For better or for worse, Beastie Boys’ landmark album Paul’s Boutique created a monster. Called `revolutionary’ and `trailblazing’ ad nauseam for its unprecedented use of dozens upon dozens of samples, courtesy of The Dust Brothers, it’s easily one of the most important hip-hop albums of all time, not to mention one of the best. Of course, it’s also an album that’s been written about and commented on by hundreds, if not thousands of critics. And a group of people even built a Web site dedicated to the album’s countless samples and pop culture references.
In a manner of speaking, Paul’s Boutique is rap music’s Odyssey, forever a resource for budding samplesmiths and bedroom pop collagists, and a look back at the past 20 years of music should make that pretty clear. It would be hard to imagine Bran Van 3000’s “Drinking in L.A.” or Len’s “Steal My Sunshine” existing without this pioneering predecessor, which may not be a bad thing. But imagine a world without Beck or Soul Coughing, and it definitely is. And that doesn’t even begin to describe the ensuing widespread use of overlapping samples (and recognizable ones at that) in hip-hop. To clarify, Paul’s Boutique isn’t the invention of sampling; that happened more than a decade earlier. However, it was the beginning of a new creative vision of hip-hop production and a true turning point in the genre’s overall sound.
On one hand, it’s not too hard to fathom that Paul’s Boutique is 20 years old. In the time since its release, the B-Boys started their own label (the now defunct Grand Royal), released four more hip-hop albums of varying aesthetic, released a career retrospective, an instrumental album and a punk E.P., not to mention countless oddities, outtakes and compilation appearances. The real shock in discovering the album’s true age is due to how well it has aged. Paul’s Boutique, for as much as it is a representation of a Beastie Boys era that has long since passed, stands as the group’s masterpiece. To this day, it sounds impeccable, each track popping and snapping with fun and flow. It’s 20th anniversary digital remaster sounds fantastic, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the songs, no matter how silly, still sound as fresh as they did upon their initial release.
Capitol’s reissue of Paul’s Boutique doesn’t contain any bonus tracks, which is a bit of a disappointment, but that isn’t to say there aren’t any worthwhile extras. The mastering sounds great, for one, and the packaging is impressive as well. Furthermore, with the album comes access to track-by-track commentary from the group, making it a bit more like a deluxe DVD release. That said, a few b-sides would have been welcome. Nonetheless, the material at hand is classic, from the funky breakdowns of “Shake Your Rump,” the solid groove of “Shadrach,” the collage of Beatles samples in “Sounds of Science,” the “Superfly” bassline in “Eggman,” and of course the infamous rhyming of “tomfoolery” with “Chuck Woolery” in “Hey Ladies.”
Hip-hop in 2009 is a bit different than it was in 1989. In the process of sampling becoming more popular, sample clearance also became a lot more expensive, and thus hearing Curtis Mayfield, The Beatles, Sly Stone, Eagles, James Brown, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Johnny Cash and Bob Marley all on the same album is a very unlikely scenario these days. Few albums have made as much of an impact on pop music in general as Paul’s Boutique, and fewer still have aged as well as it has.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.