Wednesday, September 19, 2007

No. 156: Paul's Boutique

Band: The Beastie Boys
Album: Paul's Boutique
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Beasties were the VH1 of their time, taking bits and pieces of pop culture in their lyrics and regurgitating them in a party rap setting. In terms of hip hop record production, this one is important. Like, ridiculously important. The use of huge (and I mean huge) amount of samples on a record is the defining characteristic of "Paul's Boutique," thanks to the Dust Brothers production team. There's almost no new music on here, but simply bits and pieces of old songs. Sampling was toned down in the '90s, thanks to a lawsuit against Biz Markie, but "Paul's Boutique" is one of sampling's greatest triumphs.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm not a big Beasties fan and their snot-nosed-kids rap style gets irritating. Nasal rap is not good. Also, I've never met a big-time Beasties fan who wasn't a complete idiot.
Best song: "Hey Ladies" has, like, 500 samples and the best hook on the record.
Worst song: "What Comes Around" is slower than it should be.
Is it awesome?: I'm not in love with it, but it's clearly one of the most important records of the '80s.

Let's first talk about the actual Beastie Boys in 1989. They'd started as a punk band in the late 70s and became a three-man rap crew before the release of 1986's "Licensed to Ill," wherein they hooked up with the famous (and awesome) Rick Rubin.

Anyway, Rubin's technique -- while different than a lot of hip hop producers in that he used a lot of metal and hard rock samples -- was pretty standard in his use of samples. He didn't layer tons of samples and he kept a pretty standard number in the songs.

Enter the Dust Brothers. The Dust Brothers were a DJ combo that basically tried to cram as many samples in the music as possible. This included standard hip hop samples (Sugarhill Gang, Public Enemy, Afrika Bambaataa, etc.), classic funk tracks (James Brown, Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield, etc.), movie sound effects (including effects from "Psycho" and "Jaws") and classic rock (The Eagles, Beatles, Sweet, etc.). The samples are almost piled on top of one another, even causing Chuck D to say "Paul's Boutique had the best beats."

(Of course, this was a time before you had to clear samples, so this type of production is long extinct. Thanks to the landmark Biz Markie/Gilbert O'Sullivan case, samples now need to be cleared.)

The Beastie Boys, of course, did the same thing with their lyrics. Referencing just about everything they could, a new name-brand, advertising slogan or cartoon character name comes up ever second line. Acting like a regurgitation of last night's long night, the Beasties' lyrics dropped references to just about everything under the sun. Don't believe me? Check this out.

It's a record from a forgotten time, almost. It's pre-G-Funk, pre-whole sampling of hooks (a la Puffy) and pre-mashup. To say that "Paul's Boutique" is a landmark album would be understating it.


With all that said, I find the Beasties' flow to be kind of annoying. I know the call-and-response rapping style was popular in the '80s -- mostly because Run-D.M.C. did it -- but it gets really annoying when it's three nasally white kids from Brooklyn. Their voices were less annoying on subsequent albums, but "Paul's Boutique" is frustrating. So, while it's hugely important, it's not my favorite record.

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