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Ben’s BackTrack – The Beastie Boys – ‘Licensed To Ill’.

The Beastie Boys came to prominence in the early 80’s when the group’s hit single ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!) hit the pop charts. Their album ‘Licensed To Ill’ became the first rap record to hit Number 1 on the pop album charts. Pretty crazy for a bunch of white-bread dudes who grew up on punk and hardcore.

They were signed to the label Def Jam (home of LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Run DMC), started by Russell Simmons and the amazing Rick Rubin (who went on to produce albums for Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Johnny Cash). The label seemed to like the concept of ‘black meets white’: The Beasties were taking on the predominantly black art-form of rap music, and later on Def Jam had a massive hit with ‘Walk This Way’ – an awesome collab with black rappers Run DMC and hard (white) rockers Aerosmith.

‘Licensed To Ill’ paved the way for ‘sampling’ being used in hip-hop (instead of using turntables to rap over looped breaks), which had never really been done before in mainstream music.  

My favourite track on the album is ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn’, which featured Kerry King from the metal band Slayer playing lead guitar.  It’s essentially about the partying lifestyle of a band on tour.  In the later years, they continued to perform the song live, although they altered the lyrics. “M.C.A.’s in the back because he’s skeezin’ with a whore,” was changed to “M.C.A.’s in the back with the mahjong board”. Too funny.

The Beasties were brattish, rude and inappropriate. They were naughty kids creating comic rap and rock. ‘Licensed To Ill’ sold two million copies and annoyed the shit out of middle-class America.

When I first heard ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)’ I started listening to rap in a new way. I felt that rap and punk were coming from the same place – a really exciting, anarchic place.

If you haven’t already – check out this ground-breaking record. Play it LOUD!




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