27 years ago today (November 15th, 1986) the Beastie Boys released their debut album Licensed To Ill on Def Jam Recordings/Columbia.
It was also one of Columbia Records’ fastest-selling debut records to date and eventually sold over 9 million copies in the United States.
Kerry King of Slayer made an appearance on the album playing lead guitar on “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and appeared in the music video which is a parody of glam metal. The name of the song itself is a spoof on Motörhead’s No Sleep ’til Hammersmith album. King’s appearance on the track came about because Rick Rubin was producing both bands simultaneously (Slayer’s Reign in Blood was originally released on Def Jam).
The full album cover, front to back, features a Boeing 727 — with “Beastie Boys” emblazoned on the tail — crashing head-on into the side of a mountain, appearing as an extinguished joint. The tail of the plane has the Def Jam logo and the legend ‘3MTA3′ which spells ‘EATME’ when viewed in a mirror. The livery of the plane is based on that of American Airlines.
Music videos were made for the songs “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)”, “No Sleep till Brooklyn”, “Hold It Now, Hit It”, “Rhymin’ and Stealin'” and “She’s Crafty”.
CBS/Fox Video released a video album of the five Licensed to Ill videos, plus “She’s on It” in 1987 to capitalize on the album’s success. A laserdisc version was also released in Japan. All versions of the CBS/Fox release are currently out of print because the rights to the album passed from Columbia and Sony Music to Universal Music Group, and also because of the acrimonious nature of the band’s departure from Def Jam Records. Until the 2005 release of the CD/DVD Solid Gold Hits, none of the Def Jam-era videos had been included on any subsequent Beastie Boys video compilations. The Solid Gold Hits DVD includes the videos for “Fight for Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”, as well as a live version of “Brass Monkey” from a 2004 concert.
In 1998, the album was selected as one of The Source‘s 100 Best Rap Albums.
It is still the only album by a white hip-hop act to receive the coveted 5 mics from The Source.
In 2003, the album was ranked number 217 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It was also ranked by Rolling Stone as the greatest debut album of all time.
Vibe – Included in Vibe’s 100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century.
Q – 4 stars – “Licensed to Ill remains the world’s only punk rock rap album, arguably superior to Never Mind the Bollocks…knowing that apathy and slovenliness were just around the corner.”
Melody Maker – Bloody Essential – “There’s lots of self-reverential bragging, more tenuous rhymes than are usually permitted by law and, most importantly of all, an unshakably glorious celebration of being alive.… A surprisingly enduring classic.”
In 2006, Q magazine placed the album at #16 in its list of “40 Best Albums of the ’80s”.
In 2012, Slant Magazine listed the album at #12 on its list of “Best Albums of the 1980s” saying “Rife with layer upon layer of sampling, start-stop transitions, and aggressive beats, it helped transform the genre from a direct dialogue between MC and DJ into a piercing, multi-threaded narrative” and “helped set an exciting template for the future”.
The album was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America on February 2, 1987 and eventually certified 9x multi-platinum on September 5, 2001. The single “Brass Monkey” was certified Gold for shipment of 500,000+ sales. In the week following Adam Yauch’s death, which subsequently resulted in a surge in sales of Beastie Boys albums, Licensed to Ill reached #1 on Billboard’s Catalog Albums chart. The album also re-entered the Billboard 200 chart at #18. – Wikipedia
From left, Adam Yauch, Mike Diamond, and Adam Horovitz. Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns
In 2011, Amos Barshad put together and extensive piece on the oral history of ‘Licensed To Ill’ for New York Magazine. The piece breaks down how they collaborated with Rick Rubin, Touring with Madonna and Run DMC and more.
Check out Nathan S. of Refined Hype’s review of the classic album…
With Run DMC. Photo: Nick Elgar/UNE-LFI
The Beastie Boys are one of the most interesting and unlikely success stories in not just hip-hop history, but throughout all of the music industry.
Starting off as a punk rock group in 1979, The Beastie Boys (comprised of Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “MCA” Yauch, and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz) eventually decided to experiment with some hip-hop in the early 80’s, which was moderately successful, but it paved the way for the group to fully concentrate on hip-hop.
After releasing two twelve-inch singles on Def Jam (which was just starting out), during that time, along with performing on tours with Run DMC and Madonna, the Beastie Boys were ready to break out themselves. Starting in 1984 the group teamed up with Def Jam’s uber-producer Rick Rubin to work on their debut album, “Licensed to Ill”.
