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How the Beastie Boys Made Their Masterpiece

Inside the 'Paul's Boutique' sessions: huge sample budgets, chillin' with Bob Dylan and more

March 12, 2013 10:00 AM ET
Beastie Boys, Paul's Boutique
Beastie Boys, 'Paul's Boutique'
Courtesy of Capitol

Beastie Boys' 1986 debut, Licensed to Ill, made them famous. But their second album was their masterpiece. Paul's Boutique has often been called the Sgt. Pepper of hip-hop – a record that was mind-expanding in both text and texture. With help from L.A. production team the Dust Brothers, the Beasties sampled everyone from the Ramones to Mountain to the Funky 4+1 and stitched together song fragments in a way rarely seen before or since. In fact, the album may go down as the most sample-happy of all time. "Ninety-five percent of the record was sampled," said Beastie studio whiz Mario Caldato Jr. in 2003. "They spent over $250,000 for sample clearances. The list of samples on the album is so long – they're still getting sued over it."

The Beastie Boys didn't exactly struggle under the burden of high expectations for Paul's Boutique. "We were supposed to come out with 'Fight for Your Right to Party, Part Two' and fall on our faces," said Mike D. "Now we get people coming up and saying, 'I just have to thank you. . . . I got into Paul's Boutique in college.' "

The group had moved from New York to Los Angeles. They were in the midst of a painful divorce from their original label, Def Jam, and ready to start a new phase in their music. Matt Dike, head of the Delicious Vinyl label and a trendsetting L.A. DJ, heard about this and asked a mutual acquaintance to give the Beasties a pair of funky instrumental demos that he'd been working on with a production trio called the Dust Brothers (those two tracks would eventually become Boutique centerpieces "Shake Your Rump" and "Car Thief"). Production began in earnest. "The songs were really about the life we were living," Caldato says. "Staying at fancy hotels, eating at fancy restaurants, renting Beemers, chucking eggs at people," he says. "A lot of them are true stories. On 'Egg Man,' the words go 'Chuckin' eggs from the Mondrian Hotel at the cars goin' by,' and they did that. 'Chillin' with Bob Dylan'? Yeah, we were. We went to a Christmas party Dolly Parton had at her house. There were all these celebs, and there was Bob Dylan! We were like, 'Fuck, let's spark a joint. So we sparked a joint with Bob!'"

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Song Stories

“San Francisco Mabel Joy”

Mickey Newbury | 1969

A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

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