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Licensed to Ill

by Beastie Boys

Released November 15, 1986 via Def Jam Recordings / Columbia Records

Reviewed November 24, 2021

Top tracks (based on community voting)
No Sleep Till Brooklyn (55%), Paul Revere (41%), Brass Monkey (36%), Rhymin & Stealin (36%)

1986 marked the year of Rick Rubin; Run D.M.C.’s Raising Hell would make them the first hip-hop act to receive a Grammy nomination, Slayer’s Reign in Blood remains a seminal thrash metal record, and the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill became not only the first rap record to top the Billboard charts, but cemented the trio as the most prominent pioneers of rap rock. Rick Rubin transformed the image and sound of MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D from young punks to the lovable goofballs we now know as the Beastie Boys. Backed by the aforementioned rap rock sound, Licensed to Ill sounds somewhat rudimentary in hindsight, but was extremely innovative at the time. The fusion of sampling, turntablism, drum machines, and guitar riffs merged popular sounds of rap and rock of the time that had really only been heard on the Aerosmith and Run D.M.C. collaboration, “Walk This Way” (not so coincidentally, co-produced by Rick Rubin). And while the three MCs aren’t exactly lyrical masters, the three 20-somethings trade-off verses with unmatched chemistry and bravado. The obnoxious, occasionally sleazy, and often satirical attitude might not portray an honest image of the Beastie Boys on their debut, but it certainly led to one hell of a remarkably fun record. – Dominick (9/10)

Bold, brash, and abrasive, Beastie Boys’ debut album—Licensed To Ill—puts the group in an optimal position to provide genre-defining rap to the masses. The unapologetic rawness in their delivery is refreshing to hear, in an era where expression was in the moment, not added in post-production with vocal effects. No shade at the current generation, this is just how music was made in the late 80s. Crude expression and simple beats allowed for vocal inflections to dominate and set rhythm. The group was able to thrive in the space between rock and hip hop, with broken guitar riffs, cowbells, and hi-hats combining to create hype music. This is that music that you recite acapella in the club and everyone’s screaming and about to pop an eyeball. – Daniel (8.8/10)

The perfect place for a rock to hip-hop conversion, the best of both worlds. Beastie Boys brought an unrepeatable energy––captivating in its playful, bombastic pose. The ethos of punk rock resonates through Licensed to Ill. Rick Rubin's DIY aesthetic with regards to Def Jam and his college dorm startup, and the Beastie Boys and their roots as a punk rock band all come to fruition on the record. The essence of youth within Licensed to Ill evokes a nostalgic 80s air in subject matter, played out through tongue and cheek verbiage, and exuding personality. The production––courtesy of Rick Rubin––is far ahead of its time. The collage-like structure of the material places Licensed to Ill as a precursor to plunderphonics and the likes of DJ Shadow. Early commercial hip-hop with the energy of a thousand suns. – Peter (8/10)

Dominick: 9/10 | Daniel: 8.8/10 | DeVán: 8.5/10 | Hadley: 8.5/10 | Henny: 8/10

Pablo: 8/10 | Peter: 8/10 | Cam: 7.8/10 | Ben (Synth): 7/10


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