Three white smart-asses from Brooklyn lay waste to their wildest, most diseased daydreams on Licensed to Ill .
This article originally appeared in the January 13, 1987, issue of the Boston Phoenix.
The Beastie Boys are three white smart-asses from Brooklyn let loose in and laying waste to their wildest, most diseased daydreams. Pissing on the sober face of socially acceptable adult decorum, reveling in orgiastic fantasies of next-big-thing rock stardom, using hammer-of-the-gods Stratocaster licks burglarized from Tony Iommi and Jimmy Page as weapons and exhibiting the collective bravado of Bill Haley and Bobby Fuller and Brownsville Station and Johnny Rotten all balances on Bronxzilla beats enormous enough to turn skateboards into rocketships and fueled by alcohol and junk food and angel’s dust, their new Licensed To Ill (Def Jam/Columbia) is the most assured LP debut of 1986 and the most unruly suburban-delinquent fuck-you saturnalia since the Dictator’s 1975 punk-prophesying Go Girl Crazy.
Not bad for a trio of brats originally backed into hip-hop by accident. Formed in the late ‘70s as just another monotonous hardcore squad, the Beasties changed paths when their 1983 “Cookie Puss”/ “Beastie Revolution” novelty 12-inch, a rap scratching, reggae- toasting, obscene phone-call parody that flirted with racism and sexism, was embraced by the very demographic it lampooned. They linked up with Rick Rubin, an ex-DJ whose knack for fusing black and white teen music is evident both in the tumult of his now-defunct band Hose (at their best turning Rick James’s “Super Freak” on the 1982 Hose EP sludge or Led Zep’s “How Many More Times” to funk on the God’s Favorite Dog compilation) and in his Run-D.M.C. and L.L. Cool productions. With Rubin’s help, Adam Horovitz became the sniveling, nasal King Ad-Rock, Michael Diamond the grating, precise Mike D, Adam Yauch the slurring, brutish MCA; together they transformed AC/DC’s “Back in Black” into “Rock Hard,” one of the mightiest rap singles of 1985. Next, “Soundtrack from the Video She’s on It” landed the crew on MTV where-- to judge from their Nero’s Eve debauchery December 31-- they still hold court.
Since rap’s vitality has always been based on subcultural signs that exclude white people from its message, Caucasian into the form have been mostly shallow. Except for a couple direct interracial collaborations ( John Lydon and Afrika Bambaataa’s “World Destruction”), attempts have generally taken the air of either bohemian affirmative action (Blondie’s “Rapture”) or blackface capitalism (Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals”). What elevates the Beasties is their empathy” they’re smart enough to perceive that sex and drugs and rock-and-roll are shared by both white and black youth rebellion, and they’re greedy enough to desire the most irreverent cool of both cultures. Like the reggae-enamoured early Clash, they want a riot of their own. But they aren’t beatnik lefties nursing a guilt trip, so they hold no polite veneration for hip-hop; instead of just dabbling, they dive in whole hog. On Licensed to Ill, they pull out all stops, cross-ethnically merging symbols of American adolescence like few before them. Their orally dexterous ancestors Aerosmith once rapped about “Hands on the the plow and my feets in the ghetto”; the Beastie Boys call the hybrid “Hip-Hoppin’, body-rockin’, doin’ the do/ Beer-drinkin’, breath-stinkin’, sniffin’ glue.”
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