photo & text by nacrowe
my introduction to the BEASTIE BOYS was 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 varsity players did laps. its a pretty well-lodged memory at this point. just seemed upbeat and off-kilter and 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, since id contend that the surviving members (rest in peace MCA) would likely agree with that assessment. to my ears when i listen to LICENSED TO ILL i am confronted with the whole arc of their evolution as musicians and 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 parody. 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 what you throw out in the ether.
there is a lot to love about this record, from classic songs 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 the aforementioned "BRASS MONKEY." unfortunately there is a bit of a strain of MISOGYNY throughout with lines about vague sexual acts with wiffle ball bats ("PAUL REVERE") and basically that whole song "GIRLS," which is pretty sexist and cringe-inducing. 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 participant in the message they sent to the world: becoming a model for being an engaged artistic force that tirelessly promoted POLITICAL, SOCIAL and ENVIRONMENTAL activist progressive causes. you also have to realize they were really young when they made LICENSED TO ILL. it is an artifact of its time from which they moved on and became a major cultural force in both EAST COAST HIP HOP and the ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion 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 and immature, 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."