30 Years Ago Today the Beastie Boys Made Music History
By: Kyle McCann
"Now here’s a little story that I’ve got to tell about three bad brothers you know so well...."
For a lot of music fans over the age of 35, "Licensed to Ill" was probably the first rap album they owned. I remember grabbing my copy at the Sam Goody next to the mall. For others though, it may have even been the first time they had heard rap. Either way, three decades ago, that album would go on to change the music world and crash the tame party that was popular music in mainstream America.
By March of 1987, Michael "Mike D" Diamond, Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz and the late Adam "MCA" Yauch's seminal debut album had been out for more than three months, and I bet that you wouldn't have been able to find many people who hadn't heard at least one of the album's countless hits -- especially since the music video for the anthemic "Fight for Your Right" was pretty much on loop on MTV (yeah, they used to play music videos, kids). All of that likely lent itself to helping the album shoot to #1 on the charts on this day in 1987, making music history by becoming the first rap album ever to hold that coveted position.
The album stayed at #1 for nearly 10 weeks and on the charts for 73 weeks. Because, seriously, among the tracks on "Licensed to Ill," which one haven't you listened to recently? I know I've thrown most of them on on more than one occasion in the last 30 years! They're all classics:
- "Rhymin & Stealin"
- "The New Style"
- "She's Crafty"
- "Posse in Effect"
- "Slow Ride"
- "Fight for Your Right"
- "No Sleep till Brooklyn"
- "Paul Revere"
- "Hold It Now, Hit It"
- "Brass Monkey"
- "Slow and Low"
- "Time to Get Ill"
"Licensed to Ill" has sold over 9 million copies in the U.S. according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Since 1991, the group has sold 20 million albums, making them the biggest-selling rap group of the last 25-plus years.
But the album's success goes beyond sales. Especially because, let's be honest, the Beastie Boys were certainly not the only rappers dropping hits in the 80s: N.W.A., Run-D.M.C., Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, The Sugarhill Gang, KRS-One, Slick Rick, L.L. Cool J, and so many more helped me, personally, appreciate rap as a form of art -- a gritty reflection of life. But the Beastie Boys opened a window into a world I knew very little about. What the Beasties did, as three goofy white dudes from New York, was to make me feel, as a goofy white kid in the suburbs, like it was okay to love rap. Over the course of three decades, it's apparent that the impact "Licensed to Ill" had on me wasn't a unique experience.
So many of the rappers that would go on to have success in the 90s, 00s, and today, likely owe a debt of gratitude to the Beastie Boys for breaking into the bubble that was mainstream music. And not only did they poke a hole in that bubble, they made it big enough that everyone could get inside. And for that, we say thank you.
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