Media Beat: revisiting the Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique”

“Paul’s Boutique”— the Beastie Boys’ 1989 sophomore record — is a masterful melding of silly, creative lyrics and dense, complex backing tracks. Even while in a voluntary exile to Los Angeles during its creation, the album still dedicates itself to New York. The Beastie Boys are still a New York band, but this step away allowed the Beasties to mature and grow into people who were intentional about their music, no longer being propped up by their label as a novelty — white boys doing hip-hop. 

When the trio first approached the Dust Brothers, the producers of such rich sample-packed backing tracks, they offered to slow down or cut what they had — about half the songs on the album according to Adam Yauch — but the boys insisted on rapping over the pre-produced tracks and then collaborating for the rest. The result? A sonic web of sound created almost entirely by using whatever samples they could find that sucks you in for repeated listenings. A new reignited passion for music between the three. A maturity and still a sense of silliness. They didn’t stray far from the themes of sex, drugs, and general mischief — already familiar territory for the Beasties — but there’s a satirical edge to it, while creating inventive rhymes and lyrics. 

A newer, truer, and bluer form of The Beastie Boys emerges, and “Paul’s Boutique” tragically flops. But the people of 1989 weren’t quite ready for it yet. Even with stricter copyright lawsuits brewing on the horizon, the album could have only been made when it was. “Paul’s Boutique” is a blend of hip hop, poetry, punk, and a general love of music. Listening to it with fresh ears the way only the new generation can do, it’s astounding that an album like this could fail. This album is kind of an impossible sell, each track flowing into each other and all are a little too weird to have as singles. Though the two closest to radio singles would be “Shake Your Rump” and “Egg Man.” Additionally, it’s almost as if there’s an EP tacked on to the end of the album, almost a two-for-one special. The “B-Boy Bouillabaisse Suite” is looser and a little simpler than the rest of the album, but aside from “59th Chrystie Street” — one of the worst songs on the album — this is where the Beasties can flow a little more evenly, not trying as hard.

Part of the album’s charm is its flow and cohesion, but if you’re looking for specific songs, my top two picks for new listeners are “Shadrach” and “Shake Your Rump.”


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