The Beastie Boys‘ first album should bear a prominent label, not to protect impressionable teens so much as their elders. warning: certain scenes and references contained herein may seem offensive, even dangerous, until you realize that it’s all a colossal joke. “We drink and rob and rhyme and pillage,” goes “Rhymin & Stealin,” the lead cut, and that could also serve as the Beastie Credo. They also boast about smoking “dust,” shooting people in the back and face, getting kicked out of White Castle and “doing it” with the aid of a Wiffle Ball bat.
You’d want to jump these suckers yourself if the protean beat underneath all their blather weren’t played so close to the bone. Producer-DJ Rick Rubin recycles licks ripped from Led Zeppelin, James Brown and Mr. Ed with razor-sharp precision and a sense of humor. Licensed to Ill is one hard-rockin’ cartoon, a rappin’ caricature so huge only a grown-up sourpuss could take it seriously.
Like Run-D.M.C., the Beasties match the sonic grandeur of heavy-metal guitar with rap’s “Say what?” immediacy: truly a marriage made in hell. But where Run and D.M.C. declaim with the fury of the righteous, Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock (“King Whine”) sneer and hoot like privileged hooligans. Licensed to Ill cuts an even wider swath musically than Raising Hell, and it’s the brash assurance of Rubin’s “stealin” that ultimately makes these white boys more than a sophomoric joke.
“She’s Crafty,” “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and “The New Style” are all squealing examples of Rubin’s signature metal-beat-box fusion, but even the kookiest mutations sound great here. “Paul Revere” puts a scabrous (and highly unlikely) autobiographical rap to a creepy underwater gurgle beat, “Girls” is irresistibly delinquent doowop, and “Slow Ride” takes War’s “Low Rider” on a stuttering cruise through the Beasties’ beer-fueled fantasy world. Rubin and the boys reach an epiphany of sorts on “Fight for Your Right,” a mindless, undeniable ode to hedonism every bit the equal of the classic Kiss anthem “Rock & Roll All Nite.” If that brings a smile to your face, well, it’s time to get ill.