This is an installment of a series of blogs where I revisit some classic albums that I love, used to love or has made an impact on pop culture whether I am familiar with it or not. You can also make suggestions on a classic album, and I may give a whirl and review it.
People who say hip-hop music isn’t art obviously have not heard the Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique.”
The Beastie Boys were riding high with radio play and MTV videos from their debut album, “Licensed To Ill,” when the started making their ambitious and unconventional follow-up in 1989. At the time, they hey were punk kids who found their calling in the hip-hop world. They were snotty, immature and had obnoxious voices — and they were amazing.
They had hit a nerve with their satirical party anthem, “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” a song they would later be disturbed by the fact people got the whole concept wrong. But they followed “Licensed To Ill” with an almost complete 180 degree change in music. “Paul’s Boutique” would not be the frat-boy party album that their debut unfortunately became associated with.
The odds kind of seemed against them for their second album. They were no longer on Def Jam, and no longer had Rick Rubin producing them. Yet, it seems this almost was an unburdening for them, because they followed suit with what was a game changer in how acts approached the hip-hop genre. They had the freedom to make an album they wanted, without a ton of pressure to simply re-create “Licensed To Ill,” which was the bone of contention with their previous label, Def Jam.
First off, “Paul’s Boutique” is an album that took sampling to a new level. This album is almost a collage of intertwining sounds, clips, samples and vocals. It’s still snotty, but mature in how the music is put together. It took sampling away from being a main hook in a song. It made layered samples create new and weirder music. About 105 songs were sampled for the album, so they had plenty of material to work with. Also helped that the Dust Brothers produced the album. They would also help Beck with “Odelay” years later with incorporating weird production into pop/rock songs.
But that change in musical dynamic was a gamble. A gamble they were willing to take. They were ambitious to do something different. That has a lot to do with Adam “MCA” Yauch, who was the Beastie Boy who saw the group pushing the boundaries of sound. Along with Beasties Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, many ideas started to fly. They were a group of creative minds that pushed the sound of their music to the outer limits. They would later incorporate live instrumentation and samples into their music, which would make for even greater sounds. This was a group that was not going to keep making the same thing over again.
Tracks like “Egg Man,” “Sounds of Science,” “High Plains Drifter” and “Hey Ladies” still remain some of my favorite tracks from this album. But what works is all the tracks blend seamlessly into one another, making the album as a whole solid. “Hey Ladies” also had a great music video for it.
Also, it’s a fun record. Say what you will, but the Beastie Boys were one of those groups that never lost their sense of humor. Off-kilter pop culture references litter all of their albums, things from Bob Dylan, J.J. Walker, The Beatles, “The Brady Bunch,” Johnny Cash, “Star Trek,” Jack Kerouac and basketball all make appearances in either lyrics or samples throughout their career.
Another thing about this album is that, with all the samples and weird references, it makes for a fantastic headphone album. To this day, I still find things in the music that I had not noticed before. But, and here is the genius of the Beastie Boys, it’s also a great record to put on at parties or a social setting. It even works at background music, workout music, whatever. It is a record that can be listened to in any situation.
The album ends with a weird, but awesome medley called “B-Boy Bouillabaisse.” Just a great, weird way to end the album.
This album also set the bar high for the trio. Each album that followed always tried to one-up the previous. While “Paul’s Boutique” was the album that changed the game, it is their follow-up, “Check Your Head” that remains my personal favorite, but just by a hair over “Paul’s Boutique.”
This album still holds up fantastically well. No other album will ever sound like this again. It got depth, a thing most people probably would not have associated with this band after only hearing their debut album. This is, to me, one of the greatest albums ever made.