Yo yo yo yo. Guess who’s back? That’s right, your boy Perspicacious P aka the Vanilla Thrilla aka White Steve Prefontaine aka the Avenging Methuen Disco Godfather. This was going to be in my last post, but it would have made it incredibly long and I know the masses can’t take my brilliance in such vast quantities. It’s almost like seeing the face of God. Let me tell you folks, I’ve seen that face and it’s FANTASTIC.
Any damn way, today is a special treat. A review of a book about one of my favorite albums ever, Paul’s Boutique.
Paul’s Boutique – 33 1/3 (Book 15 of 25)
This book is a history of the Beastie Boys’ best album, Polly Wog Stew. OK no. It’s actually about Paul’s Boutique, which to me is the greatest hip hop album ever recorded, with all due respect to NAS, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Lil Wayne, Lil B, Dr. Dre, Justin Bieber and Public Enemy.
Let me start by saying I am one of the biggest Beastie Boy fans in the world. The greatest moment of my concert-going life was when I was front row at a show in 1998 at the Worcester Centrum. Mike D kept sweating on me and I was so dehydrated that afterward I almost passed out.
Obviously it was totally fucking awesome.
Of course, we can’t talk about the Beasties without mentioning MCA’s recent passing. This was the celebrity death that has affected me more than any other. I wasn’t moved to tears or anything, but I was pretty bummed out. I’ll write a post in the future on what the Beasties meant and still mean to me, but let’s stick to the book for now.
After License to Ill (Fight for Your Right to Party, Girls), the Boys got into a dispute with their label, Def Jam. They eventually left their native New York and went to LA to escape the madness of the East Coast, start a new album and embrace the madness of the West Coast.
They hooked up with the Dust Brothers production team (who eventually went on to work with Beck and um…Hanson) who were the perfect partners for this stage of the Beasties’ career. Paul’s Boutique was simultaneously sampling’s greatest moment and final act. It would be IMPOSSIBLE to make this record in 2012 because of all the lawsuits it would spur or money it would take to clear the samples. One member of the production team said it had between 100 and 300 samples. Many are changed/slowed down/twisted beyond recognition, showing how sampling isn’t simply ripping something off, but instead artistic recycling in its highest form. These layered samples, when mixed with the Beasties 70s pop culture obsessed rhymes and breakneck delivery, created a pastiche collage of brilliance.
The book itself is more about the production team and the creation of the music than it is about the writing of the lyrics or the Beastie Boys themselves, which allows for a different perspective than most have heard. That said, more from the Boys would have given the book another layer of depth that second-hand accounts simply can’t provide. Although the author interviewed Mike D, Ad Rock and MCA are noticeably absent. It would have been immensely interesting to hear their take on the album.
One especially compelling passage was when the Dust Brothers were surprised--and almost hurt--that the Beasties never called to work with them again. The Dust Brothers thought that it would be the beginning of a fruitful creative relationship, but apparently the Beasties wanted to explore their own impulses and kept production largely in-house on subsequent albums.
The book also explored the corporate side of the album and the bidding war that preceded its creation. After the Boys left Def Jam, they went to Capitol Records, who were hoping to get an album whose sales would be on par with License to Ill. Unfortunately, Paul’s Boutique was a commercial disaster upon release, and many in the corporate office who were supporters of the Beastie Boys soon found themselves without a job. Eventually the Beasties made good on their end of the deal, but it wouldn’t be until 1992’s Check Your Head. Paul’s Boutique would also ultimately go platinum, but in 1989 it was a bit too much for most to take in.
I read this EXTREMELY fast, at least by my standards. But by the end I slowed myself down because I didn’t want to finish the book. The inside story of my favorite album from my favorite group was like crack to me. All the details in their acid-dropping, blunt-smoking and egg-throwing glory.
My one wish would be to have a time machine to go back to 1989 to hang out with the Beastie Boys and their crew while they made this album. Since I can’t do that, this is the next best thing. I recommend it to any Beastie Boys fan. It’s a Delorean in paperback form.