Hip-hop trailblazers the Beastie Boys’ debut album, “Licensed to Ill,” celebrates its 30th anniversary this November. To commemorate, the album is set to be reissued on vinyl on October 14.
What the album did to spread rap music is hard to understate. “Licensed to Ill” holds the distinction of being the first hip-hop album to reach the top of the Billboard 200 charts. Together, Mike D, Ad-Rock, and the late MCA broke the genre’s color barrier, opening up a new audience for hip-hop. This was in no part to heavy rock and metal influences, with the album’s biggest hits “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” and “No Sleep till Brooklyn” bearing more similarities to AC/DC than Grandmaster Flash.
In many other places, prominent classic rock tracks are sampled. The album’s opener, “Rhymin’ and Stealin’” greets listeners with John Bonham’s trademark drumbeat to Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” which is quickly joined by the riff to Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” for the verses. Rick Rubin does a fine job with production, utilizing the countless samples and always managing to create something original.
The vocal delivery might seem a little outdated by more modern hip-hop fans, but the overall juvenile, punkish delivery has its charms.
The lyrical content alternates between the adolescent and the absurd, and in tracks like “Paul Revere,” the group manages to utilize both. Surely, hip-hop oddballs like Tyler the Creator and Childish Gambino can trace their roots back to the Beasties.
Overall, the album isn’t necessarily for everyone. The style isn’t necessarily timeless. However, the style of the album is a time capsule of rap music growing into the major musical force it is today.
The Beastie Boys themselves never seem to take this album seriously, and the secret to enjoying the album is to do the same. In other words, don’t go in expecting the syllabic barrage of Eminem or the depth of J. Cole, but enjoy the album for what it is: 13 tracks of pure, unadulterated fun.