If ever there was an album to showcase the kaleidoscopic possibilities of early hip-hop, then Paul’s Boutique is pretty much it. The fact that Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA started as a thrashy garage punk band is no more evident than on this record—the riffs are colossal throughout and seethe as much as the often-hilarious lyrics. The typically punk tendency to experiment with as many different genres is explored in many facets of Paul’s Boutique, a timely reminder that the Beasties would frequently create their own instrumental music as well as the controversial melee of samples that one would never find on a rap record today. The leaps of innovation were concerned primarily with this musical expansion, the broadening of their scope. As they themselves put it in “The Sounds of Science“: “expanding the horizons, expanding our parameters.”
Despite protestations of technical wizardry in “The Sounds of Science,” The Beastie Boys have never sounded more human than on Paul’s Boutique. “Johnny Ryall” sounds like Chuck Berry taped to the front of a truck but imbued with the kind of narrative Johnny Cash might have written about himself. The childish reputation they may have earned themselves with Licensed to Ill can be seen in a process of mutation on Paul’s Boutique – it is still there, but it has an omnipresent tongue stuck firmly in its cheek. The opening track, “To All The Girls” is symptomatic of what people saw The Beasties as being before this release. Its infantile perception of the opposite sex (“to do the dishes, to clean up my room“) is soon dashed by one of the bluesiest and most danceable ‘choons’ to come out of the ’80s, “Shake Your Rump.” With this juxtaposition, it seems that the Boys were drawing out the prejudices of their nay-sayers and then completely destroying them with their new sample-heavy aesthetics. “Come closer, come closer!” you can imagine them beckoning, then ‘BAM!’ They sock you in the guts. “You thought we were stupid, didn’t you?” Well, they’re not.
Paul’s Boutique is, above all other elements, tremendous fun to listen to. Not a single tune goes by without a cheekily sampled reference to some genre classic of yesteryear. Particularly canny is the use of Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly in “Egg Man,” such is the reserve that the Beasties treat this landmark sample with. The Dust Brothers’ production job is perfectly clean, with their autograph stamped all over the samples and the way that they are razor-cut and jammed into position. Each chunk of recognizable funk and jazz is recontextualized to fit in with the Beasties uniquely warped vividness. The New York they inhabit is not the one depicted in, say, Public Enemy records. The politics still matter, New York still has its problems and music still tries to solve them, but Paul’s Boutique takes the pre-De La Soul step of glorifying the area in a way that hadn’t been done before. Truly, the band could not be based anywhere else, as their latest paean To The Five Boroughs plainly exemplified.
The maturity of Paul’s Boutique reaches its loftiest height in closing epic “B-Boy Bouillabaisse.” It is sampling heaven, a merry tour throughout the finer points of pop in a suite of luxuriance, expanse and hip-swinging merriment. Led Zep, The Beatles, Johnny Cash—no one is not fair game for the Beastie Boys in their quest for synthesis between genres. Paul’s Boutique stands as a joyously constructed tear down the ball gown of recent pop, a landmark that couldn’t be made today. Not just because of the more punishing copyright laws, but simply because no one else could make this album as well as the Beastie Boys.