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Beastie Boys 30 Year Tribute: Paul’s Boutique Essays

Posted by December 19th, 2016 3 Comments »

Intro by Darren Selector, Grit Rock

This is my take: hip-hop started with DJs.

People had been rhymin’ long before hip-hop, but when DJs started to repurpose their turntables and vinyl in ways never intended, that’s when the genre was born.

“You’re playing two songs at a time? You’re playing a few bars of music over and over again? What?”

“You’re manually moving the vinyl back and forth?! Scratching? Oh, HELL no!”

The ideas were so fresh a whole new genre of music (and culture) was born… a genre built on manipulating records.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t always possible or practical in the studio. Sugarhill Records used a studio band to simulate the records Grandmaster Flash would mix in his routines and, when Rick Rubin produced the Beastie Boys debut album Licensed to Ill, the DJ might’ve done the scratches; the instrumentals were created with tape loops.

The sampler, which started appearing the late 80’s, did all of the DJ’s hard work in a convenient box. So when they showed up to produce the Beastie Boys second album, Paul’s Boutique, the Dust Brothers brought crates and crates of classic rock, 70’s soul, and hip-hop vinyl, as well as a few samplers. (The production duo layered and layered so many samples that when local radio station KEXP played nothing but the songs sampled for Paul’s Boutique it was a day’s worth of programming.) As a result, listening to Paul’s Boutique is like looking at the origins of hip-hop – late 70’s NYC city park DJs – through a kaleidoscope.

Two years after the release of Paul’s Boutique in 1991, Biz Markie vs. Gilbert O’Sullivan forever changed hip-hop from its origin of creating by re-appropriating other’s recorded material. In that short window of time – from the introduction of the sampler to the ruling against the use of un-cleared samples – three sampladelic masterpieces were released, De La Soul’s 3 Feet and Rising, Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet, and Paul’s Boutique.

Paul’s Boutique came out on my last day of summer school. I rode the bus for the first time to go buy it, then brought it home and played it right way on my sister’s pastel lavender boom box. It’s a dense record… I still catch new things all the time. The microphone interplay is insane. All hip-hop groups have their routines where they pass the mic between one another. “Yo how many bars I got on this one?” Bars? The Beasties don’t give each other a chance. They finish each other rhymes like lyrical hot potato.

Three different voices, three different perspectives over a record collection worth of beats, this is super saturated hyper color overload as a hip-hop record.

“Shake Your Rump” by Patrick Gibbs

I am tired. I am weary. I have had too many conversations as of late that have had at their core the topic of life not exactly being fun anymore. What happened? I used to be a fool. I used to have fun. I used to embrace Tuesday night just as firmly as I did Friday and Saturday nights. I could stay out late and wake up early and function at nearly 83 percent any day of the week, which in comparison to my peers was still better than they were on a good day. Now, not so much.

I do have my moments. But they are fewer and more often than not are inspired by outside forces. The fire from within smolders, but doesn’t burn. And that is where “Shake Your Rump” by the Beastie Boys comes into play.

The song, like me if left to myself, is dumb, so very dumb. The rhymes are there. They flow. The Beastie Boys throw down. (Is that a thing? Maybe.) But really, what the hell is this?

“So like a pimp I’m pimpin’
I got a boat to eat shrimp in
Nothing wrong with my leg just B-boy limpin’

Good lord. I can’t stand it. The song needs help. And that is where life and input from others come in to offer an assist and a new perspective.

On a quiet Saturday morning last year I was sitting reading nothing important on my phone and passing the time watching shadows draw across the floor. Bored. I was so bored. But nearly content as this is my life. “Sigh,” I thought. And then a party erupted around me.

Drum roll, and then . . .

“Now I rock a house party at the drop of a hat
I beat a biter down with an aluminum bat”

And then the dancers. First my girlfriend bouncing all across the room followed by her twin 8 year old boys. Arms waving, hips shaking, legs quaking. Hipping and hopping, kicking and flopping. What the hell happened? And could I resist it? I watched this passively, my eyes following the action while my mouth tried to resist displaying a smile. I’m not fun. Not anymore. But, but, then the bottom dropped out. If you know the song, you know when.

“It’s the joint”

What one half second ago had been a frantic, limbs flailing, bodies sailing whirl of activity in an instant downshifted into one of the most epically slow-motion sights I have witnessed. WHIRRRLLLLLLLL. And smile I did. And fun I did have.

“Shake Your Rump,” and much of the Beastie Boys’ catalog is dumb and stupid to me. I didn’t grow up with it. I never grew into it. I don’t get it. Maybe I’m too serious or, god forbid, too set in my ways. I don’t think I will ever get it . . . unless assisted by others. Then, and maybe only when aided by my girlfriend and her boys, will I say without a doubt that one of the greatest moments in recorded history follows immediately after the Beastie Boys throw down the line, “It’s the joint.”

