By Scott Fuhrmann
Upon its release License to Ill by the Beastie Boys was considered a joke by music critics. Nearly thirty years ago no one would have included License to Ill an essential album in their music library. License to Ill just didn’t seem that important in the music scene, and the Beastie Boys didn’t help this perspective with their obnoxious antics. Without License to Ill music such as nu metal and heavy beat pushed by groups like Korn and Linkin Park would not have come to be. Why is this album so important? The reason is context.
It’s hard to believe in today’s music environment that there was a huge resistance to rap and hip hop on behalf of rock fans in the mid 80’s. Dismissing it as a fad that would soon die, rap music and performers were pushed to the margins by most people and critics. Nonetheless, rap and hip hop music was gaining momentum thanks to MTV and Much Music, and began to move into the suburbs. Black artists started to sell millions of records… to white kids. This is where the Beastie Boys album License to Ill came in.
Produced by Rick Rubin for Def Jam recordings License to Ill came out in the fall of 1986. By December 1987 it had sold over 4 million copies and was the first ever rap record to hit #1. It’s also the first #1 rap album to be recorded by a white group. License to Ill was a major hit for three white kids that started their music careers playing in punk rock bands. The Beasties boys fused rock, hip hop, and rap music all into one and they were the first ones to do it. Yet despite all of the accolades for License to Ill its not even considered the Beastie Boys best recording!
Today License to Ill sounds dated, and “Fight for your Right” has one hit wonder written all over it. Yet it is unique when compared to other rap and hip hop albums that were released in the mid 80’s by the likes of RUN DMC and LL Cool J. However, the fusion of rock, rap and hip hop and ALL attitude that made “License to Ill” appealing. It crossed musical boundaries and bridged social and cultural differences between blacks and whites at that time.