Thursday, April 30, 2009

April 30: Beastie Boys, "Paul's Boutique"

Artist: Beastie Boys
Album: Paul's Boutique
Year: 1989
Label: Capitol

Very few artists have withstood the test of time as well as the trio of rappers from Brooklyn, New York, known as the Beastie Boys. Their career has run the spectrum, beginning as a wild party group to one of the most innovative, musically creative acts in history. Having released everything from overly orchestrated, hyper-technical albums to stripped down, fully instrumental records, the Beastie Boys are constantly pushing the boundaries on what is "acceptable" within the hip-hop genre. Though most people claim their chart busting debut, Licensed To Ill is their best album, the truth is, the Beastie Boys have made at least three records which are superior. Looking over their thirty year musical career, there is little doubt that their 1989 release, Paul's Boutique, is not only their best recording, but one of the greatest hop hop records ever.

The backstory behind Paul's Boutique cannot be separated from the record itself. After riding the massive wave of Licensed To Ill for more than two years, the Beastie Boys found themselves in a chaotic, litigious battle with their label, Def Jam records. Not only did they leave their label, but in perhaps a bigger surprise, they left their beloved New York City for the sunny shores of Los Angeles, California. Furthermore, to aid with the album, the group brought in a duo of unknown producers known as The Dust Brothers. It is the addition of The Dust Brothers that gives Paul's Boutique most of its unique sound. The duo, using samples like never before, can be credited along with the album for bringing an end to the carefree (and royalty free) use of sampling. Sampling the likes of The Beatles to Curtis Mayfield to The Ramones to Rocky Horror to Public Enemy (often within the same song), the samples to time ratio on Paul's Boutique is nearly unmatched in both number as well as diversity, yet it is still very much a Beastie Boys record.

Upon its release, Paul's Boutique was a commercial and critical failure. With most people looking for some resemblance to their debut record, many felt that the Beastie Boys had lost their focus or that they were a one hit wonder. Critics and fans alike tried to make the case that the album was a jumbled mess, yet in reality, it is exactly the opposite. Paul's Boutique is so musically dense that it is nearly impossible to wrap your head around the majesty of the record in just a handful of listenings. Comparing it to the other rap records that had been released previously, Paul's Boutique is light-years ahead of its time, and this also contributed to the fact that most people simply did not "understand" the record upon its release. Far beyond the basic "beats and rhymes," yet not quite to the "wall of noise" of Public Enemy, the trio of emcees and duo of producers find a stunning middle ground that has never been heard since. All of this is without even mentioning the mind-blowing, twelve minute masterpiece that closes the album. Simply put, Paul's Boutique is so brilliant that one really needs to take time with it to fully appreciate the absolute pièce de résistance that lies within.

One element that has been consistent throughout the entire career of the Beastie Boys is their trademark style of intertwined rhymes. The three emcees rapping in, out, and around one anothers' rhymes keeps each song fresh, and is also a testament to how well the three work together as a team. From the almost jovial rhymes of "The Sounds of Silence" and "Hey Ladies" to the more focused, harder rhymes of "Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun," serves as proof that the Beastie Boys are far more than the "frat boy" rap that they presented on Licensed To Ill. Though there are still a few "party" tracks on the album, Paul's Boutique also serves as the transition for the Beastie Boys where their rhymes (well, some of them) began to move from simple "girls and beer" lyrics to far more conscious content. However, at the end of the day, the core of what makes the Beastie Boys great remains as clear as this album as it is on any of their albums: Paul's Boutique is fun. This is one of the major elements that has aided in the longevity of their career, as the Beastie Boys have been able to keep things light and entertaining, even when bringing more serious lyrical content.

The Beastie Boys are easily one of the most highly respected groups across all genres since they appeared on the scene thirty years ago. Transitioning from simple "party rap" to exceptionally intelligent, conscious rhymes with live instrumentation, they continue to push the boundaries on what can be done within the rap genre. Intertwined rhymes over some of the most original and wide-ranging samples and beats ever composed, Paul's Boutique serves as a musical landmark in every sense of the word. Heaps of top notch rhymes and mind-blowing samples and beats are crammed into Paul's Boutique, yet the album flows wonderfully, and once you get past the density, it is truly an astonishing record. One can make the case that this album was a true product of the extenuating circumstances that the group found themselves in, and this is perhaps why none of their other albums bear any resemblance to Paul's Boutique. Reinventing themselves in nearly every use of the word, the Beastie Boys, with the help of The Dust Brothers, unleashed upon the world one of the most tremendous musical efforts in history with their unrivaled 1989 album, Paul's Boutique.

Standout tracks: "Egg Man," "High Plains Drifter," and "Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun."

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