Hey Listen: There WAS no fucking Google.
In 1986, when my crew of eleven-year-olds discovered The Beasties’ encrypted vinyl doctrine, we had our work cut out for us. We couldn’t just type their lyrics into some futuristic machine and have the meanings handed back—each crass little Easter egg had to be decoded by perverted detective work, or by relying on older brothers and irresponsible doormen to tell us what the hell it meant:
We had to earn the enlightenment of each and every lesson, like tracking down hidden fire-flowers and 1up-mushrooms nestled in the uniform bricks of World 1-2.
In a world where owning a Playboy was the greatest achievement a kid could hope to attain, Licensed to Ill was more than the soundtrack of our childhood; it was a secret guide to humor and rebellion and confidence that helped us invent our own identities and eventually get laid.
For my crew and me, it lead to skating, to graffiti, to hip-hop; to the secret languages and underground tunnels of New York City. But whichever scenes you jocked in high school to help you find friends and give you something to pretend to be, we all had Licensed to Ill in common.
I know: You can tell which song is about to start just by the ambient static that comes before each track. Jesus, that holy beige cassette; the scent of the plastic, the magnetic tape, the felt tape heads. 3MTA3! The sounds of Licensed to Ill line the reptilian core of our brains, like old phone numbers and the smell of finger paint.
When I saw this tweet on Friday, I knew my man had captured a sentiment that I hadn’t before considered:
We all know some will jump to disagree with a statement so bold, but at its core, the observation is crucial. No one wants to award new All Time Greatest titles to motherfuckers, but sometimes Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds come along and you have to realize all these guys were just human beings in the first place.
It’s pretty straightforward: if you realize that hip-hop is now the dominant form of popular culture on this planet, you’ve got to recognize that as the first guys to bring rap music to mainstream light, the Beastie Boys get permanent crowns.
Chuck D was right: The Beastie Boys were the Jackie Robinsons of this art form, and their contribution was every bit as historic.
He laughed at the joke and was cool and gave me more respect than I deserved. I felt stupid. I guess that’s how he was: charitable and ultra-serious about his causes, but not pretentious or too much up his own ass. Guy could laugh at himself and was totally level-headed.
And academic jerkoffs much worse than me were saying shit to him like “Well DON’T you uhhhhhhh, FEEL, um, Mister YOUCH (rhymes with ouch) that your attitude of progressiveness is somewhat hypoCRITICAL, seeing as your ROOTS lie mainly in inflatable penis stage props and smoking dust?”
MCA just copped no contest – zen style – shrugging, “Man, everyone’s twenty at some point, you know? I had to be on television at that age so how you gonna hold me to that shit?”
Didn’t play it! What a fucking guy. We lost a biggie; rest in peace.