Before 1985, the Beastie Boys, Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “MCA” Yauch, and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horowitz, were just three Jewish kids from Manhattan in a hard core punk band. In 1984, they signed on to Def Jam records which their producer, Rick Rubin, ran out of his dorm room. While opening for Madonna’s The Virgin Tour in 1985, they noticed that the audience responded very favorably to the DJ and rap portions of their set so they began experimenting with combining these different elements into their songs.
On 15 November 1986, the Beastie Boys released their genre bending Hip Hop album License to Ill. The way paved the year before by Run DMC’s “Walk This Way”, the Beastie Boys took the concept a step further with all original songs, in both recording and theme. While most white hip hop artists of the 1980s attempted to imitate black artists, the Beastie Boys just rapped in “their unique and irreverent style” about what they knew: themselves, girls, drugs, booze, partying, petty crime, and Rock and Roll.
What Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry did for Rock and Roll, the Miracles and the Temptations did for Motown, and Donna Summers and the Bee Gees did for Disco, the Beastie Boys brought Hip-Hop to an entirely new audience. Public Enemy’s Chuck D called them, “the Jackie Robinson of Hip-Hop”, and the Rolling Stone reviewed their album under the now famous headline, “Three Idiots Create a Masterpiece”.
License to Ill would go Triple Platinum by the end of the year. It became the highest selling rap album of the 80s and the first to reach #1 on the pop charts. Hip hop went mainstream and record sales for artists like Salt and Pepa, Grandmaster Flash, Ice T, and Stetasonic exploded. (And it seemed MTV played “Fight for your Right” every fourth set… )
If you are reading this and were alive in the 80s you probably received License to Ill from a record club in December 1986. There isn’t a bad song on the entire album and its one of the few I can put on and listen straight through.
No Sleep til… Brooooooklyn! (You know you just sang, “Da Na..Da Daaaa” there.)