Okay, I knew the Beastie Boys before I heard Paul’s Boutique….I knew about Cookiepuss and the punk stuff (how weird is it to see Ad-Rock listening to Ben Stiller talk about Cookiepuss in a movie btw...how odd is it to see Ad-Rock out of the context of the Beasties at all)....But I digress...
I was a mediocre DJ my first year of college (1986) at a place in Denton Texas called (I can’t make this up) “The Candy Store” and I would play tracks from Licensed to Ill occasionally (most played tracks...Paul Revere and She’s Crafty)...
But, I did not LOVE the Beasties at this point (and there was a short period later where I had MULTIPLE Beasties posters displayed on my wall).
So anyway, I had, honestly, not thought about the Beasties much between when I lost my job at the Candy Store (1986) and when I finished up the first semester of my Sophomore year at The University of North Texas (consequently, I finished with grades so bad it was also my last semester at UNT until I worked there many years later).
About this time, I went to go see Big Audio Dynamite in Dallas with some friends (I was a big Clash fan so any band that had Mick Jones and Don Letts was okay with me).
In between sets, the DJ was playing songs from License to Ill and for some reason hearing Licensed in this concert setting made me hear the songs differently.
I could kind of, maybe for the first time, hear a bit of hip-hop genius underneath the juvenile stuff and the bravado (although the groundbreaking parts could have been more about Def Jam and less about the Beasties at this point).
The important thing, is my mind was that I was open to the Beasties in a way it had not been prior to the BAD concert.
Edmond Oklahoma and Paul's Boutique
So, in about 1987 I moved from Denton Texas to Edmond Oklahoma and The University of Central Oklahoma (at that time it was Central State University) to make a second pass at going to college….
I knew about the Beasties leaving Def Jam and had no idea what they would do on a new label (without the Def Jam folks would they be anything more?). And then, Paul’s Boutique came out and answered every question I had.
I remember buying the album when it first came out...and I remember carrying it from Oklahoma City back to Edmond and back to my dorm room….The whole time wondering what the hell Paul’s Boutique was….I feel even stupider admitting this now as I am originally from NYC...but, whatever.
So, at UCO we had pretty small dorm rooms with limited cabinet space. I had a really awful record player with two terrible speakers….and I kept it in this crazy cabinet that was up like eight feet above the ground over the mirror at the front of the room….
So, in order to put a record on, I had to get up on a chair, open the cabinet up, turn it on, change the record, lift the tonearm and place it on the record.
Now, you are probably wondering why in the hell would anyone ever set their stereo up like this?
To be honest, I have no idea why I set it up this way now. All I know is once I got a record on the turntable I would often just let it play for hours (often this was not a good thing for me or for my roommate but it was just too much effort to change the damn record).
Anyway, good, bad, or indifferent...Once I put the tone-arm down, Paul’s Boutique was going to play for a decent amount of time.
So, I climbed back down, sat on the chair and started to read something…..The record starts with ‘To All The Girls’ which starts at almost a whisper and builds up and is kind of a sly way to start the record by bragging about how much game The Beastie Boys had.
Bigger and Deffer
It was sly because it kind of sounded like what a bunch of old lotharios might sing to themselves as they wrote down the stories of their exploits. Instead of doing what most MC’s did and just started talking about all the girls they got down with...The Beasties were acting like they were so old and seasoned that they had to take the time to reflect.
This was an entirely new way of a rap group bragging. I immediately knew I was listening to something that understood the rules and was playing with the formats of the genre. Pretty crazy for some young guys who were mostly known for several silly party songs.
Maybe you don’t really get why this was revolutionary...Rap wasn’t really old enough for people to be twisting the forms too much yet….
Most folks were still just trying to dominate the established norms…Eric B Is President….awesome, but not playful or subtle...Kings of Rock, awesome and bombastic - a strong statement for Rap to be as relevant as Rock...but not ironic or thoughtful in the same way.
To put it a different way, part of an MC’s job was to lay out in no uncertain terms how badass they were, how badass they were with the ladies, and how superior their crew was to every other crew.
The Beasties chose to do this in a way that suggested that they had been ruling the ladies for so long that it was almost hard to remember the girls. They were so worn out from the many decades of dominance that it was more an act of nostalgia than a declaration.
Shake Your Rump
That was a cool way to start an album. But then, in mere seconds, the Beasties woke up from their slumber and they are tearing the joint apart with Shake Your Rump. I still hear the house rattling bass lines from Shake Your Rump in my dreams. Even in my shitty dorm room, with a terrible stereo, it was impossible not to be excited by this bass groove.
