Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
The impact of the Beastie Boys is hard to overstate. They are musical royalty. Comprised of Adam “King Ad-Rock” Horowitz, the late Adam “MCA” Yauch, and Mike “Mike D” Diamond, they are one of the most iconic groups to ever record music, with one of the most distinctive and creative sounds heard during the last 50 years. And, not to put too fine of a point on it, they are credited with introducing hip-hop music to the white audience, making it acceptable for young white kids and teens to listen to the form of music that was spawned in the Bronx during the late ’70s. And they did it singlehandedly with their first album, Licensed to Ill, in late 1986.
Licensed To Ill remains an extremely enjoyable, but odd duck of an album. Though it has enjoyed monumental success over the years, at the time of its release, some viewed it as insincere. The group members were ostensibly outsiders to the hip-hop scene, and some argued that Licensed To Ill was lampooning hip-hop music. That outsiders like the Beastie Boys were able to create such an enduring album is part of what makes Licensed to Ill a classic.
The talk that the Beastie Boys were the first white rap group that “rapped like they were white” has always been misguided. Their debut LP is supremely reverential to their rap influences, like Run-DMC, Spoonie Gee, K-Rob & Rammellzee, and the Cold Crush Brothers. Indeed, Licensed to Ill comes from a place of love. It remains pretty much an old school hip-hop album where they rap over Led Zeppelin records instead of ’70s disco. And, to boot, they rap over their fair share of ’70s disco as well.
In the long and decorated career of the Beastie Boys as a group, Licensed to Ill is an interesting first step. Yes, it’s absurd and silly in all the ways that you’d expect a largely ironic frat-rap album from the mid-1980s would be. But it still has a lasting charm that’s impossible to shake. It’s kind of beside the point whether or not the album was ever meant to be taken seriously, because much of it is firmly rooted in solid, old school hip-hop sensibilities, and the music stands on its own.