Can’t Stand It

The Beastie Boys

The year was 1986. I was a few months into my sophomore year in high school when three idiotic frat boys from New York released an album that would change rap forever. They called it “Licensed To Ill”. I called it stupid and annoying.

Looking back on it now, I still consider the record immature and a bit on the ridiculous side. (The best description I’ve read of it that seems to fit the tight niche it has occupied in my mind for so long is “frat hip hop.”) Maybe the album was just a victim of the “radio has played this WAY too many times” syndrome, but I found that every time I heard “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” or “Brass Monkey”, all I wanted to do was flee the room. “Fight” to me was just three white guys yelling nonsensical rhymes over a distorted guitar riff, which itself wasn’t even that amazing or appealing. It was a very raw sound, but, were I able to say that I now appreciated it much more as an adult, I could be inclined to chalk my dislike at the time up to an uneducated ear.

But, honestly, I still don’t care for it much.

This being said, my opinion of the Beastie Boys did a quick 180 three years later, literally the second I heard the first note of “Hey Ladies” from “Paul’s Boutique”…..which is still a landmark and game-changing effort in rap to this very day. (Rolling Stone in 2003 put it at 156 in its list of the top 500 albums of all time.) I don’t believe I had ever heard sampling before, or, if I had, I never knew what it was or what it was called. But “Paul’s Boutique” had plenty of it…..105 songs were sampled in the making of the album, and you could be a complete music novice and still know it. I had never heard texture in music like that before; clips and beats pulled from other songs, pieces of music that I recognized molded to fit a particular passage, spoken word bits injected into breaks.

It is said the MTV created the short-attention-span generation. The Beastie Boys gave my ears ADD.

It was addictive, all those various bits and sounds, ground up and spread around each song like they were mix-ins at Cold Stone Creamery. With my first listen to “Hey Ladies,” I understood I was listening to something new and different…..and I LIKED it. To be honest, I could hardly believe this was the same rough, unpolished group that had screamed endlessly a few years before for me to fight for my rights, now, with much synthesized backing, imploring me to shake my rump-ahhhh.

Of course, it wasn’t all the Beastie’s doing. They had experience a ton of success with “Licensed To Ill,” but had come out of the process derided by many, seen as “one-hit wonders,” as a gimmick that couldn’t be repeated. Their relationship with original producer Rick Rubin and his label Def Jam fell apart, and so Michael Diamond, Adam Horovitz, and Adam Yauch retreated to Los Angeles to lay low and work on their next effort. Signing with Capitol/EMI and working on material for their next album, they fortuitously got introduced to the producers known as The Dust Brothers through a mutual friend named Matt Dike. The Dust Brothers had a bunch of instrumental tracks filled with samples that they had been working on to release as an album of their own, but Adam Yauch heard some of it and asked them to create the musical landscape for their sophomore album.

In an interview with Clash magazine, Yauch tells the story this way: “The Dust Brothers had a bunch of music together, before we arrived to work with them. As a result, a lot of the tracks come from songs they’d planned to release to clubs as instrumentals – “Shake Your Rump,” for example. They’d put together some beats, basslines and guitar lines, all these loops together, and they were quite surprised when we said we wanted to rhyme on it, because they thought it was too dense. They offered to strip it down to just beats, but we wanted all of that stuff on there. I think half of the tracks were written when we got there, and the other half we wrote together.”

Too dense????  Au contraire. I can’t imagine “Paul’s Boutique” any other way than just the way it is. It was something new and amazing and perfect in a world that needed to be shaken from its complacency and slapped upside the head with a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.

On May 4th, just ten short days ago, the world lost Adam “MCA” Yauch to cancer, and, even if the other two members continue to make music in some manner, the Beastie Boys as we know them are now through. It’s a sad moment, to be sure….after all, the raspy-voiced Yauch was probably my favorite Beastie. But it’s also a perfect moment…..one to reflect on that instant in 1989 when the Beastie Boys were musically reborn, somewhere between my left and right ears.

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2 Responses to “Can’t Stand It”

  1. By the time I heard Paul’s Boutique, I had already come to appreciate hip hop. Public Enemy’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions” had blown me away. But the density and range of sampling and the Beastie Boys’ tight tag teaming were a whole new level of “holy shit!”. When a band samples both Afrika Bambaata and David Bromberg, I’m impressed.

    • My entry point to Public Enemy came a little later, with “Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black.” That record AMAZED me, especially the nasty groove and gospel choir in “By The Time I Get To Arizona.” My brother had been into rap before me, and actually owned the vinyl of “Licensed To Ill.” I remember looking at that plane artwork up close quite a few times…..I miss the ol’ 12″ canvas!

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