BEASTIE BOYS — Licensed to Ill (review)

BEASTIE BOYS — Licensed to Ill album cover Album · 1986 · Non-Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
1/5 ·
Vim Fuego
Yes, dear reader, this is a rap album review, but please bear with me, for a metal story is to follow. It is an ancient tale from far back in the mists of time. It is a tale of a hero bold and brave, and not really bright enough to know any better. It is a tale of fair maidens and slain dragons (or would be, if you think of the dragons in a metaphorical sense, and the maidens... er, would you consider random pictorials ripped from 1986 Penthouse magazines to be fair maidens?)

So “Licensed to Ill”? I really fucking hate this thing. I think this album is one of the worst pieces of shit I have ever had the misfortune to hear, but in all fairness to be able to write a fair review, I had to listen to it again. So...

Nope, 30 plus years haven’t improved it in my estimation. “Rhymin & Stealin” stole shit from Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin (hmm... maybe a little poetic justice in that?) with stupid whiny lyrics all over it, and it only get worse from there. “Slow Ride” pinches the horn riff from “Low Rider”, with something of a samba beat, and might be OK without the stupid raping over it. “Girls” is puerile, misogynistic Casio-rap. OK, the idiot party anthem that is “Fight For Your Right to Party” gets a pass. Its harmless, brainless throwaway rap/rock for white teenage boys. “No Sleep ‘til Brooklyn” is even more brainless, and shorter still on rock content, but does have quite the solo at the end. And the rest of the album, well there’s always the “skip” button. There, said it. Done. If all you’re interested in is what I think of the music, you can stop reading here.

However, I owe this album a lot. If it hadn’t been for the first rap album to go to number one in the charts, I might never have become the person I am today. “Licensed To Ill” started my quest for metal. Let’s wind back the clock to 1987. Internationally, it was the year of the Black Monday stock market crash, Ronald Reagan was slowly losing his marbles in the White House, a US politician shot himself on live TV, New Zealand hosted and won the first rugby World Cup, and Canada introduced the Loonie.

This story requires something of a cast of characters - no real names used here to protect the pathetic. There’s me, the heroic but slightly nerdy (OK, VERY nerdy) protagonist of this tale, and whose embarrassing nicknames will remain unrevealed. Next is Harry, music tragic, but the best friend you’d ever want, even to this day (See my review of Slayer’s “Seasons in the Abyss” for more adventures with Harry). Then there was Fru-Ju. The name has nothing to do with Jewish heritage or anything, It’s just his name bore a similarity to Fru-Ju ice creams. There was Nerd-gel, a ladies’ man in his own mind only. There were a few others too – Brickie or Brickman, Scummy (really unfortunate name, and given to him by someone whose own nickname was Egg), Jimmy… yeah, that’ll do before this all gets out of hand.

I was 14, going on 15, and was busy preparing for School Certificate, which were the big Year 11 exams in New Zealand, roughly equivalent to O Levels or GCSE in the UK, and whatever the US does at Grade 10. Basically, this means it’s a year where you’re supposed to work and study hard at school, but you’re starting to get interested in partying and fun. It’s that year when your parents say “the rest of your life depends on how well you do at school this year”, which generally turns out to be bullshit, but you’re not old enough to know it yet.

I had found that listening to music helped me with my studies, but I was quite puzzled trying to figure out what sort of music I really liked to listen to. I had a few Dire Straits albums, and I still rate the band to this day. I had Kevin Bloody Wilson’s “Kev’s Back”, the album with the infamous “Hey, Santa Claus” song, and I had a really badly recorded copy of Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry”. Otherwise, it was the radio. The problem with the radio was there was the occasional good song, followed by half a dozen shit songs, before the next decent tune. It was time to expand my musical horizons. But in which direction?

The radio wasn’t much help. I thought Michael Jackson’s “Bad” lived up to its title. U2 had lost some fucking thing they were looking for, but instead of looking in the last place they left it, wrote a song about it. Paul Simon wanted people to call him Al, but we all knew his name was still Paul. Talking Heads were on an endless road to no-bloody-where, and wouldn’t shut up about it. The song which was to Rickroll millions across the world decades later was unleashed on an unsuspecting public, who were gormless enough to make it the number one hit on 23 different charts around the globe.

