Licensed to Ill album cover
Licensed to Ill

Beastie Boys

Def Jam Recordings

The pieces were there. If you listened to Afrika Islam’s show on WHBI, or bought the Ultimate Breaks & Beats records, or paid attention to Ed Koch, you could have put it together. But you didn’t, and these three guys did not seem like they would, either. Coming out of a B minus hardcore band, with two joke rap singles under their belt, why would they have known? Rick Rubin had done T-La Rock’s “It’s Yours,” which Ad Rock yelled on, but he wasn’t the key either. This album comes from God or Robert Moses or maybe the MTA. Everything that was good about NYC between 1972 and 1984 is jammed into this hoagie full of raspberries. Every dumb stoner knew that “When The Levee Breaks” was a giant drum track, but Rubin was the first to ignore Jimmy Page’s lawyers and loop it up. Apparently Rubin brought the metal, which brought them to MTV, and then to the world, but the rock bits are so irrelevant now they barely register. (Tone Lōc owes them a dollar for that, though.) It’s actually the rhyming that ages the best here, mostly because it managed to improve on the strategy of rapping as if you have no idea which team you’re on. The children of Run-DMC and Crazy Eddie kicked the football of rap two miles down the road. Ad Rock is top five dead or alive—the word “drop” by itself should get him into heaven. MCA was born with smoker’s cough and Mike D didn’t care enough to be as loud as his brothers. The album also begins with the Zeppelin record being scratched in. Scratching? What the fuck is scratching? Rhyming “city” and “titty”: very smart. If rapping makes your eyes bug out and the idea of sampling anything in the world seems too exciting for words, this is your album. The dumb shit is off-putting but about half of this is like the pyramids: inexplicable and eternal.

Sasha Frere-Jones

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