When I think about ’80s Rap, my mind first turns to Public Enemy and N.W.A. Both groups have classics to their name and landmark releases within the decade, yet neither helmed an album as diverse, well-rounded, and timeless as Licensed to Ill by the Beastie Boys, which came a full two years before It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
With the dual Rap-Metal hysteria of “Fight for Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” the Beastie Boys were making music that sounds just as fresh today as it did upon its release, which is something that certainly cannot be said for the majority of the Rap music that came out of the time period. Before Dr. Dre revolutionized Hip-Hop production (much like Phil Spector had done for Pop music decades earlier), Rick Rubin was already merging the best of Rap and Rock n’ Roll. The Aerosmith and Run-DMC collaboration came first, but Licensed to Ill cemented the concept as one of the greatest mergers in music history.
“Fight for Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” sound so ahead of their time, the rest of the album almost sounds weak by comparison. Thankfully, Ad Rock, MCA and Mike D brought their infectious energy (and respectable rhymes) to help bolster other highlights like “Paul Revere” and “Rhymin and Stealin.” Licensed to Ill isn’t without its filler (you can probably skip “Posse in Effect,” “The New Style” and “Brass Monkey”). but when compared to their timely peers, they were on another level.