By the time Beastie Boys convened to record the follow-up to their debut, Licensed To Ill, they'd painted themselves into a corner. That first album boasted rock hooks, hard raps and explosive singles that helped push the record to platinum status in no time flat. But MCA, Mike D and Ad-Rock's send-up of frat-boy culture threatened to become a self-sabotaging millstone. Three years later they'd left Def Jam, signed with Capitol, and pitched up at The Dust Brothers' place looking to create a follow-up that would shake the one-hit wonders tag they'd been lumped with. As luck would have it, the production duo had been working on a complex patchwork of beats, songs, dialogue snippets and anything else they could lay their hands on. Beastie Boys saw their future in its gleefully anarchic collage: the basis of what would become Paul's Boutique.
Racing through samples by everyone from The Beatles to Johnny Cash (the album has spawned entire websites devoted to tracing the sources, variously estimated at between 100 and 300 samples), Paul's Boutique made clear exactly what was possible with hip-hop at a time when the number of lawsuits issued by disgruntled songwriters was on the rise. Though everyone involved is adamant that the samples were cleared, the $250,000 allegedly spent on doing so is nothing compared to today's licensing fees. Just as soon as the Beasties and Co. opened the floodgates, they were pushed shut again. It would be impossible to make Paul's Boutique today.
Matching the mind-boggling array of samples is Beastie Boys' own stylistic range. "Hey Ladies" is a funky, self-satirizing cut that sees the trio at their most idiosyncratically seductive ("Step to the rhythm, step to the ride/I've got an open mind so why don't you all get inside"), while "Shake Your Rump" is the great party-starting single that never was and Miami bass receives an outing on "Hello Brooklyn" (part of the closing 12-minute tour de force that is the nine-part "B-Boy Bouillabaisse" suite). Elsewhere, "5-Piece Chicken Dinner" is a raucous 20-second hoedown that dives headlong into "Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun": both a nod to Beastie Boys' early incarnation as a punk outift and a signpost towards future high point "Sabotage." On "Egg Man" the trio resurrected their frat personae, only to prove how far they'd come with a lyrical dexterity that replaces bullet shells with eggshells in a tale of street carnage.