It is, in fact, the joint. And my girlfriend and her boys are an instant party.

“Egg Man” by Mark Burkhart

I remember a high school debate in 1988 about who were considered “worthy” bands. Someone attempted to discredit the Beastie Boys, referring to them as “one hit wonders.” My reply was something to that of, “they sure put their mark on the music world with their first album and I’m pretty sure they’ll be back.” My comment was laughed at and only one person came to my aid (Thank You Chris Hunt). One year later, one of the greatest albums ever made was released.

When Darren presented me with the opportunity to write about a Beastie Boys song, I immediately knew I wanted a song from Paul’s Boutique. The album is an innovative masterpiece. While bands like the Sugarhill Gang, the Gap Band, and others used sampling in their songs, sampling of this magnitude had never been thought of: to make an album entirely comprised of multiple samples of other songs.

The groups’ knowledge in music showcased in the sampling is impressive in its own right. Spanning decades and leaping genre canyons, no artist was safe from the ears of the Beastie Boys and the production of the Dust Brothers. Today sampling is easy to do, any home computer combined with any one of the plethora of free recording programs available on the internet and any dedicated hobbyist could be the next Girl Talk. Don’t get me wrong, sampling is still an art form; however, the method of sampling was much more difficult in 1988 simply because of the technology, rather, lack of, at the time.

The song I chose off of Paul’s Boutique is “Egg Man.” Allow me to explain why.

The Beastie Boys became part of my life at very influential age in my life, 15. Licensed to Ill was always within hand’s reach the summer of ’87 when we were living in Eureka, California – a lovely tourist town on the Pacific Ocean hidden among the mighty Redwoods. Two of my friends had drivers’ licenses AND cars. What this meant for unsupervised, yet reasonably responsible enough teenagers, was freedom and what a better way to practice freedom than to water balloon people. We water ballooned any abled person who moved. Old Town was the hunting grounds and the targets were normally tourists, moms and dads, classmates, lovers on strolls. (Remember, the oldest of my group is 18). Once we water ballooned this guy who looked just like Steve Winwood. He chased us for about four blocks.

We graduated from water ballooning after Eureka’s finest initiated a stop on a one white, 1979 Pontiac Trans-AM, occupied by four males, meeting the description of suspects involved in what was later described as a water assault. Thankfully, the victim chose not to press charges, and we all came away from the experience with a new understanding of freedom.

Fast forward two years later and I’m sitting in my friend’s bedroom in Washington, listening to Paul’s Boutique for the first time and this bass line comes on. I was very much into Primus at the time and had a fever for more bass, and yes, the only cure was, more bass. I had no idea what song this bass was from; however, because of PB, I learned who Curtis Mayfield was without having ever seen Super Fly. With more samples from the likes of Public Enemy and Sly and the Family, the Beasties confirmed that some white kids from Brooklyn who had only released a punk and a mainstream rap/rock/party album had true hip-hop taste and could make an album unlike anything ever heard.

The use of samples from Jaws and E.T. proves just how imaginative and limitless “Egg Man,” and the entire album is. The lyrics, “Scoped him with my scopes he had no hair. Launched that shot and he was caught out there,” instantly took me back to one particular event in Eureka. She was a lady of the evening, if you will. She was applying a new layer of lipstick and as my friend navigated his lowered, blue Chevy Love around a corner, I launch a balloon, not really expecting to make contact because she’s across 5 lanes of traffic; however I connect…with a head shot. The upside (I think) to this amazing act of marksmanship for the victim is the balloon didn’t break. It just wrapped around 65 percent of her head causing a lipstick smear across 38 percent of her face. I would once again like to publically apologize to said water balloon victims of my misguided youth. Teenagers! Am I right?? Recently my suspicions were confirmed that the BBoys truly did egg people from atop buildings during recording and this is indeed where the inspiration for “Egg Man” came from. It shouldn’t come as surprise though, after all the Beasties were just some punks from Brooklyn. “Egg Man” opened me to new music I would have never found at that time. And while they egged and I ballooned it, seemed as if Adam, Mike and Adam participated in some really good times in my life.

And I think that’s an element that helped immortalize the Beastie Boys with their fans and the rest of the music world. They were just typical post-adolescents who played practical jokes on society in general and videotaped themselves and friends in made up random scenarios. Only they did it while making records and rapping about it. Also, it just happens that the Beastie Boys were musical geniuses who knew they were ahead of their time who had foresight and the patience to plant a music gift seed.