A friend in need is a friend indeed, and I was a friend with needs, so I asked around. And what a useless bunch of pricks these guys turned out to be.

I started with Harry, who had the most valuable of all devices, a double tape deck. On the upside, Harry had few musical boundaries, so he gave me quite an eclectic mix tape. On the downside, Harry doesn’t have a bullshit filter. Nestled alongside gems like Quiet Riot’s “Cum On Feel The Noize”, Meatloaf’s “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth” and Marianne Faithful’s “Ballad of Lucy Jordan” came turds like Kylie Minogue’s “Locomotion” and something or other by Icehouse.

Next I went to Fru-Ju. He listened to the radio more than anyone else. From him I got “Showing Out (Get Fresh at the Weekend)" and “Respectable” (which we renamed “Respectyourballs” in a show of high wit) by Mel and Kim (if you’re asking “who?”, then you’ll understand the problem), “Walk Like An Egyptian” by The Bangles, and “Venus” by Bananarama. Seems he was more interested in what the singers looked like rather than what they sounded like. On the plus side, he also recommended “All You Zombies” by The Hooters.

Brickie was a bit more promising. He suggested Europe, Whitesnake, and Bon Jovi. Scummy also reckoned Whitesnake was worth a listen. Nerd-gel was no fucking help. He really didn’t know anything about music. Jimmy was new at our school that year. He was what would be called a stoner now, but we had no idea back then. He suggested some weird shit – these bands we’d never heard of. “There’s this cool song called ‘Transvestite’ by Peter and the Test Tube Babies. The Dead Kennedys are really cool. And have you heard anything by Metallica?” He didn’t have anything by any of these bands, so I remained none the wiser.

And then Nerd-gel came up with a surprise. It was a tape with a crumpled aeroplane on the cover. Yep, “Licensed to Ill”. We’d all seen the riotous video for “Fight For Your Right To Party”, and here was the album it came from. Everyone got right into it. Except me. This shit was really stupid. It lived up to the witless label “rap crap” (yeah, not clever now, not particularly clever then) as far as I was concerned. Nerd-gel turned into a prick. First, he wouldn’t me borrow his tape. I wanted to hear it properly to see if there was something I wasn’t quite getting. I think he thought it made him special or something. Then he started adopting rap culture and language, and then so did Fru-Ju. It started with baseball caps and low-slung pants. The others weren’t quite so into the culture, but they all seemed to love this album. But I didn’t.

Then came the moment. Nerd-gel had some teen pop magazine with instructions on how to be a rap fan, and was reading it out to us in the corridor one lunch time. It had all about what to wear, what to say, and what you should and shouldn’t like. The uniform is pretty well known now. The language included idiotic words like “skeezing” (had no idea what it meant then, really couldn’t give a fuck now), and new definitions for old words, like “ill” (duh!). The shit you were supposed to like I don’t remember, but one of the things you weren’t supposed to like was heavy metal, and in particular, Deep Purple. That was the final straw for me. “Smoke On The Water” had been one of my favourite songs since I was a kid. At that moment, I rejected this fake, pretend “culture” this poser was embracing, and decided metal was what was important to me. What sort of dumb-assed trend needed a fucking instruction manual, for fuck’s sake? It was faux inner city/urban bullshit. We went to a small high school in a rural town in New Zealand. What the fuck did we know of life and culture in cities like New York or L.A.? It was about as urban as the Serengeti plains or the Amazon jungle. I’d like to think that I told Nerd-gel to fuck off, but I probably didn’t. Yeah, metaphorical dragon slain, but I was still a bit pathetic...

Almost immediately, I got Harry to get me copies of Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet”, and “Masters of Metal”, one of those cheapie thrown together compilations by a record label that had heard of heavy metal, but didn’t really know what to do with it. I hammered those two albums and Twisted Sister while was studying for my exams. I passed with some excellent marks, as did everyone else, except Nerd-gel. Yep, he really wasn’t too bright.

