Ad-Rock, Mike D, and MCA inhabit a teenage wasteland of swirlies and Wiffle-ball bats and ripped-off 10-speeds, Colonel Sanders and Rice-a-Roni, Ed Norton, and Phyllis Diller, Old Crow and Budweiser and Thunderbird wine. Over Rubin’s headbang guitar in “Fight for Your Right (To Party),” an MTV-ready bored-kid anthem as furiously frustrated as Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen,” comical as the Coasters’ “Yakety Yak,” and moronic as Cheech and Chong’s “Earache My Eye,” the hoodlum friends confront their elders: “Your pop caught you smokin’ man, he said no way/ That hypocrite smokes two packs a day/ Livin’ at home is such a drag/ Your mom threw away your best porno mag.” Where Run-D.M.C. crowned themselves as kings of rock, the Beasties are “king of classroom.” Their signifying Monkey is the Brass kind; they brag that “Being bad news is what we’re all about/ We went to White Castle and we got thrown out.”
This rich-kid mischief is a far milder, funhouse-mirror version of Schoolly-D’s amoral Parkside Killing number, which represents rap’s current edge, and the Beasties know it. So in “The New Style,” Licensed to Ill’s minimalist stop-and-surge-and-shimmy single, the group constructs its own Staggerlee persona: “I got money in the bank, I can still get high/ My girlfriend that I’m so fly … A lot of beer, a lot of girls, and a lot of cursin’/ .22 automatic on my person.” They check out ‘ladies of the ‘80s” and “classy ho’s,” dance the smurf and freak and Popeye and Jerry Lewis, hang perfume pines from rear-view mirrors so their Lincoln Continentals won’t smell, get ill eyin’ homeboys shooting turkeys in the back. If these situations don’t accurately depict street life, they do connect to the ugly scenes so much rap music explores. Spat back by white men, the images are shocking and not a little offensive, but certainly no more willfull than any slum pictures by the middle-class-suburbanite St. John’s alumni in Run-D.M.C. The good-natured Beasties mean no malice; they make it clear that the real jerks are themselves. Their racial smears are so funny they’re frightening -- Richard Pryor’s Bicentennial Nigger turned inside out.
Would-be bards like Billy Bragg and Peter Case would forfeit their James Taylor albums to write songs with the Beasties’ specificity, humor, and vernacular flair. And even then, they’d never get the delivery right. As befits a record that opens with a cut called “Rhymin’ & Stealin’,” Licensed to Ill plunders the hard-rock past like nobody’s business; Rubin has an ear for aggressive heavy-metal hooks. “Rhymin’ & Stealin’ “ itself borrows massive drumbeats from Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and crude guitar jolts from Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf.” “She’s Crafty,” a side-splitting jibe at a groupie (“her name is Lucy but they all call her loose”) who takes everything but the boys’-room sink, surfs on Zep’s “The Ocean” riff; “Slow Ride” joins horns from War’s “Low Rider” to words from Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” and “Take the Money and Run”; the LP coda, “Time To Get Ill,” mastermixes Creedence, Barry White, Grand-Master Flash, even the allegedly satanic “Mr. Ed” theme. And Kerry King, of the Rubin-produced and allegedly satanic speedmetal foursome Slayer, contributes asphyxiated drop-the-bomb guitar to “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” which gets its name from Motörhead’s live No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith and its best lyric (“Ain’t seen the daylight since we started this band”) from Aerosmith’s “No More No More.”