Again, most acts at this time would have a bass sample….But this was an extended, super-low, rattling bass line that seemed to go on forever..It was a modulating, undulating, force you could in no way deny. Even today, it is impossible to listen to Shake Your Rump without moving your body.
And what the hell were the Beasties talking about, later I would learn the inside dope on songs like Johnny Ryall etc...But, have inside-baseball references ever sounded as cool as they did on Paul’s Boutique?
And that's the thing about Paul’s boutique was that it was all so different. I mean the samples were UNIQUE...Nobody would have put all of that together. The songs make you feel like you are inside something bigger than any one sample or song. The songs sound like you are being attacked by out of space DJ’s who just know music better than you do.
Like Egg Man, just listen to all the shit surrounding the opening bass line….one sound is like someone is scraping a spring...soooo much detail and depth to even small moments of songs.
You could get lost thinking about 100 things in most of the songs from the combination of samples and sounds to the lyrics to the beats….This is a CRAZY album. I cannot emphasize enough how simple most Rap records were at this time (program 808, find bass line, rap over resulting track). I mean you could spend weeks just trying to figure out all the music they sampled on each track.
What about the crazy beats on High Plains Drifter and the crazy use of the Eagles sample. Back then WHO WOULD EVER THINK OF SAMPLING THE EAGLES….The Eagles were about as far from Rap as Pacino was from Arnold. This is decades before the Dude hated “the fucking Eagles maaan”…..Genius...I mean pure genius...and the lyrics on this track are pretty crazy smooth too.
3-Minute Rule….all I can say about that one is “I’m so rope they call me Mr. Roper” (yes, as dumb as three's company was who can forget Norman Fell's classic double takes and spit takes - props to Chrissy but Mr. Roper made 3’s company - barely - watchable).
The first single that was released from Paul’s Boutique was Hey Ladies. It has been decades and that song still makes me want to dance the minute I hear it...and I am not exactly the dancing type naturally. This song was so far ahead of its time people still have not caught up to it….I mean classic R&B guitar riff and picking, crazy beat….and then the drop…and the cowbells and hand claps and lets face it an earful of pure joy.
So What Does It Mean?
I could literally go on all day about this album…At the time it left me in total shellshock. I mean I had NO IDEA rap could be that. No idea. And I loved rap. To me Grandmaster Flash and The Clash convinced me that Rap was black punk. BDP, PE, and Eric B and Rakim convinced me it could be political. Run-DMC convinced me it could be Rock and Roll...And Paul’s Boutique convinced me it could be art…..That is not hyperbole, Paul’s Boutique raised the art form and showed a caring, love, and reverence for the sampled music that even the original artists might not have had
Yes, the Beasties were juvenile and silly sometimes but they were also thoughtful and they played with the literal foundations. It would be like an architect who could make solid walls into silly putty in his or her hands. True masters of sampling, people who really were willing to do the work….could turn combinations of samples into entirely new music. The whole was bigger than the parts.
Obviously, some of the samples were identifiable immediately, but so many others took careful listening and they were combined in so many ways that they really became something entirely new (I mean everyone remembers the Eagles sample and the Johnny Cash sample but just think about why B Boy Bouillabaisse is called a Bouillabaisse).
This was not rap that took a beat, drop, or sample from a James Brown record and put a new beat to it. This was rap that took twenty songs and combined them into something entirely new and exciting. I am not sure the Beauties ever reached this level again.
They had some great moments after Paul’s Boutique but nothing was ever as innovative or amazing. There are hundreds of better rap albums lyrically, but I am not sure there are any albums that were as groundbreaking musically. I am not sure many people even tried to go through the door The Beastie Boys opened for everyone after this (Q-Tip and De La for sure).
Anyway, I am pretty sure I listened to Paul’s Boutique 1,000 times in that dorm room, another several hundred on cassette, and god knows how many time on CD. If you want to get a feel for how revolutionary it was musically go google the rap charts in 1989 and listen to any of those records then listen to Paul’s Boutique. There is a reason why when asked to denounce Paul’s by Def Jam, Chuck D refused.
Genius should not denounce genius.
The best in men’s clothing….(and it’s in Brooklyn)
What did you think of Paul's Boutique? About the Beasties? I would love to hear your opinions, leave a comment!