photo & text by nacrowe
my introduction to the BEASTIE BOYS was innocently enough at the main baseball field at FULLERTON COLLEGE in the mid-1990s where i remember walking with my parents to meet my new pitching coach when "BRASS MONKEY" began blaring out on the P.A. while the college players casually did laps around the diamond. its a pretty WELL-LODGED memory at this point, mostly because just seemed UPBEAT and rhythmically OFF-KILTER that it left my teenage mind questioning, "what the hell was that?!?"
LICENSED TO ILL (DEF JAM, 1986), the debut BEASTIE BOYS record is a widely-celebrated landmark release with a COMPLICATED legacy. and i dont even believe that is a CONTROVERSIAL statement at this point, since id contend that the surviving members (rest in peace MCA) would likely agree with that assessment. i mean, the working title for the album was DON'T BE A FAGGOT, and only after repeated INTENSE label pressure did the band and management acquiesce (can you imagine? thank god!). to my ears when i listen to LICENSED TO ILL i am confronted with the arc of their evolution as musicians and as men. this was the starting point and famously a lot of the more PRURIENT, JUVENILE material was an IN-JOKE with producer RICK RUBIN. in their minds they were MAKING FUN of the FRAT MENTALITY and when they went on tour learned that they in fact started living up to their own PARODY. becoming it even to the point that it blurred the line entirely. when i think of this record it brings to mind the interplay between a MESSAGE and its AUDIENCE and how as an artist you need to be CAREFUL with what you throw out into the ether.
there is a lot to LOVE about this record, from stone cold CLASSIC tracks like "NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN," "PAUL REVERE," "HOLD IT NOW, HIT IT," "(YOU GOTTA) FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT (TO PARTY!)," "RHYMIN & STEALIN," "SLOW AND LOW," and, of course, the aforementioned "BRASS MONKEY." unfortunately there is a bit of a strain of MISOGYNY throughout with lines about VAGUE SEXUAL TRANSGRESSIONS with wiffle ball bats ("PAUL REVERE") and basically that whole song "GIRLS," which is pretty SEXIST and CRINGE-INDUCING in retrospect. i really think this is the kind of record you have to go into mindful of the fact that the group that made it learned from their actions and spent the rest of their career being an ACTIVE and ENGAGED participant in the message they beamed out to the world; i.e. becoming a model as THOUGHTFUL and ENGAGED elder-statesman who tirelessly promoted POLITICAL, SOCIAL and ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRESSIVE causes as activists. you also have to realize they were really YOUNG when they made LICENSED TO ILL. it is an HONEST (if TROUBLING) artifact of its time from which they have long since moved on from and have transitioned into cultural force in both the EAST COAST HIP HOP and ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosions of the 1990s and beyond.
i should also mention that the film director, and lifelong BROOKLYNITE, DARREN ARONOFSKY once spoke about how he discovered the HUBERT SELBY JR novel LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN (GROVE PRESS, 1964) in college, saying basically that when you are from BROOKLYN anything about the borough immediately catches your attention. that definitely came into play with my father and the BEASTIE BOYS, especially with "NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN" (with guitars supplied by non-BROOKLYNITE KERRY KING of SLAYER). so im just letting my family's bias be known. if this record was a bit CHILDISH, IMMATURE and MORALLY PROBLEMATIC, at least those were our idiots on the stage.
but just as GEORGE CARLIN's character states at the conclusion of BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (ORION, 1989), "they do get better."