November 1985 saw the Beastie Boys drop on the unsuspecting world a hip-hop rock crossover classic debut album.
In reality the album was a slow burner and not an immediate success. I can recall the album sleeve hanging in Tempest Records (Birmingham, England) window months before I actually heard it.
One afternoon I caught the bus into the City Centre and a gang of lads with a huge Ghetto Blaster got onboard. They blasted out Licensed To Ill. It sounded just damn fresh.
You really didn’t know what to make of the Beastie Boys back in 1986. They hadn’t shown the artistic / experimental mastery of Paul’s Boutique or the low-fi sheer brilliance of Check Your Head yet. With RUN DMC’s – Walk This Way still very current it would be easy (and wrong) to dismiss the outfit as copycats.
When I got round to listening to Licensed To Ill properly it blew RUN DMC away – totally. You just wouldn’t listen to a whole RUN DMC album, it was a chore whereas Licensed To Ill was raw generational divide fun all the way.
Licensed To Ill blew up to huge proportions ironically fuelled by over the top tabloid reports. In 1987 the Beastie Boys were just everywhere. A hip-hop Pistols almost. Thankfully with time the tabloid fury is a distant memory and the music stands up on its own merits.
When the video for Fight For Your Right (To Party) aired on The Chart Show millions connected with the goofy tomfoolery. The band just had something magical.
Rhymin And Stealin mixes a loop from Led Zep’s When The Levee Breaks and a guitar lick from Black Sabbaths Sweat Leaf and a cheeky vocal lift from The Clash’s I Fought The Law. On first listen the musical style is so new you question what you are actually listening to. Hip-Hop vocal delivery had never been like this. The Beastie Boys take turns ranting into the mic. When the three very different voices link to shout “Ali Barber and the 40 thieves” it gells to form a new style of Hip-Hop. MCA, Ad Rock & Mike D sound like brothers / partners in Hip-Hop crime. One can only reflect right now on how the two remaining Beastie Boys must feel like they’ve lost a brother. A storming album opener.
The New Style is fast, slick, clean, crunchy. Rick Rubin delivers a fresh production. Scratches, backtracks, deft riffs and stuffed jam packed full of classic lines. “Father to many, married to none, and in case you’re unaware I carry a gun”…
She’s Crafty kicks off with Ad Rock’s scream “Wellll” and Led Zep’s The Ocean. Fast interjections from the Brooklyn three. A witty and somehow affectionate tale about a sassy skateboard stealing girl.
Posse In Effect conjures up imagery of a hot New York day. The track is fried and steeped in more now legendary Hip-Hop lines.
Slow Ride offers a sublime sample of Low Rider (War). “They got a committee to get me off the block, cos I say my rhymes loud and I say ’em none stop”. The track breaks down half way and switches its delivery hinting at the unique musical understanding portrayed on 1989’s Pauls’ Boutique.
Girls is probably a track the Beastie Boys would like to distance themselves from. That said it’s still a track that will probably make you beam. Over the top and unashamedly daft.
(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) is a stone cold classic track. Who doesn’t know every single word to it? Easy to knock, but it brings together rock and hip-hop in a way RUN DMC and Aerosmith could really only dream about. Dream On Aerosmith!
No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn from its Motorhead acknowledging title and Kerry King (Slayer) guitar riff in a total equal to the previous track. Frat anthem that goes beyond American culture and wins over the whole world. The Beastie Boys play Spinal Tap Hip-Hop and they know it. It works on many levels.
Paul Revere with time has become a legendary Beastie Boys track. If you care to watch the Awesome, I Shot That Live DVD you will see the crowd sing the whole track like, say, the crowd at a Robbie Williams gig would sing Angels. Every line is a classic, go listen to it…
Hold It Now, Hit It continues the winning formula “I come out at night cos I sleep all day, well I’m the King Ad Rock and he’s MCA”. If it aint broke…
Brass Monkey with its Wild Sugar sample sees the three interject as one. This three-headed Hip Hop monster knows no boundaries. Sounding like the world was at their feet how they conjured up this level of confident sound as relative unknowns before the albums release defies belief.
Slow And Low has a bold, laid back but still very in-your-face delivery. The track now always reminds me of how welll they delivered it at Reading Festival in 1993. Forget Nirvana, the best outfit played in the afternoon on that day.
Time To Get Ill scratches the album to a close. Deep beats and, as ever, a three pronged vocal attack. The album snuffs itself out by letting the beats take over. MCA, Ad Rock and Mike D take a breather, they deserved it…