Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique – [Record 132]
Paul’s Boutique is the second studio album by American hip hop group Beastie Boys, released on July 25, 1989, on Capitol Records. Featuring production by the Dust Brothers, the recording sessions for the album took place in Matt Dike’s apartment and the Record Plant in Los Angeles from 1988 to 1989, after which the recordings underwent mixing at the Record Plant in Los Angeles. Subsequent remixes were done at the Manhattan-based Record Plant Studios. The album is noted for being almost completely composed of samples, excluding the group’s vocal output.
Paul’s Boutique was initially considered a commercial failure by the executives at Capitol Records, as its sales did not match that of the group’s previous record, Licensed to Ill, and the label eventually decided to stop promoting the album. The album’s popularity continued to grow, however, and it has since been touted as a breakthrough achievement for the Beastie Boys. Highly varied lyrically and sonically, Paul’s Boutique secured the Beastie Boys’ place as critical favorites in the hip-hop genre. The album’s rankings near the top of many publications’ “best albums” lists in disparate genres has given Paul’s Boutique critical recognition as a landmark album in hip hop.
On January 27, 1999, Paul’s Boutique was certified double platinum in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America. In 2003, the album was ranked number 156 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album was re-released in a 20th anniversary package remastered in 24-bit audio and featuring a commentary track on January 27, 2009.
1. To All the Girls.
2. Shake Your Rump.
3. Johnny Ryall.
4. Egg Man.
5. High Plains Drifter.
6. The Sounds of Science.
7. 3-Minute Rule.
8. Hey Ladies.
9. 5-Piece Chicken Dinner.
10. Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun.
11. Car Thief.
12. What Comes Around.
14. Ask for Janice.
15. B-Boy Bouillabaisse.
Background: Derided as one-hit wonders and estranged from their original producer, Rick Rubin, and record label, Def Jam, the Beastie Boys were in self-imposed exile in Los Angeles during early 1988 and were written off by most music critics before even beginning to record their second studio album, Paul’s Boutique. Following the commercial success of Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys were focusing on making an album with more creative depth and less commercial material. The group’s previous album had been enormously popular and received critical acclaim among both mainstream and hip hop music critics, although its simple, heavy beats and comically juvenile lyrics led it to be labeled as frat hip hop. The group signed with Capitol Records and EMI Records.
Production: Paul’s Boutique was produced with the Dust Brothers, whose extensive, innovative use of sampling helped establish the practice of multi-layered sampling as an art in itself. While the Dust Brothers were set on making a hit record, the duo agreed with the group on producing a more experimental and sonically different record. In total, 105 songs were sampled on the album, including 24 individual samples on the last track alone. The backing tracks were allegedly produced with the intention of being released as a Dust Brothers instrumental album, but the Beastie Boys convinced the duo to use the tracks as the basis of their follow up to Licensed to Ill.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the sampling for Paul’s Boutique was cleared, but at dramatically lower costs compared to today’s prevailing rates. A 2005 article by Paul Tingen about The Dust Brothers reveals that “most of the samples used on Paul’s Boutique were cleared, easily and affordably, something that […] would be ‘unthinkable’ in today’s litigious music industry.” Mario “Mario C” Caldato, Jr., engineer on the album, later said in an interview that “after [Beastie Boys] did Paul’s Boutique we realized we had spent a lot of money in the studio. We had spent about a $1/4 million in rights and licensing for samples.” This type of sampling was only possible before Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., the landmark lawsuit against Biz Markie by Gilbert O’Sullivan, which changed the process and future of hip hop sampling.
Speaking about the album 20 years on, Adam Yauch told Clash magazine;
“The Dust Brothers had a bunch of music together, before we arrived to work with them. As a result, a lot of the tracks come from songs they’d planned to release to clubs as instrumentals – “Shake Your Rump,” for example. They’d put together some beats, basslines and guitar lines, all these loops together, and they were quite surprised when we said we wanted to rhyme on it, because they thought it was too dense. They offered to strip it down to just beats, but we wanted all of that stuff on there. I think half of the tracks were written when we got there, and the other half we wrote together.”