More than three decades later, I’m still living the metal life, and still exploring and enjoying metal from the world over, while the rap/hip-hop culture proved to be a five minute fad for the others. I explored Scummy and Brickie’s suggestions further. I eventually discovered the bands Jimmy had suggested. I got a bit more metal off Harry, and gave him plenty more back in return.

Nerd-gel and Fru-Ju turned into right cunts the next year at school (quote from Jimmy: “What the fuck crawled up their asses?”), and along with Scummy weren’t around for the last year at high school. Brickie turned out to be incredibly studious, and worked flat out the rest of the time he was at high school, while Harry, Jimmy, and I enjoyed ourselves, but still did enough to pass.

So what happened to this merry bunch of nerds?

Last I saw Nerd-gel, he was working in a petrol station (that was more than 20 years ago, so he’s probably moved on from that. He was still a cunt though). Fru-Ju went off to boarding school for his final year, spent his time at university drunk, or at least he was every time I saw him, and is now a manager in one branch of his family’s business. Last time I saw him he was pissed as a fart in a restaurant with some woman (his wife, I suppose?) ranting at him.

Brickie did really well at university, and went into finance. I heard he’d had some serious stress related health problems in his early 20s. Last time I saw Scummy, he was a regional sales manager for an electrical appliance supplier. Jimmy took a gap year in 1990 instead of going straight to university like I did. He still hasn’t got there quite yet. It turns out I drive past the company where he is a manager on my way to work.

Harry and I partied too hard. Even though he did a bit better than me in our University entrance exams, he went back and repeated the final year of high school. He’s now an engineer who jets round the country, servicing high tech medical equipment in hospitals.

As for me, I went to university, and took five and a half years to complete a three year degree. I have since moved on to be an astronaut, rocket scientist, spy, and movie stuntman (what? It’s my story! Ah fuck it. I meant teacher, journalist, shop assistant, farm worker, and now technical writer). I discovered an absolute fuckton of metal on my mostly merry journey through this weird old life, and I owe so much of it to one crappy yet ground-breaking rap album.

So, thank you Beastie Boys. I hate your music, but I love what you have done for me.
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siLLy puPPy wrote:
23 days ago
Gosh i remember when there were fights amongst metalheads about what was metal. Yeah hip hop and metal used to exist in completely separate worlds but these days that's not as much the case. There are many of us such as myself who are comfortable straddling as many musical genres as possible although metal is a top dog in my world of course :)
adg211288 wrote:
24 days ago
For comparison, the few times I've encountered a die hard rap fan in real life and somehow got onto music with them, they've actually been more curious about metal than dismissive. Clueless when you try to explain the different between sub-genres though. I've always found it's just online where things get really toxic.
adg211288 wrote:
24 days ago
I had my share of run-ins with rap culture though as a young developing metalhead. The whole 'rap vs metal' thing was rampant on YouTube when I first joined, back in the day when that site was very different than it is now with more community features and actual social circles. Rap fans would regularly invade metal videos (unfortunately metal fans probably did the same to them) to denounce our music and make anti-metal videos (again, sadly, metalheads did the same back at them).

That was a long time ago, but I still remember a few things the rap fans would come out with. A common theme among those people was their belief that they actually understood metal better than metalheads did. One gem of a person in particular was very insistent that Iron Maiden was a pop rock band.

adg211288 wrote:
24 days ago
You sure know how to tell a good story Patrick. I can relate to this in some respects, although my Beastie Boys were actually popular rock bands of the time. I've mentioned this story on the forums not that long ago.
siLLy puPPy wrote:
26 days ago
She's Crafty and so is this album! Vim, we're gonna have to send you to a re-education camp :D
Vim Fuego wrote:
26 days ago
I gotta say I don't know that song.
Unitron wrote:
26 days ago
Disagree with the opinion on the music, but good entertaining story. I don't understand where the whole rap fans vs metal fans thing even came from in the first place, and what led stupid magazines like you mention to sell it. From what I've read about the musicians, hip hop artists and metal artists don't seem to harbor any real dislike towards each other.

Even though you obviously don't like the Beastie Boys, what do you think of Anthrax's cover of Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun?

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