At the time of its release in 1988, “Egg Man” and the other 22 tracks where considered a commercial failure. Twenty-six years later, Paul’s Boutique is now cited as one of the most important albums of all time.

“High Plains Drifter” by Vikki Nyborg Peltomaa

For more than thirty-two years, I was a junior high teacher. During much of that time I was raising four children. All of them were very interested in the music of the 80’s and 90’s. I always felt that by having children who were engaged in music, I was more able to connect with my students at school.

Some music was more popular in our house than other. Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, the Cure, and most definitely, the Beastie Boys were regularly on the playlist. On many occasions, my husband and I drove our older two or three kids (and friends) to concerts so they could enjoy the music in person. One of the first, the Beastie Boys were playing. (In retrospect, we were probably far too accommodating parents than we should have been, but that is an entirely different story.)

Music flowed from each of their four bedrooms virtually every moment of the day, and, in general, I also enjoyed the music.

My oldest son adored the Beastie Boys from the time he discovered them in grade school until this day at 41. He knows every album and every song. He has introduced them to his two sons. The Beastie Boys are a vital part of his life.

Which song do I like the best? That is difficult. The group evolved substantially over their very long career. I liked the boldness of their beginnings, but I love the intense conviction in their maturity. Two examples would be “High Plains Drifter” and “Stand Together.”

I grew up at the end of the British Revolution, and “Drugs, Sex, and Rock and Roll” were basic themes of music of the late 60’s and 70’s. I have always loved a wide genre of music; however, during that time, I was drawn more to folk music and in any case I never discussed my musical preferences with my parents nor did they reach out to confer with me about my listening choices.

In any case, I never discussed my musical preferences with my parents nor did them nor did they reach out to confer with me about my listening choices. My children were different. They always wanted to talk to me about an artist, a group, a particular song. They loved music. They practically breathed sound. I was receptive to their enthusiasm, and I tried to be somewhat familiar with the current playlists.

One song that intrigued me was “High Plains Drifter.” The title alone got my attention. It was a reference to a Clint Eastwood movie I had seen, and as I heard the song, I realized the BB had used the movie’s title and theme for the song. Now, I wondered did the Beastie Boys try to draw in some of the older generation, by using main stream popular movies and used samples from established rockers, such as the Eagles, ZZ Top, Loggins and Messina, and the Ramones. The quick tempo of the drum beat stays constant. Each word is precisely enunciated. It hooked me. The rebellious theme flows throughout the song. Robbing, speeding, kiting, jailing, escaping, pocketing, betting, winning . . . . Well, rebellion is not a primary message I wanted to instill in my children during their formative years, but, frankly I was not really concerned that the message of their music would have any more power on them than some of the rebellious messages in the music of my era had on me. It was a positive way to express those normal feelings of rebelling that come with maturing.

“The Sounds of Science” by Jeff Richardson

My first exposure to the underground Beastie Boys sound came not from MTV or a chance meeting in a record store, it came from the hands of my coolest friend. The day Kris handed me Paul’s Boutique I was flabbergasted. At the time all I really knew about hip-hop could fit in a Young MC-sized milk crate.

This record was revelatory. Here were three dudes, combing any and all sources for samples and throwing hundreds of them onto one record. To my wannabe literary mind, this was like alchemy. I’d read somewhere that Shakespeare stole enormously from earlier works, and yet the output was a play that transcended everything else.

Now I’d discovered a real-life contemporary example, delivered by three cool dudes I could relate to. They finished each other’s sentences, just like me and my friends. They wove dirty jokes AND intellectual references into their conversation, just like me and my friends. They seemed to live inside a homemade fantasy world filled with crazy characters, the same way me and my friends did when we played Dungeons and Dragons.

The Sounds of Science is the quintessential track on the quintessential Beastie Boys record, the Platonic Ideal of the whole damn thing. I was in. I’d heard “Fight for Your Right”, ‘Ill Communication’, and a few others, but this record tossed those out the car window, smacked me upside the head, and handed me a cigarette. It required me to listen and listen, over and over again, trying to decipher just what they were saying and what it all meant. It was like sitting down to read the liner notes to a Phil Collins song, only way more fun. Chock full of radical sounds, this track made me want to rap too, to produce something equally as cool. Even though I never got up the courage to get into the hip-hop game, when I listened to Paul’s Boutique, it felt like I was already there.

Check out some of these lyrics: Expanding the horizon and expanding the parameter/Expanding the rhymes of sucka MC amateurs

How fucking cool is that? These guys were smart! They weren’t ashamed to show off their knowledge at the same time they were celebrating hip-hop culture.

