Quick story to celebrate today being the 25th anniversary of one of hip-hop and pop music's greatest records.
Around my college days and shortly after (2004-2007), I stayed visiting RapReviews.com. The strong, well-written reviews inspired me to dig in the crates and get albums like Funkadelic's Maggot Brain, UGK's Ridin Dirty, and The D.O.C.'s No One Can Do It Better.
This particular review was a favorite because while I heard about the Beastie Boys' Paul Boutique being this all-time great album, I had no idea why especially since they had no singles. The best Beastie songs to me were all over the radio so why is this obscure 1989 record so good? Well that review convinced me to finally check it out.
Since I was at a point where my musical education was starting to blossom, it opened my eyes in a big way. It's a masterpiece of sampling and a declaration of independence for hip-hop's party boys saying goodbye to Def Jam, their image and showing me the bridge to the Beastie Boys I saw in high school on.
I've called this album part of the Holy Trinity of Sampling along with Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions and De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising. It's not just taking random beats and looping them - these albums created sonic landscapes by stitching together the familiar and unfamiliar to make something new. It reminds me of a term I learned in a communication theory called bricolage, the creation of something new from a diversity of things.
|The Beasties in L.A. circa 1989|
A lot of credit for the production should go to the Dust Brothers. They dug in the crates and cut and pasted this album together along with the Beasties. Like most hip-hop classics of that era, it's virtually impossible to recreate because you'd go broke paying off sample clearance fees. Yet it also allows for new fans like me to discover or appreciate pieces of older music.
For example, "Hey Ladies" is a fun record that made me appreciate, among others, Zapp's "So Ruff, So Tuff" because of that "baby baby baby" sample. "Car Thief" helped me discover Jackson 5's cover of Funkadelic's "I'll Bet You" and "Shadrach" hipped me to the funk of "Loose Booty", the last main single from Sly and the Family Stone.
"Sounds of Science" almost is an appropriate title cause it sounds like a concoction of Beatles beats, James Brown and a random but still dope cut-in from Pato Banton's "Don't Sniff Coke". Call me crazy for waiting for that part but I love singing that line cause it's weaved in so perfectly.
Speaking of crazy, even the random bluegrass instrumental "5 Piece Chicken Dinner" feels like a perfect break between the funk of Hey Ladies to the hard rock of "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun." It may seem random but it's a nice transition that allows for some humor
While the lyrics get overshadowed by the music, which tends to happen to the Beasties, there's still some gems that make it different from musically stunning, lyrically awful albums. Check "3 Minute Rule" for references to Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Dragnet, The Little Rascals and more. Or "Shadrach" which feels appropriate as the three-man crew probably felt like the three Hebrew friends in Babylon going to war with against Def Jam.
"Eggman" is a funny ode to throwing eggs at people yet also takes a stand against racism and it helps that they took one of the funkiest songs ever in "Superfly" to drive the song along with a killer nod to "Psycho". "Looking down the Barrel of a Gun" has a cool little part where each member takes a piece of the line "I'm a die harder than my man Bruce Willis" and says it individually. Or when MCA says "cause you know why-A-U-C-H" in 3-Minute Rule to spell out his last name.
3-Minute Rule and Eggman are my favorite songs besides "A Year and A Day". No surprise because the late MCA stands out on his verse and his bass line on "3 Minute" and on this solo cut on the 9-part finale "B-Boy Bouillabaisse". MCA drops a distorted verse over the opening solo of the Isley Bros. "Who's That Lady" that hits me in my soul. I've read that verse a few times and I still can't rap along to it but there's something special in it.
Each time I hear this album, I find something new. The last time I heard it this month, I recognized that "Johnny Ryall" sampled the drums from Donny Hathaway's "Magnificent Sanctuary Band". I also heard "Ballroom Blitz" on the radio and just wait for that "She thinks sheeeee's the passionate one" that gets sampled on Hey Ladies.
|My original copy of Paul's Boutique and the 33 1/3 book by Dan LeRoy, a valuable resource on the backstory of the album. Also hat-tip to PaulBoutiqueInfo.com for schooling me to the various samples/references (Photo by Evan Barnes)|
The irony, of course, is that by leaving Def Jam for Capitol Records and finding new inspiration in L.A., they became even greater stars and visionaries. It wasn't until a few years later that people realized it was pretty good. The album didn't go platinum until the 1990's and by then, the group were stars once again on their own terms.
I sure missed cause my 1st exposure to the Beasties was "Intergalatic". I loved "Sabotage" and "Sure Shot" when the radio played it and of course the hits of License to Ill came to me during my days watching MTV's retro shows. When I saw this album, I thought why in the heck is this so highly praised compared to License to Ill, which was one of several albums that crossed hip-hop over to the masses.
Yet I not only bought it, I legally downloaded the 20th anniversary edition, which breaks up "B-Boy Bouillabaisse" into separate tracks. 25 years later, it still holds up because of its production that appeals to music fans of all ages and has a mix of irreverent lyrics that'll keep you entertained. It showed that the Beastie Boys were willing to take risks and it'd become a hallmark of their career afterwards (esp. on "Check Your Head" when they picked up their instruments even more)
On a flipside, it also helped alienate the Beasties from the rap community as the alternative crowd began to check for them more and more. It's a reason why when MTV did their greatest hip-hop groups in 2007, they were only honorable mention instead of Top 10 which is crazy considering their impact on music.
Either way, the Beasties will live forever and this album is a reminder why some albums have to be appreciated more as time passes. Thank you MCA, Mike D, Ad-Rock, the Dust Brothers and Mario C for this masterpiece that helps shows the best of hip-hop as a part of musical tradition.