The Beastie Boys 30th Anniversary

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of their debut album Licensed to Ill, we take a nostalgic look back on the legendary careers of The Beastie Boys.

In November of 1986, The Beastie Boys debuted with their album Licensed to Ill and a legend was born. The Beastie Boys roots go a little farther back, as they originally started out as a punk band before meshing their punk rock sensibilities with the newest genre of music—rap. This would become a precursor to the rap-rock and a frat boy-style they made all their own.

License to Ill was a huge hit, and became the first rap album to ever hit #1 on the charts where it remained for five straight weeks. It also went down in history as the best-selling rap album of the 1980s. From there, The Beastie Boys went on to become one of the biggest acts in the world.

The mixture of genres and color barriers featured in their unique style of hip-hop continued to change and evolve over the course of their career, including the incorporation of punk rock in later albums. In 2012, Adam Yauch (also known as MCA), sadly passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Because of this, Mike D and Ad-Rock decided to close up shop, as there could be no Beastie Boys without MCA. Over the years, the guys evolved from party rappers and the wildness that goes along with it, to socially active and responsible men. They’ve fought for a host of human rights issues over the years, most notably the Tibetan Freedom Concert.

They are on a large number of “greatest” lists for their songs, to albums, to the group itself. They had the ultimate honor a few weeks before Yauch’s death to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yauch could not attend due to his illness, though a letter he wrote was read to the crowd. I was a kid when the Beastie Boy’s License to Ill album was released.

Nevertheless, I became a huge fan and loved their videos on MTV. I followed them throughout their entire career and was deeply saddened by Yauch’s passing, as I felt as though my generation had truly lost an icon and leader. In honor of the 30th anniversary of the release of Licensed to Ill on vinyl (review coming in this week’s Vinyl of the Week), let’s take a look back at The Beastie Boys and their incredible history.

License to Ill (1986) 

The is the album that started it all. Stayed tuned for an in-depth look at this rap classic in this week’s upcoming Vinyl of the Week.

Paul’s Boutique (1989) 

After leaving Def Jam and Rick Rubin behind, the guys signed on with Capitol Records, where they stayed for the rest of their career. Paul’s Boutique was quite a change from their previous record and showed that The Beastie Boys were more than just three guys partying all the time. At first, the album was not received well. However, over time Paul’s Boutique became named by many as one of The Beastie Boys’ masterpiece works.

I tend to agree, especially when I hear the way they incorporated beats and samples (which was groundbreaking at the time). The mixture of horns and various other instruments and styles on this album truly showed the artistry that was to continue throughout every subsequent album The Beastie Boys released. Tracks including as Hey Ladies, Shadrach, Shake Your Rump, and High Plains Drifter demonstrated the growth and diversity that The Beastie Boys would become known for.

Ill Communication (1994) 

This album transitioned between pure rock songs such as their huge hit Sabotage and hip-hop tracks like Sure Shot. With songs like Root Down, which served as a throwback to their earlier work, Ill Communication earned its place on a lot of “Best of the 90s” lists... and rightfully so. Personally, I believe that from the beginning track to the end, this is the best album The Beastie Boys ever released.

Hello Nasty (1998)

The Beastie Boys’ last album of the 90s added DJ Mix Master Mike to their lineup. With great tracks like Body Movin’ and Intergalactic, the band moved into the next phase of their career. They went back to their original rap sound, but still used various different instruments to heighten their songs. Around this time, the group started to become more political and stepped away from recording for a bit.

That didn’t stop their live shows from happening, and they continued to tour. In fact, they were one of the first bands to ever offer MP3 recordings from their live shows to fans. Unfortunately, a huge tour with Rage Against the Machine and Busta Rhymes was canceled after Mike D suffered an accident and couldn’t perform. Personally, I was super bummed as I had my tickets to what would have been an amazing show.

To The 5 Boroughs (2004) 

After five years, the band delivered this album. It’s best known for the singles CH-Check it Out and Triple Trouble. At this point, the band settled into their hybrid style and To The 5 Boroughs felt underwhelming, at least for me. While recording their next album in 2009, Adam Yauch announced that the band was taking some time off while he dealt with a cancerous tumor.

As a result, The Beastie Boys canceled a headlining stint on Lollapalooza as well as the All Points West Fest in New Jersey. I remember the disappointment of cancellation after cancellation, as I was excited to see The Beastie Boys. Nevertheless, I also found myself praying for MCA to get healthy.

Check Your Head (2009) 

This has always been my favorite Beastie Boys album. The attitude and verses thrown out on Check Your Head are top-notch. Changing things up again from Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head features the guys playing various instruments again while incorporating more of their original punk roots. Standout tracks on this album are Pass the Mic, Gratitude, and my all-time favorite, So What’cha Want. The introduction of new instruments has many music lovers looking back on Check Your Head as a precursor to the wave of nu-metal.

Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 (2011) 

In 2011, The Beastie Boys returned with what would be their last album. It was originally going to be released in 2009 as Part 1, but with Yauch’s illness prior to their reunion to finish everything up, they decided to give it the “Part 2” tag. I feel this was their best album since Ill Communication. The guys went with their classic style of rap as opposed to changing things up with the times and matching how rap was now being presented. The amazing throwbacks were evident on singles Too Many Rappers (feat Nas) and Make Some Noise.

A year later, MCA passed away after another battle with cancer at the age of 47. His death sent shockwaves around the globe as he was always known for being a celebrated artist, humanitarian, and fighter for justice throughout the world. Mike D and Ad Rock have stated that without MCA, The Beastie Boys could no longer exist.

The Beastie Boys have, without a doubt, left a legacy that includes bringing rap into millions of diverse households and helping to raise awareness for all of the human rights and causes that they believed in. I believe they will be celebrated for generations to come and on this 30th anniversary of their first major release, I want to thank them for all they have done and the amazing legacy they left behind.