Ponce De Leon/constantly on/the fountain of youth not Robotron/Peace is a word I’ve heard before/So move and move and move up on the dance floor

I’d read a book about Ponce De Leon at this time. I loved Robotron. I was a peacenik just learning that “peace” meant “see you later”. I loved watching people dance but was too shy to do it myself. It was as if this track was giving me permission to be myself, to fully let go, to just do whatever it is I felt like doing.

Sure I probably wouldn’t ever be a rapper like Ad-Rock. Sure I probably wouldn’t ever be a rock star, or have a best-selling novel, or make movies in Hollywood. But it didn’t matter! Because here were three totally awesome, nerdy-ass dudes doing the same kind of goofy yet awesome stuff I wanted to be doing. And it gave me hope.

“The Sounds of Science” still gives me hope, even now. Even now MCA is somewhere other than Earth, even now that I’m old and never really “made it”, even after divorce and family estrangement, even after everything shitty I’ve ever done or had done to me, this track encourages me to groove to a different beat and have fun while I’m about it.

Maybe Paul’s Boutique isn’t your favorite. Maybe you caught the back half of Johnny Ryall at a party and think it’s just a silly novelty thing. You’d be wrong. This is B Boy style from a completely different perspective. Put down the Lil Wayne for just a second and give this track a listen. Then start the album from the beginning and let that shit get you. Cause it is dope.

“I’m going out first class not going out coach
Rock my Adidas never rock Fila
I do not sniff the coke I only smoke sinsemilla”

“Car Thief” by Gabriel M Pierce

Pop music has a striking ability to make antisocial and, yes, criminal actions sound compelling and even appealing, at least for the duration of the song. “Car Thief” is a more than worthy heir to this rich legacy. Paul’s Boutique is the Beastie’s most decadent and indulgent album, which they managed to make work in its favor. This song arguably exemplifies those qualities more than any other track on the album. Most of the lyrics revolve around recreational drug use, classic hip-hop boasting/disses, and pop culture references. In this context, the lines that specifically mention being a car thief can be viewed as an overarching metaphor for all sorts of outlandish, reckless behavior in general. As for the music, the several different samples utilized create a unique texture and groove that has rarely been heard elsewhere. With the copyright laws surrounding sampling nowadays, it is unlikely we will hear hip-hop quite like this again. However, what sells the song most of all to me, beyond the lyrics and beats, is the enthusiastic delivery of the Beasties. It’s easy to hear how fun they’re having, and the results are infectious, making it a pleasure to follow along with the free association rhymes and loose narrative. It adds up to one of the weirdest and most creative over the top party songs ever. Understandably, the Beastie Boys would largely veer away from such potentially offensive lyrical extremes as they matured and developed a stronger sense of social responsibility. In hindsight it also made more sense to change directions than attempt to top the peak of rambunctious attitude displayed on their debut and Paul’s Boutique, which remains in a league of its own.

“Shadrach” by Amy “Harris” Watkins

Probably one of my favorite songs on Paul’s Boutique. I was 15 in 1989. It was the year my family moved from Arizona to Connecticut, then Connecticut to New Mexico. My mother was in a super crazy relationship with a man that was almost 20 years younger than she. I hated him, other than the fact that he had this bad ass stereo system in his full size child molester van. Woofers, subs, tweets, and an amp. Pioneer. He was always “bumpin’ new shit by NWA.” I on the other hand liked more punk rock bands and was always trying to get him to play Black Flag or the Dead Kennedys. That shit doesn’t sound right with a ton of bass….and then I scored a dubbed tape of Paul’s Boutique. I loved the whole album, but “Shadrach” stood out. When I was younger, I went to church every Sunday. Not because my family took me, but because somehow my mother managed to get the church bus to pick us up and take us. We weren’t privileged kids. We grew up poor, my mother was a bartender, and there certainly wasn’t “Christian values” being taught at our home; however, I knew some things about church. The lyric, “I once was lost but now I’m found / the music washed over you and you’re one with the sound” made me feel like a little badass. I hated the fear church instilled in me, and I hated judging my mother for our family not fitting into that mold. This song was literally a middle finger in the face of the church, the preacher, and Mr. Darnold, the driver of our church bus. Later in life when I was 25, I had a crush on a guy named Shad. He was a good Baptist. I was a momma by this time, struggling with bouts of rebellion and trying to grow up against my will. I remember wanting him to just party with me. Once. I’d change him forever. He rode with me to a mutual friend’s house and I played “Shadrach” and asked him if he knew the song. He didn’t. However, he knew the biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Figures. Middle finger in his face, too.

Beastie Boys 30 Year Tribute: Check Your Head Essays

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