Beastie Boys 30 Year Tribute: Licensed to Ill Essays
Intro by Darren Selector, Grit Rock
Thirty years ago the Beastie Boys released their debut album Licensed to Ill.
At that time in my life, I don’t think I had heard any hip-hop. My pops was a fan of new wave so I knew Blondie’s “Rapture,” (which counts as hip-hop in my book, actually) and maybe I heard the Clash on some the mixtapes he recorded while listening to Seattle’s short-lived KYYX radio at work? I dunno.
In 1986 my music collection consisted of storybook 45’s, Songs That Tickle Your Funnybone, bootleg Beatles cassettes (thanks Mom), and the first music I bought with my own money… Weird Al. I have a vague subliminal memory of possibly hearing some hip-hop coming out of someone’s trunk in the Wapato Park parking lot too, but even then I wouldn’t have recognized it as hip-hop, it would have sounded alien.
About that time, my younger brother became fixated on buying a tape for some band we hadn’t heard of. He pitched it to me and the neighbor kid. He was down, I was skeptical, but I signed on. We pooled our money and walked Gravelly Lake Drive down to the Kmart and bought Licensed to Ill. We took it back to our tree fort and put it in the boom box.
“Huh? Alright, what is this now? I don’t think I get it.”
They fast forwarded to the end of side one for “Fight for Your Right (to Party)!”
“Oh hell yes! I get it now.”
Licensed to Ill was one of the fastest selling debuts in history and remains one of the highest selling albums of all time. In the peak Puff Daddy days, Licensed to Ill was outselling Billboard top 200 artist Mase. Licensed to Ill is the hip-hop Dark Side of the Moon, sales wise. It’d appear in the top 200 every now again if it wasn’t relegated to the catalog charts.
Sales don’t make a great record, though. Fuck “Fight for Your Right,” “Girls,” and the solos on “No Sleep Til Brooklyn?” They all suck! But it was an important record because it turned the suburbs, and the greater world, on to an emerging musical style that had been going on for years in Brooklyn and other pockets around the country. I needed those crossover sellouts to introduce me to a world I may have never known. I listened the record incessantly and, for years, I would continuously make mix-tapes including all of Rick Rubin’s golden era classics (mostly the Beastie Boys).
But it wasn’t all musical lechery. The Beasties were actually bad ass lyricists and musical visionaries. Over the years since they released their debut, their discography has gotten deep.
I phased out making mixtapes when I got my first cd burner in 2000. So I compiled my favorite songs onto CD’s. And then playlists. Some things don’t change. I compile my favorite tracks.
About a year ago I compiled my favorite Beastie Boys songs into a playlist and posted it on Facebook to bask in the glory of a playlist well selected. I asked my friends to share short write ups on their favorite songs from the playlist. Like the dusted out-monkey drinking-bums they is, many applied, but only a few supplied, so here’s some reflections on some of my favorite Beastie Boys songs. In honor of the thirtieth anniversary of Licensed to Ill last month, we’ll start there.
PS: RIP MCAdam Yauch
PPS: I have a joke I like to tell to old, crusty classic rock guys on the rap is crap spectrum: My favorite Led Zeppelin album is Licensed to Ill.
“Posse in Effect” James Walkden
This is a pretty great set of rhymes. Even better is the version from Soul Train. That must have been some pretty heavy validation for some upper class Jewish kids. They pull it off with flair and style while the audience treats them with the respect they deserve. Everybody is having fun from the stage right to the back row. Fun fact: Picture Abe Vigoda as Sal Tessio in The Godfather. I’m roughly the same age that Abe was when he filmed that role.
“Hold it Now, Hit It” by Amanda Supenia
This album came out when I was 10. It was the first time I had experienced anything like it, growing up in a small town full of rednecks. I was hooked instantly and Beastie Boys’ music became a soundtrack growing up and still is to this day.
“Hold it Now, Hit It” is my fave song on this album and takes me back in time every time I hear it. From listening to it secretly on my Walkman in grade school, to blaring it while out scouting for places to skate in high school, trips to the beach, all the shit we pulled while this was playing. It was the ultimate delinquent song. I could go on and on and on. Looking forward to many more new memories made with this song playing. I am sure that there will be many more.
I have synesthesia (basically means, for the kind I have, that I can hear color). This song takes me all over the place that way, the variety of instruments, voices, beats; it’s a very colorful song.
Put this all together, and how can I not love Beastie Boys and this song?
“Slow and Low” by Matt Ashworth
When you’re a 6’5, 150 pound 7th grader who’s face is constantly covered in snot due to climate-based allergies, one of the best ways to feel invincible is walking the halls and exteriors of the school singing the lyrics to Licensed to Ill with your buddies. Please, please trust me on this fact.
“Slow and Low” ranks among my top three songs on the album. The big, slow beat slayed all three times I saw them play it live. If you’re looking for the exact best moment in the song, it’s at 2:42-2:43 when MCA delivers the line “cash on delivery like a C-O-D.”
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