The Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989)

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This is the smartest album ever made. It’s a fact. I don’t mean thematically, necessarily, and it lacks the pretension of many of the more obvious candidates, none of which spring immediately to mind, but this album, this glorious Technicolor collage of an album, is more densely packed with clever shit than anything I can think of. It has oft been imitated, even by its creators, The Beastie Boys and its producers The Dust Brothers, but there is nothing I am aware of in the last 23 years has truly matched it for sheer unbridled creativity. Which is surprising seeing as much of it is recycled.

The legacy of Pauls’ Boutique runs deep, coursing through Beck, Kanye West, Dr Dre, Jay Z, The Avalanches and numerous other acclaimed artists who have skilfully pilfered the past and repackaged it as something fresh and new. This was the moment when sampling reached its pinnacle as an art form, and it is an art form, before it was brutally curtailed by Gilbert O’Sullivan, that overly litigious purveyor of 70s mediocrity, in the early 90s.

Listening through it dozens of times reveals new and different things previously buried deep in a sea of snippets from artists as diverse as The Beatles and The Sweet. In terms of the sheer breadth of artists and the range of styles encompassed in one album, Paul’s Boutique is without peer. The sampling is staggering, phenomenal, breath-taking, surprising and so damned clever. Each one is dropped with precision, none of them are lazy or predictable and the overall effect is of a giant tapestry woven from vaguely recognisable snippets of other songs. My sample favourite is probably the brilliantly deployed sample of Ernie Isley’s guitar riff from ‘That Lady’ in ‘B-Boy Bouillabaise’, the 12 minute long, 9-part medley suite that closes the album. It is, in my humble opinion, the best production job ever done on any album ever. The Dust Brothers are geniuses and I wish they worked more often.

The album is also incredibly lyrically dense. The Beasties were never the best rappers ever – really more nasal shouters than anything – but what they lacked in vocal dexterity, they made up for with lyrical intelligence. Never has bullshit, B-boy boasting sounded quite so impressive as on Paul’s Boutique and never has it been pulled off with such panache. They never had the knack for gritty realism, instead they rap about landing ladies with the help of Chuck Woolery, getting more hits than Sadaharu Oh, the periodic table, Isaac Newton, throwing an egg at a bald man and Christ knows what else those crazy bastards could come up with. Their gracelessly brilliant shoutings are as entertaining as the production, and as dense with references, call-backs and in-jokes. There’s so much going on that even after listening through the whole thing dozens if times I still hear knew things every single time.

To further argue my initial argument, this isn’t an album that makes a point, because there is no point to make other than proving how brilliant they could be when they weren’t too busy being crazy. No album is this rich with ideas and personality, no album is this well produced, few albums are this ingeniously and creatively written and, more importantly, few albums have broken as many barriers as this one. They took rap from being about Adidas and the inner-city, and made something with a broader vision, bordering on a hip hop opera. Personally, though, I just think its has a selection of the funkiest, funniest songs ever recorded: the drum fills on ‘Hey Ladies’ alone are better than anything most artists ever manage. Paul’s Boutique is an almost perfect album; hell, it is perfect, and I adore it. The Beastie Boys are legends, and the past weeks have been sad indeed.

Adam “MCA” Yauch : 1964-2012

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    ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ is the only other album which really compares with the density of samples used. Apparently Hank Shocklee was obsessed with ‘Paul’s Boutique’ and the production on ‘Fear’ was designed to top it. Its insane, the samples are distorted and filtered beyond recognition, the Bomb Squad would throw records on the floor and stand on them to get the effect they wanted. Most of the samples of ‘Paul’s Boutiques’ are left untouched, but they’re layered and mixed creating a collage beyond simple loops of Rick James’ riffs.

    ‘Car Thief’ to me has the best arbitrary sample in any hip hop song; the point after “hurdy gurdy man” is yelled the drum fill from the Donovan song is played.

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