Classics Revisited: Beastie Boys - 'License To Ill'

35 years ago, a trio of teens dropped an album on a relatively new record company with a producer whose name was relatively obscure. Today, that group, Beastie Boys, label Def Jam, and producer Rick Rubin, are often lauded for their influence and importance to the hip-hop/rap genre. And it all started with Licenced to Ill. James Pusey revisits the album on its anniversary.

There’s a reason why this record is so successful, having gone diamond in 2015: its endless, genre-defining creativity. Over 45 sample-filled minutes, Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D flex their ability to drop rhymes in a way that sounds playful, teenage, and just filled with chemistry. The clean production of the tracks is flawless, as Rubin blends rock-based instrumentals from the likes of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, with the hip-hop staples of scratches and cuts. The record just radiates the sound and energy the Beastie Boys are best known for.

However, despite the similarities across the album, each track stands out and holds up in its own right. From the pirate-like lifestyle brags on Rhymin’ & Stealin, to She’s Crafty’s detailing of the Boys encounter with a mischievous woman, to tales of the touring life on No Sleep Till Brooklyn. Perhaps one exception to this comes in the form of Girls, in which the Beastie Boys playfully rap misogynistic lyrics over a melody similar to that of Shout by the Isley Brothers. Whilst the song, in hindsight, seems disgusting and crude, when put against other lyrics on the album, and from other rappers at the time or now, it fits in with the genre. Whilst that says something about rap as a whole, it is still a song that the creators rightfully look back on with shame.

Some positive standout albums on the album include Fight For Your Right, the Beastie Boys song everyone knows. It is the ironically written, ultimate anthem of 80s teen rebellion, with the trio rapping about quarrels with their parents and hating school, over heavy rock guitar. Paul Revere is a re-imagining of Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D meeting as outlaws in the Wild West, with a scaled-back production behind the track that strongly punctuates the story being told here. Slow Ride is another classic example of Licensed to Ill’s strong tracklist. The Beastie Boys drop typical rhymes about drinking and general mischief, playfully accompanied by War’s Low Rider hook. The New Style brings samples, cuts and breaks into a perfect balance with the trio’s creative brags about the hip-hop lifestyle.

"As the first rap album to top the Billboard 200, it has been often praised as one of the greatest albums of that genre"

Many hip-hop and rock artists have since claimed the Beastie Boys, and in particular Licensed to Ill, as their great influences. As the first rap album to top the Billboard 200, it has been often praised as one of the greatest albums of that genre. It's fitting that the record has been sampled countless times, given its innovative use of samples. In a genre created and built upon by African Americans across the USA, this record, created by three white, Jewish kids, deserves as much praise as the best of the best in hip- hop. 35 years on and sounding as fresh as ever, the Beastie Boys’, Rick Rubin’s and Def Jam’s successes were sparked by this record. And it would be no surprise if it is still as well-praised in another 35 years time.

Written by: James Pusey

Edited by: Gemma Cockrell

In-article image courtesy of @ThatEricAlper via Twitter.