How would the Beastie Boys follow their debut, Licensed to Ill, wondered critics when the album rose to number one after its 1986 release. The cross-over appeal of their hip hop/frat rock solidified a fan base whose devotion often mirrored their parents’ revulsion. Like many of their later imitators, the Beastie Boys could have played overgrown delinquents till their fans aged out of the act.
Few critics expected more from them. “Rolling Stone entitled their review ‘Three Idiots Create a Masterpiece’ and gave more credit to producer Rick Rubin,” writes Colleen Murphy at Classic Album Sundays. Three years later, they far surpassed expectations with their experimental second album, 1989’s Paul’s Boutique, though it took a little while for the fans to catch up.
It’s a record so dense with allusions both musical and lyrical, so original in its verbal interplay and comic storytelling, that the Beastie Boys were suddenly hailed as serious artists. As Murphy puts it:
Paul’s Boutique gave the Beastie Boys the critical acclaim they desperately desired. Rolling Stone maneuvered a U-turn and brazenly called it, “the Pet Sounds / The Dark Side of the Moon of hip hop.” But more importantly, it also earned the group respect with their peers and idols. Miles Davis claimed he never got tired of listening to it, and Public Enemy’s Chuck D even said, ‘The dirty secret among the Black hip hop community at the time of the release was that Paul’s Boutique had the best beats.”
They spat absurdly hilarious rhymes by the dozen in mock epic narratives brimming with rhythmic and melodic complexity, thanks to the high-concept production by the Dust Brothers. The two producers pieced the album’s soundscape together from an estimated 150-odd samples, a method that “would be prohibitively expensive if not impossible” today, notes Kottke. In the video above, you can hear every sample on the album, “from the soundtrack to Car Wash to the Sugarhill Gang to the Eagles to the Ramones to the Beatles.”
For legal and creative reasons, nothing has ever sounded quite like Paul’s Boutique (except, perhaps, De La Soul’s Three-Feet High and Rising, a similarly groundbreaking, sample-heavy album released the same year). Thirty years after it came out, “it’s still not out of the ordinary to discover something you never heard before across this 15-track odyssey into a thrift story rack full of weird vinyl,” Billboard points out in a list of 10 deep cuts sampled on the record.
Like every classic album, Paul’s Boutique repays endless re-listens, both for its surreal lyrical playfulness and library of musical references. Hearing the breadth of samples that built the album drives home how much those two features are interwoven. Head over to Kottke for more Paul’s Boutique goodies, including a remix with source tracks and audio commentary and a Spotify playlist of all the sampled songs.