The Beastie Boys – “Licensed to Ill” (1986)

February 19, 2009 at 6:16 am (Music, Reviews & Articles)

This review comes from the May 1987 issue of Creem magazine. Written by Iman Lababedi. This album actually scared alot of people back then – probably because rap had “infiltrated” into white society & had begun to “corrupt” the white youth. They’ve never been the same…
Also, who would have thought The Beastie Boys would have lasted this long and become respectable, well-spoken and “politically correct” artists. This album (and their image & behavior at the time) suggested an early flame-out, but they made one of the most brilliant pieces of wax in history with their very next album.


The most exciting white rock album since Never Mind the Bullocks has lousy politics.

Real lousy. The Beastie Boys’ debut LP, Licensed to Ill, almost validates Tipper Gore: they advocate angel dust, crack, drinking huge amounts of alcohol, murdering twin sisters and shooting people in the back. They are homophobic, defiantly sexist – and suggest that you fight your hypocritical parents for the right to party.

Listening to the Beasties rap all over their rock rhythms, I found myself laughing out loud and gasping in disbelief. I’d thought rock couldn’t shock me anymore. W.A.S.P., of course, are more sexist than the Beasties, but W.A.S.P. are so bad they aren’t even boring. Schoolly-D is more violent, but his matter-of-fact delivery implies he’s been calloused by his lifestyle, and that’s the price. The Beasties are having the time of their lives, making lots of money and sharing their joy in not doing what they’ve been told. No payback.

Under the auspicious direction of co-producer/writer Rick Ruben – a founder of Def Jam (the only record company that matters) – Mike D., MCA and Ad-Rock have forged white thrash-metal to black rap and formed an entirely wicked anti-Christ. I’ve mentioned Schoolly-D, and he’s had a pronounced influence on the Beastie Boys. As for the other part of this unholy triumverate? Well, one song here’s called “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” – and I’m betting Lemmy loves them right back.

So is it rock? Well, yeah. As Rubin told Melody Maker: “What makes rock ‘n’ roll is the beat, not the guitar…We make beat-orientated records as opposed to pulse-orientated records.” And Licensed to Ill will bea(s)t you senseless; songs like “The New Style,” “Girls,” “Fight for Your Right” and “No Sleep” are so invigorating, alive, snotty and fun, they’re rock in the purest and most perfect sense of the term.

The Beasties’ sense of humor saves their excessive misogyny and irresponsibility from becoming unlistenable. A band conjuring up Jimmy Page to note they share a taste in underage girls is, obviously, laughing itself sick. And while not justification in itself, their flaunting of the laws teenage kids have been force-fed (and swallowed) for years, may well be the only form of rebellion left. It’s a rotten rebellion, far more self-destructive than punk ever was. Still, if rock – by its very nature – should get up parents’ noses, this’ll drive ‘em to distraction. Along with Schoolly D, LL Cool J and Mantronix, it might be the first ideological change for teens since Reagan took office.

Beyond social redemption, often beyond contempt, the Beastie Boys are getting away with murder. And you thought only the government could do that.    

Iman Lababedi

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