After their debut album Licensed to Ill found massive success off its hit single “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)”, the Beastie Boys still often found themselves criticized as a passing fad of immature frat-rappers. The trio themselves grew to dislike the song, which was meant to be ironic but seemed to be taken at face value by many mainstream listeners. For their second album, the Beastie Boys aimed to demonstrate that they had a creative vision that extended far beyond what was displayed on Licensed to Ill. In 1989 they put out Paul’s Boutique, a commercially unsuccessful but artistically triumphant record that would eventually earn a reputation as the Sgt. Pepper’s of hip-hop.
After severing ties with Def Jam and their original producer Rick Rubin, the Beastie Boys moved to Los Angeles early in 1988 to begin a new chapter in their careers. Unfulfilled by the commercial success of Licensed to Ill, the band unburdened themselves of the pressures of album sales. They instead sought to produce a record that would earn them respect as artists.
Meanwhile, Mike Simpson and John King, a production duo known as the Dust Brothers, were hosting one of the hottest hip-hop radio shows in California. Their showcases of the latest hip-hop tracks were interspersed with their own unique productions they used in promos and PSAs. Long before the rise of the mash-up genre, the duo had been building an audience with their unprecedented sound built around extensive sampling of funk, rock and hip-hop records.
The Dust Brothers also happened to be friends with Matt Dike, a local club promoter, DJ, and a friend of Mike D of the Beastie Boys. Dike sparked a connection between the Dust Brothers and the Beastie Boys, and upon hearing the Dust Brothers’ tracks, Mike D immediately asked if he could buy them. Instead they teamed up to work on the Beastie Boys’ second album together.
Just a few months later, the Beastie Boys and the Dust Brothers had set up shop in Matt Dike’s living room to work on what would become Paul’s Boutique. Around half of the beats were produced before the collaboration came together, and with the busy production and heavy layering of samples, the Dust Brothers had originally intended for them to be instrumentals. But the Beastie Boys loved the innovative sound and kept them as they were. They pieced together songs using samples pulled from their own eclectic record collections including Curtis Mayfield, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Sly & the Family Stone, Mountain, BDP, Afrika Bambaataa, and James Brown. Somewhere between 100 and 300 songs are sampled on the album; the actual number has never been revealed.
The Beastie Boys found a supportive partner in Capitol Records, who upon hearing some early tracks believed they were on the verge of something monumental in music. When Paul’s Boutique was released it barely made the charts, but by 1999 it would sell over 2 million copies. More importantly, the album which Rolling Stone called “the Pet Sounds/The Dark Side of the Moon of hip hop,” reinvented the group and set the stage for their future accomplishments. The Dust Brothers would go on to produce Beck’s Odelay album, the film score for Fight Club, as well as Hanson’s massive hit single “MMMBop”, while the following Beastie Boys albums like Check Your Head and Ill Communication would continue to push the boundaries of artistic achievement, and how a hip-hop record could be made.