Licensed To Ill

Licensed To Ill

Beastie Boys (1986)

This album needs to be approached delicately, because it’s so over the top so as to be controversial to this day. If this hip-hop trio were assessing the impact of this record at age 20, they’d probably make some impulsive, arrogant and tasteless comparison, like how they were reverse Jackie Robinsons, obliterating the racial (and economic) barriers of a cultural pastime and establishing themselves as its creative frontrunners.

In all frankness, Licensed To Ill is hacky, sexist, ignorant and violent – but the key is that all the nonsense the Beasties spew is quite clearly a trashy satire of hip-hop in general. (If you need further proof, they initially started as a feminist four-piece hardcore punk band with friend Kate Shellenbach on drums.) These three middle-class Jewish teenagers exploded the rap genre from the inside out, while celebrating their own crude macho irreverence. They mythologize and heighten everything to the point of exhaustion, from their plethora of esoteric dance moves to documenting the nerdiness of their mundane middle-class lifestyles. Their skilled rhyming technique doesn’t go unheralded for more than fifteen lines at a time, nor do they EVER miss an opportunity to introduce Mike D. A laundry list of drinks is checked off, along with things a conniving ex stole from the apartment (”She’s Crafty”). The gamut of self-aware gimmicks could go on and on. But the icing on all of this effrontery is the equally important production of Rick Rubin. After the rap-rock crossover of Raising Hell, this record took it a step further and crafted all-original heavy metal riffs to use as musical backdrop (notably in the epochal singles “Fight For Your Right To Party” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”). To be sure, there are still many clever samples and references for rock historians as well. The LP is equal parts aggression and goofy humor, and it works perfectly.

This music is male adolescence in its ugliest, most ridiculous form. But it makes for great, influential, iconic and freaking hilarious art. Part of mainstream acceptance in the emotionally adolescent 1980s was pushing the envelope, and holy hell did the Beastie Boys ever do that.

Key track: “Rhymin’ And Stealin’”

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