hoodlums from New York City stood out for dropping some of the hottest beats of the time. Their debut album License to Ill had been critically acclaimed, but the following tour was a riotous, troublesome affair. Songs such as ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)’ and ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn’ exhibited the groups no holds barred approach to music and performance, combining punk rock and hip-hop into something chaotic.
Parting ways with their label, Def Jam and producer Rick Rubin, the Beasties went back into the studio this time with The Dust Brothers. The result, Paul’s Boutique, is an astonishing transformation from brat rock/gangsta rap to artsy hip-hop. Despite comprising almost entirely of musical samples, Paul’s Boutique is a surprisingly original album. The Beastie Boys maintain a smooth, catchy and very humorous flow. Take the lines MCA raps from ‘3-Minute Rule’:
‘A lot of parents like to think I’m a villain/ I’m just chillin’ like Bob Dylan/ I smoke cheeba it helps me with my brain/ I might be a little dusted but I’m not insane.’
Forever clever and witty, the Beastie’s drop social commentary while referring back to popular culture through amusing rhymes.
But perhaps one of the biggest strengths of Paul’s Boutique is how it works as a whole. License To Ill works as a ‘songs’ album so to speak, with plenty of radio worthy singles. There’s nothing particularly on Paul’s Boutique that works as a radio-bait. Not even the lead single ‘Hey Ladies’ stands out as much as, say, ‘Brass Monkey’. Is this a bad thing? Of course not. In fact the distinct lack of any songs that could be considered ‘singles’ is probably one of the best parts of Paul’s Boutique, something the band would imitate on future albums to a certain extent.
Take the lead in from opener ‘All The Girls’; creeping in with a soul organ and a spoken word piece dedicating the album to all the girls around the world. A swift drum beat leads the song smoothly into ‘Shake Your Rump’. It’s a great introduction that brings in the flowing concept that runs through the entire release. There are even changes throughout the course of one song. ‘The Sound of Science’ goes from bumbling walking bass, to a pumping Beatles-sampling number. Even when sampling takes a left wing, like going from ‘Hey Ladies’ to ‘Five-Piece Chicken Dinner’, it’s still fantastic.
The beats that the Dust Brothers lay down both keep a traditional hip-hop beat and deviate towards the rock and funk side of the music. ‘Johnny Ryall’ for example utilises a rockabilly riff on top of a snare and kick orientated beat. Follow up ‘Egg Man’ makes use of a catchy bass line and unusual percussion, with the surprise addition of the strings from Psycho. ‘Car Thief’ goes down the road of a TV Sitcom theme song complete female vocal harmonies and chilled drum and bass, overdubbed with distorted electronics and guitars. When we end with the 13 minute long ‘B-Boy Bouillabaisse’, the slow moving organ from ‘All The Girls’ dies away, bringing the album full circle.
As a result of all of this, Paul’s Boutique is recognised as one of the best albums of the 1980’s. Miles Davis and Chuck D both loved the album and Rolling Stone listed the album as the 156th best of all time. 26 years later and the album still sounds as fresh as it did back in 1989; the pop culture references haven’t aged a day and the use of samples is better than nearly everything that’s dropped after it. You’ll also struggle to find an album that’s as easy to listen to as Paul’s Boutique. It’s one of the best hip hop albums ever made and arguably one of the best albums of all time.
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