Hip-Hop’s lost classic
If you can imagine, later this year will mark the 20th anniversary of the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill, arguably the best rap album evar. Will there be a special edition of XXL with the making of the album and interviews with long lost weed (or in this case, angel dust) carriers? All signs point to probably not.
For being arguably the best rap album evar, the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill has been largely written out of hip-hop discourse. You don’t always see it mentioned along with the likes of Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions… and De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising in discussions of the best hip-hop albums of all time.
While modern albums by cracka-ass crackas like Bubba Sparxxx’ Deliverance and Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP get props in hip-hop circles, Licensed to Ill still carries a certain stigma, even though it’s just as much a rap album as either of them. I wonder why that is.
It could be the case that hip-hop is a lot more diverse these days, but the legacy of the first Beastie Boys album is still tainted by people’s perceptions from way back when. Licensed to Ill is, to be sure, a real cracka-ish album. Black audiences at the time probably couldn’t relate to it as much as, say, Run-DMC’s Raising Hell and whatever else was out at the time.
That said, Deliverance and the Marshall Mathers LP are pretty cracka-ish as well. A case could even be made for both of those albums being “whiter” in terms of content than the Beastie Boys album, which is primarily concerned with drinking and degrading women – things any young brother could relate to.
Licensed to Ill does have its share of rock guitar (god forbid!), but probably not as much as you’d think. There are plenty of tracks on there that are straight 1986 hip-hop. You wouldn’t necessarily know it though from peeping the videos for “Fight for Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” on MTV though.
Which brings me to my next point: Licensed to Ill was marketed as a rock album that happened to feature rapping rather than a rap album with a couple of rock songs on it, which is what it is. This was obviously a stroke of genius though, to witness the album’s sales figures. Licensed to Ill was the first rap album to top Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart and still sells well to this day.
In fact, Licensed to Ill is one of the all-time top “catalog” albums evar, along with the likes of Bob Marley’s god-awful Legend, AC/DC’s Back in Black, and the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), the best-selling album evar. Word to Michael Jackson. I don’t know of another album in hip-hop that has a commercial history anything like it.
As such, it would seem silly to declare Licensed to Ill one of the most unfairly maligned albums in hip-hop, but I think I will. The hip-hop community should make a concerted effort to reclaim it from generations of Corona-drinking frat boys, who should only listen to Paul’s Boutique.
 An interesting story could be written on who actually gets the check from that album. I’d write it myself, but I don’t have that information. If I had to guess though, I’d say it’s Russell Simmons. “Got fat bass lines like Russell Simmons steals money.”