Now here’s a gem.
Alright, so backstory. In 1986 hip-hop was transitioning from a fad into a cultural and commercial juggernaut, and the Beastie Boys were there to push it over the edge. The Brooklyn punk-rock turned hip-hop trio of MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D caught the ear of producer Rick Rubin, founder of the pioneering hip-hop label Def Jam, who took a chance on the group and put out their debut, a little record called Licensed to Ill. The album was a smash, turning the Beasties into an overnight success and making major inroads into suburban America. It also brought the group some controversy, much of it from the Beastie’s cavalier attitude and lyrics, as well as pushback from hip-hop fans angry that a white group was gaining more mainstream success in this genre than their black peers. The record went platinum, and Def Jam was eager for a sequel, but the Beasties were unsatisfied with being seen as a couple of rowdy frat boys. They split from Def Jam and moved to Capitol Records, relocating to Los Angeles in 1988 where they sequestered themselves (read: goofed off on Capitol’s dime) to work on the album they wanted to make, their artistic breakthrough. Progress was slow until they met a production team known as the Dust Brothers, who had been working on an instrumental album composed of numerous samples (read: audio snippets culled from other recordings). The Beasties loved what the Brothers were doing, and decided to band together to create their follow-up record. That album was 1989’s Paul’s Boutique.
Lemme say with no hyperbole that Paul’s Boutique is one of the greatest albums ever made. It’s a heady, weird, wild, and kaleidoscopic mix of of found sounds, culled mostly from the 1960s and ’70s and paired with raucous, pointed, irreverent, and smartass rhyming from the three emcees. It’s a pop culture mashup, an ode to the golden age of AM radio, ’70s cool, and crazy b-boy spazzin’. It’s brazen as fuck as well, employing over 100 samples in its 50 minute runtime, and much like contemporaries such as Public Enemy and De La Soul, these samples were bended and blended to the nth degree, with many of them being pretty outright recognizeable. Hell, one track on the album samples five songs by The Beatles, an untouched group in hip-hop sampling at the time, and the group joked about how cool it’d be to be sued by them. There’s a madness to the record’s instrumentals, and each listen really brings you something new to be awed over. There’s really not a weak moment on Paul’s Boutique either, the record flows well and moves at a great pace and nothing is skippable. The interplay of the three emcees, finishing each other’s sentences, their calls and responses, nasally pitches, and wild stories, gels so damn well with the Dust Brothers’ production, and the album is so unique and out there that it’s a legit wonder to hear. Paul’s Boutique was the record that made me a fan of the Beasties, and back on release in ’89 it earned the group their respect from hip-hop fans. While I initially found it kind of slow and clumsy in its production compared to a PE or De La record, the album kept bringing me back with its outlandish sound and attitude. It soon became an obsession, as I marvelled at just how engaging and clever it was. Today I still wild the hell out at just how intricate and fascinating this record is. It’s a really special piece of work.
“Egg Man” is a standout in an album full of them, and still reigns as one of my all-time favorite listens ever. An ode to egging people, the Beasties’ favorite past-time in L.A. during the album’s recording, the song feels pretty frenetic and jokey on the surface but a closer listen reveals some interesting social commentary on racism. To me though, the real highlight of this joint is the sound. The instrumental samples Curtis Mayfield‘s classic “Superfly” for the main tune, and in a genius move, samples two of the most famous musical stings in film history: The shark theme from the movie Jaws, and the shower theme from Psycho. It then layers them together for the breaks, and it has to be heard to be believed. This song literally made my jaw drop when I first heard it. No one in hip-hop had ever really mined pop culture this closely prior to the Beasties, and surprisingly, none of it sounds dated or out of place nearly three decades later. The Beasties and the Dust Brothers don’t stop there either, utilizing samples from TWO Public Enemy tracks, a KRS-ONE vocal sample, and other bits from spoken word artist Lightning Rod, and funk groups Tower of Power and Sly & the Family Stone to add to the track. This listen is just absolutely phenomenal.
“Taxi driver, I’m the Egg Man…”
Oh yeah, I wrote about this song years ago on my old blog and had even more to say about it then, read on.