Music fans across the globe were stunned last week with the passing of The Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch a week ago. For a lot of folks in my generation, The Beasties were iconic. Not only were they (along with Run-DMC and LL Cool J) instrumental in bringing hip-hop to middle America, but they were also true musical chameleons. In today’s industry, where playing it safe and following trends is the name of the game, it’s worth noting that Adam, Mike, and Adam changed (or modified, at least) their sound constantly, and their audience stayed with them for the whole ride.
1989’s Paul’s Boutique remains a watershed album–not just for the Beasties, or for hip-hop, but for my own evolution as a music fan. Having been fairly ambivalent about Licensed To Ill, this was the album that put me firmly on Team Beastie Boys. Legal issues have removed much of the creativity from the art of sampling, but the Dust Brothers’ production on Paul’s Boutique is amazing–on par with The Bomb Squad’s work on It Takes a Nation of Millions or Prince Paul’s on 3 Feet High & Rising. In an interview years ago, Michael Stipe of R.E.M. described listening to a particular album (I believe it was Patti Smith’s Horses) as so revelatory, it felt like someone had dropped a piano on his head. Paul’s Boutique was one of those albums for me–this crazy collage of sound that left me slackjawed after my first several encounters with it. For their part, the Beasties began to hone their silly/sincere schtick with this album, balancing lines referencing just about every pop-culture icon on the planet with more sober thoughts like “racism is schism on the serious tip.”
Creative maturation aside, Paul’s Boutique is just a fun-ass album. I’ve found myself listening to it to the exclusion of any other Beasties album (or any other album period, just about) for the past week, and it always makes me smile. The “Hey Ladies” video is delightfully silly, a throwback to the disco era at a time when nostalgia for the Seventies was just beginning to rear it’s head. If you have a case of the Mondays-which would make no sense, because it’s Friday-there’s no better cure.
Adam, thanks for bringing light and joy-not to mention consciousness-to the world through your music. You’ll be missed.