Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (1989)
Strap on your legwarmers, pop on your shoulder pads and set your hair dryer to stun as we take a retrospective look at our favourite 80s pop records and their influence on current styles.
The Beastie Boys who released Paul’s Boutique in July of 1989 were not yet the humanitarians they would be known as in their later years, nor were they the brats who released Licensed to Ill three years earlier. They were at a crossroads, splitting from their label Def Jam, and producer Rick Rubin, and rejected by the critical community as one-hit wonders after the overwhelming but restrictive success of their debut record. They were seen as the forebears of the frat rap movement, despite accidental anthem “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” being written with the intention to satirize the same frat boy party attitude. Facing more than the already large amount of pressure that comes with every sophomore release, the Beastie Boys moved west to work with the Dust Brothers; the result was a landmark record, one which would set the tone not only in the world of hip hop but for the Beastie Boys’ entire career.
Now approaching its 25th anniversary, the future greatest-of-all-time was a commercial failure on release. The Beasties came out with something sharper, smarter and more refined than that which came before it; wholly original, it was rejected by audiences. Multiple lyrical references were layered atop heavy sampling, going beyond mere name checking by developing rich foundations through association and reappropriation (paulsboutique.info can be seen as a precursor to rapgenius.com). Defined by this extreme use of sampling, the album would pave the way for sample-based acts like DJ Shadow, The Avalanches and Girl Talk, while simultaneously setting a seemingly unattainable benchmark for the subgenre. “Looking Down The Barrel of a Gun” and “The Sounds of Science” demand repeat listens with their heavy texturing and lyrical technique, while “Shake Your Rump” and “Hey Ladies” instantly stand out as some of the Beasties’ greatest singles; album closer “B-Boy Boullabaisse” epitomizes the whole thing in a nine-section, twelve-and-a-half minute suite.
The Beastie Boys and Dust Brothers’ sampling mastery on Paul’s Boutique was something of a double-edged sword, inspiring artists to experiment with remixing and sampling while also provoking record companies to intensify their copyright protection. Paul’s Boutique is cavalier in its pillaging of The Beatles’ discography (“The Sounds of Science” alone samples “Back in the USSR”, “The End”, “When I’m 64”, and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, both original and reprise). 18 years later, the RZA would have to resort to sampling a Jimmy Ponder cover of “My Guitar Gently Weeps” for Wu Tang Clan’s “The Heart Gently Weeps”, after falsely claiming he had landed the first ever cleared Beatles sample.
Paul’s Boutique was not only monumental in the world of hip hop, it would also set the tone for the Beasties’ entire career. The jokes were scarce, but it never dragged; demanding respect without taking itself too seriously. More importantly, it acknowledged the actions of the past while simultaneously rejecting them; representing the second act of the life of the formerly ignorant male. Their post-Licensed to Ill reputation was one that they had earned – with a tour that featured women dancing in cages beside giant inflatable penises for an album originally titled Don’t Be A Faggot – and yet they had been rewarded for it commercially. Diamond, Yauch and Horovitz were faced with a decision those few young men who finally arrive at adulthood must face. Instead of ignoring the past, the Beastie Boys accepted it and made strides to improve themselves, going on to become important feminist and LGBTQ allies, and human rights activists.
In their music, they would acknowledge the ignorance they displayed in their youth, later apologizing in an open letter to Time Out New York for the original homophobic title of Licensed to Ill and lyrics they now deemed offensive; MCA became known for his involvement in the Tibetan independence movement and spoke out against stereotyping Muslims as terrorists during a lifetime achievement award speech at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, while Ad-Rock called attention to sexual abuse at music festivals at the same awards show the following year.
Paul’s Boutique is the turning point, the beginning of the greatest and most significant portion of the Beastie Boys’ careers. Pushing boundaries while honing their craft, the Beastie Boys acknowledged the mistakes of the past and actively worked to correct them, demanding a higher level of respect and producing the best work of their career in the process. It’s a testament to the changes you have the power to make, while also being one of the richest records in music history.