ALBUM (1989)
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LIFE

When Paul's Boutique by Beastie Boys was a high point of sampling artistry

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 January, 2015, 10:41pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 January, 2015, 10:41pm

Paul’s Boutique
Beastie Boys
Capitol Records

In 1989, the Beastie Boys released an album that would win the once-derided band critical acclaim and make them hip hop's first act to be taken seriously as artists. Two years later, a court in the US passed a judgment that effectively all but criminalised the record and much of hip hop's canon up to that date.

Why the sudden change?

Apart from vocal contributions from the band's rappers Adam Horovitz, Adam Yauch and Mike Diamond, practically none of Paul's Boutique was original; in a music-history first, the backing music was almost completely created by cutting and pasting samples of other people's songs. The Beasties, their core fans and the critics loved it. But the artists whose songs had been sampled - and in thousands of other hip hop and rap records - cried foul, declaring it theft of intellectual property.

Matters came to a head when Irish/British crooner Gilbert O'Sullivan took rapper Biz Markie to court in the US over sampling of his ballad Alone Again (Naturally). It wasn't the first time an aggrieved artist had sought recognition for his sampled work, but it was the first to succeed. The upshot was that rappers would from then on have to seek and pay for permission to clear samples of other people's music.

The Beasties, as it turned out, had already received clearance for much of the music in Paul's Boutique. And it had been quite a daunting task. "Ninety-five per cent of the record was sampled," engineer Mario Caldato told Rolling Stone magazine in 2003. "They spent over US$250,000 for sample clearances. The list of samples on the album is so long they're still getting sued over it."

Adding to the cut-and-paste nature of the album, some of the music had already been recorded before the three Beasties got to the Los Angeles studio where it was recorded. Several of the tracks had been created as club instrumentals by producers the Dust Brothers and the band asked to add samples and vocals over the top.

As with many albums eventually declared masterpieces, Paul's Boutique was a commercial flop on its release. It lacked the brattish arrogance of its predecessor, Licensed to Ill, whose beer-chugging anthems to idle indulgence had catapulted hip hop to the top of the charts. The album has since sold in the millions, but after the success of their debut, a chart position of 24 put the Beastie Boys' future in the balance.

The slow-burn recognition of Paul's Boutique's significance was partly down to its change of stylistic tack. With more considered lyrics and complex backings, tracks such as Shake Your Rump, The Sounds of Science and Hey Ladies were never going to immediately thrill an audience that had lapped up goofball hits such as No Sleep Till Brooklyn or Fight for Your Right.

With sampling now too expensive for all but the richest artists, Paul's Boutique is regarded in some quarters as the epitome of the practice's artistry; the masterful creation of vital music from rock and pop's rich palette.