Happy 30th Anniversary to the Beastie Boys’ second studio album Paul’s Boutique, originally released July 25, 1989.
The road to making Paul’s Boutique was not an easy one, largely due to the all too familiar tale of the music powers that be and the artists not being on the same page. In the midst of the success of their 1986 debut Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys’ vision of where they wanted their careers to head were vastly different from that of producer Rick Rubin and Def Jam founder Russell Simmons. From 1986 to 1988, the Beastie Boys carved their own space in the frat boy hip-hop territory. Despite having hip-hop’s first Billboard #1 album, by 1987, the trio (Adam Horovitz a.k.a. Ad-Rock, Adam Yauch a.k.a. MCA and Mike Diamond a.k.a. Mike D) started to grow disenchanted with their situation.
According to their memoir The Beastie Boys Book, Horovitz said, “Things seemed to be going great, so we just rolled with it all. Going on tour, opening for Madonna, and then Run-D.M.C., it was like a dream that we didn’t even know existed for us that had come true. We’d become a big group of friends having ridiculous fun, making music, playing shows, traveling, and getting paid money to not actually have a job. But at a certain point, Rick and Russell started coming up with ideas and making decisions for us.”
Horovitz also claimed that Rubin chose the artwork for Licensed to Ill and re-produced their biggest hit, “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!),” without their consent. “We were too busy living the high life to pay attention. Big mistake. Kids, when someone’s making decisions for you, you can also bet that they’ve decided to take what’s yours,” Horovitz added.
Eventually they grew tired of that act, especially when Simmons suggested to Yauch that he continue his onstage persona of the drunk guy at the party offstage. The Beastie Boys became victims of the age old trick of being forced to tour endlessly, only to discover by the end of the tour that they were flat broke and they owed the label another album.
After a year of contentious lawsuits, the Beastie Boys signed a deal with Capitol Records with the groundbreaking Paul’s Boutique being their first record for the label. The group got a brand new lease on life and an opportunity to contribute to the making of the album. Produced by the Dust Brothers, Paul’s Boutique is a masterpiece that would not be able to be made today because of its groundbreaking use of samples. It would be financially prohibitive.
By the time the Dust Brothers and the Beastie Boys got together, most of the album’s tracks were instrumentals that the producers had been working on previously. In a 2009 interview with Clash magazine, Yauch stated, “They had a bunch of music together, before we arrived to work with them. As a result, a lot of the tracks on Paul’s Boutique come from songs they’d planned to release to clubs as instrumentals— ‘Shake Your Rump’, for example. They’d put together some beats, basslines and guitar lines, all these loops together, and they were quite surprised when we said we wanted to rhyme on it, because they thought it was too dense. They offered to strip it down to just beats, but we wanted all of that stuff on there. I think half of the tracks were written when we got there, and the other half we wrote together.”
The aforementioned “Shake Your Rump” contains an array of samples that require multiple listens to figure out exactly where the beats came from. The samples range from “Funky Snakefoot” by Alphonse Mouzon to “Jazzy Sensation” by Afrika Bambaataa and The Jazzy 5 to “Get Off” by Foxy. “Shake Your Rump” is three minutes and nineteen seconds of organized chaos that is infectious.
Among the other highlights from Paul’s Boutique are the lesser known “Egg Man” featuring the baseline from Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” and the theme from Jaws and “High Plains Drifter,” a song about a low life drifter traveling cross country with samples from “Those Shoes“ by the Eagles, “Your Mama Don’t Dance“ by Loggins and Messina, and “Put Your Love (In My Tender Care)” by The Fatback Band as the background music. The most successful single from Paul’s Boutique was “Hey Ladies,” which managed to peak at #36 on the Hot 100. It was a far cry from the hits on Licensed to Ill, but in terms of overall quality, the songs on Paul’s Boutique are far superior.
As you listen to the album, it’s clear that this is a Beastie Boys production without interference from a label head or producer. This was their voice going forward. They crafted outrageous stories set to beats and samples that set them apart from many of their peers. In his speech inducting the Beastie Boys into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, Public Enemy’s Chuck D stated, “After Licensed to Ill, the Beasties left the Def Jam label and broke with their producer Rick Rubin and still kept it going on. Everyone wondered and many people were pessimistic about how the hell they were going to top their multi-platinum debut, Licensed to Ill. But their second album, Paul’s Boutique, broke the mold, and with it they accomplished everything they hoped for.”
Rolling Stone once called Paul’s Boutique the Sgt. Pepper’s of rap, but I would argue that it is the hip-hop version of Pet Sounds not only for its innovation and experimentation, but its growth in stature many years after its release. Like Pet Sounds, it was a commercial failure, but a creative tour de force that gets better with age. Instead of putting together a collection of songs, the Beastie Boys created a masterpiece that dispelled any notion that they were just one album wonders.