The Rolling Stone Hall of Fame: the Beastie Boys' 'Paul's Boutique'

A look back at the greatest albums ever made

Beastie Boys press conference on March 18th, 1989.
Time & Life Pictures/Getty
February 6, 2003

I realize we were supposed to come out with Fight for Your Right to Party, Part Two and fall on our faces," Mike D said in 1989. "Sorry to disappoint everyone." History is full of difficult second albums from one-hit wonders who couldn't keep it up, but it's safe to say that nobody has ever made a more unexpectedly brilliant sophomore blast than the Beastie Boys, who crowned the glorious hip-hop summer of 1989 with Paul's Boutique. Even fans who loved Licensed to Ill assumed it was a one-shot. But the Beasties came back with their best album, 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. Michael "Mike D" Diamond, Adam "MCA" Yauch and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz spend the album living in the rat race, smoking rat weed, eating cheese on rye with ham and prosciutto, and counting more louie than Philip Rizzuto.

The Beasties couldn't have done it without their new producers, the Dust Brothers, who filtered a Seventies funk vibe through an Eighties hip-hop prism, sampling old-school classics from Funky Four Plus One's "That's the Joint" to Love Bug Starski's "Starski Live at the Disco Fever." It's one of the most loving musical portraits of New York ever made, all the more poignant for coming from hip-hop expatriates stuck in Los Angeles, as the homesick Beasties reminisce about a New York utopia full of Park Slope pickpockets, cheeba-dealing cops, Italian women living large in the Village and party people going places on the D train. In the best song, the very underpraised "Car Thief," the Beasties crack each other up with tasteless drug jokes ("Doing nose candy on the Bowie coke mirror/My girl asked for some but I pretended not to hear her" – good one); "B-Boy Bouillabaisse" weaves countless samples together into a broader-than-Broadway hip-hop epic. There weren't any hit singles here, and the album was judged a commercial flop. But years later, Paul's Boutique is still smoking much buddha and smoking much boots.

This story is from the February 6th, 2003 issue of Rolling Stone.

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