All of the songs for Paul’s Boutique were recorded in Matt Dike’s living room in Los Angeles, with the exception of “Hello Brooklyn”. The fifth part of the album’s finale suite “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” was recorded at the apartment building of the Beastie Boy-member Adam Yauch, aka MCA, in Koreatown, Los Angeles. The location of recording was credited in the album liner notes as the Opium Den. The recordings for Paul’s Boutique were later mixed by the Dust Brothers at Record Plant Studios in Los Angeles.
Packaging: The cover art and gatefold is a photograph of Ludlow Street (as shot from 99 Rivington Street), credited to Nathanial Hörnblowér, but shot by Jeremy Shatan. With the 2009 album re-release, the photo was remastered.
Commercial performance: Upon its release, Paul’s Boutique was alienated commercially for its experimental and dense sampling and lyricism, in contrast to the Beastie Boys’ previous album, Licensed to Ill. It was a commercial disappointment, peaking at only #24 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The album received a gold certification by the Recording Industry Association of America on September 22 of its release year. Paul’s Boutique would go on to sell over 2 million copies by 1999.
Critical reception: In a contemporary review, David Handelman of Rolling Stone gave the album four out of five stars and complimented its “loose, fun feel”, writing that “are buoyed by the deft interplay of the three voices and a poetic tornado of imagery.” Handelman found the musical samples “equally far-flung” and felt that the album is “littered with bullshit tough-guy bravado, but it’s clever and hilarious bullshit”. In his review for Playboy, Robert Christgau felt that, although it “doesn’t jump you the way great rap usually does,” “the Beasties and Tone-Loc’s Dust Brothers have worked out a sound that sneaks up on you with its stark beats and literal-minded samples, sometimes in a disturbing way”. Christgau commended them for “bearing down on the cleverest rhymes in the biz” and commented that “the Beasties concentrate on tall tales rather than boasting or dissing. In their irresponsible, exemplary way they make fun of drug misuse, racism, assault, and other real vices fools might accuse them of.” He later gave it an “A” grade and asserted, “give it three plays and half a j’s worth of concentration, and its high-speed volubility and riffs from nowhere will amaze and delight you … an absolutely unpretentious and unsententious affirmation of cultural diversity, of where they came from and where they went from there.”
Legacy: In retrospect, the album has also gone on to receive much critical acclaim and has been recognized as a landmark album in hip-hop. NME found the album to “still [be] an electrifying blast of cool” in a 1994 review, viewing it as a “younger incarnation” of Ill Communication. Mojo asserted that the album “shredded the rulebook” and called it “one of the most inventive rap albums ever made”. In a 2003 review, Rolling Stone gave it five stars and called it “a celebration of American junk culture that is still blowing minds today – even fourteen years of obsessive listening can’t exhaust all the musical and lyrical jokes crammed into Paul’s Boutique”. Mark Kemp of Rolling Stone also gave the album five stars in a 2009 review, calling it a “hip-hop masterpiece”. Nate Patrin of Pitchfork Media dubbed it “a landmark in the art of sampling, a reinvention of a group that looked like it was heading for a gimmicky early dead-end, and a harbinger of the pop-culture obsessions and referential touchstones that would come to define the ensuing decades’ postmodern identity”. In a review of the album for Allmusic, contributor Stephen Thomas Erlewine summed the initial reaction to Paul’s Boutique and praised the density that the album contains:
“Musically, few hip-hop records have ever been so rich; it’s not just the recontextulations of familiar music via samples, it’s the flow of each song and the album as a whole, culminating in the widescreen suite that closes the record. Lyrically, the Beasties have never been better — not just because their jokes are razor-sharp, but because they construct full-bodied narratives and evocative portraits of characters and places. Few pop records offer this much to savor, and if Paul’s Boutique only made a modest impact upon its initial release, over time its influence could be heard through pop and rap, yet no matter how its influence was felt, it stands alone as a record of stunning vision, maturity, and accomplishment.”
Miles Davis said that he never got tired of listening to Paul’s Boutique. Later, in a VIBE interview of all three Beastie Boys, Chuck D of Public Enemy was quoted as saying that the “dirty secret” among the black hip-hop community at the time of release was that “Paul’s Boutique had the best beats.” During the same VIBE interview, Mike D was asked about any possible hesitation he or the band might have had regarding their overt “sampling” of several minutes of well-known Beatles background tracks, including the song “The End” on “The Sounds of Science”. He claimed that the Beatles filed preliminary legal papers, and that his response was “What’s cooler than getting sued by the Beatles?”