On the Madonna tour. Photo: Glen E. Friedman
Released in 1986 the album is one of the most important and influential hip-hop releases in history. Aside from the fact that it was the first rap album ever to hit number one on the Billboard charts, it solidified the Boys as one of the most original group’s in the game, and their place in history as well.
Rick Rubin could take a lot of credit for making the album as good as it was, with his mixing of rap and rock and his excellent production choices, but without the Beastie Boys and their passion for pop culture, humorous antics, wonderful use of wordplay and just not taking themselves too seriously, “Licensed to Ill” would just simply never be.
Filled with clear parodies and absurd lyrics, as well as some amazingly catchy tracks, “Licensed to Ill” is a truly great album. The Beastie Boys made music that at the time was radically original, childishly simple, yet hard to play. They rapped about drinking, robbing, rhyming, pillaging, busting open your locker and breaking your glasses. “Licensed to Ill” could be the soundtrack for any teen anywhere, even in 2010.
With D.J. Rick Rubin. Photo: Josh Cheuse/PYMCA/MusicPictures
The album is filled with some amazing tracks, including “Girls”, “Brass Monkey”, “Paul Revere”, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”, “Time to Get Ill” and “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)”. There really is not a single weak moment on the album, no skits, and not a single wasted minute.
“Brass Monkey” is one of the most playful and energetic tracks on the album, and has one of the best titles of all time. Named after the alcoholic drink of the same name, the track features one of the simplest, yet memorable choruses ever: “Brass Monkey – that funky Monkey/Brass Monkey junkie/That funky Monkey.”
The track evokes the days of high school when the most important things in life were girls and figuring out where to party next. As Ad-Rock raps: “Coolin’ by the lockers getting kind of funky/Me and the crew we’re drinking Brass Monkey/This girl walked by she gave me the eye/I reached in the locker grabbed the Spanish Fly/I put it with the Monkey mixed it in the cup/Went over to the girl, “Yo baby, what’s up?”.
Using that as a jumping point the Beastie Boys crafted a fantastic track that’s filled with autobiographical anecdotes, hilarious wordplay and some phrases that simply have no true meaning. MCA has the best verse on the track as he raps: “Now my name is M.C.A. I’ve got a license to kill/I think you know what time it is it’s time to get ill/Now what do we have here an outlaw and his beer/I run this land, you understand I make myself clear.”
Ad-Rock’s tribute to the ladies of the world, “Girls”, is energetic, funny and gets straight to the point. There’s no subtlety from the Boys on this track, the opening verse says it all: “Girls, all I really want is girls/And in the morning it’s girls/Cause in the evening it’s girls”.
“No Sleep Till Brooklyn” is easily my favorite track on the album. A lot of the tracks on “Licensed to Ill” are filled with Rick Rubin’s great mix of rock beats and guitar riffs with rap, but on this track he takes it to a whole other level, and it works to perfection.
One of the most unique tracks on the album is “Paul Revere”. Funny enough, the song actually evolved from and incident when the Beastie Boys were waiting outside the studio for Run DMC when Joseph Simmons (“Run”) came running down the street screaming crazily. When he got to the Boys finally, he said: “Here’s a little story I got to tell…”
The track is one of the group’s most memorable, but it’s easily also one of their best. I don’t think any other groups of hip-hop artists have used their names in their own tracks more cleverly than the Beastie Boys, and they really prove it on this track. MCA has the best verse on the track as he spits: “Born and bred Brooklyn U.S.A./They all me Adam Yauch but I’m M.C.A./Like a lemon to a lime a lime to a lemon/I sip the def ale with all the fly women.”
Even to this day there are a lot of music fans who don’t take the Beastie Boys totally seriously, but that’s just a mistake on their part. “Licensed to Ill” may have began as little more than a joke, but it went on to change the face of rap music forever and solidified the Beastie Boys’ spot in hip-hop history.
There is no other group that sounds like The Beastie Boys, and I have a feeling that another one won’t come along. “Licensed to Ill” was their debut, and easily is a hip-hop classic. – Nathan S. of Refined Hype
Licensed to Ill definitely goes down as one of Def Jam’s greatest albums. What were your favorite tracks off Licensed to Ill? Let us know in the comments.