- Reading time: four minutes
- Word count: 696
- Published: 15 may 2013
- Author: Matador the First
- Copyright: Matador the First, 2013
Last May, when I heard Paul’s Boutique for the very first time, two things immediately stood out: The album is full of life, and it is layered and dense. More importantly, Paul’s Boutique knows when to be dense, and it knows when to pull back, and for a record built so heavily on sampled music, sounds, and dialog, it doesn’t feel at all like it was assembled in a studio, much like “Good Vibrations” or Dark Side of the Moon. The Dust Brothers and Beastie Boys were smart not only in what music, sounds, and dialog they sampled, but also in how they used it all: Everything sounds and feels right when and where they use it.
The Beastie Boys aren’t just rapping over a handful of beats the Dust Brothers have sampled. For the most part, they’re re-purposing their sourced sounds and riffs entirely. On “Shadrach,” for example, the Beastie Boys’ brash and loud delivery is balanced out by the female vocal from Sly Stone’s “Loose Booty”; instead of being a part of the manic energy on “Shadrach” as it is on “Booty,” the female vocal in the Beastie Boys cut helps ground the vocals as a whole, presiding over the song’s calmer moments. And on the first half of “The Sounds of Science,” which has the Beasties rapping over Paul McCartney’s slow swingy bassline from “When I’m Sixty-Four,” it is the Boys who are setting the song’s rhythm. They aren’t rapping to or around the beat—they are rapping the beat itself, and McCartney’s bassline becomes a backdrop.
The Beastie Boys and Dust Brothers didn’t look at Paul’s Boutique as simply a collage, and it certainly doesn’t feel like one. Sound effects and dialog are used as accents, counterpoints, interjections the Boys react to, and, occasionally, links between segments and songs. Sometimes they’re used to illustrate the Beasties’ lyrics, and some musical samples serve as accents or markers—e.g. the one guitar note from “Mississippi Queen” on “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun”—but even these more incidental samples never stick out, because they are intentional parts of the music as a whole.
Rather than relying on past work to provide a musical framework for them, the Boys and the Brothers create their own backbone by disassembling music and sounds and reassembling them into new rhythmic and textural spines. They’re using the sampled music and sounds to round out the album’s sound, to fill the empty spaces, to give the album muscle, flavor, and energy—the opposite of sampling a beat and getting the bulk of a song’s flavor from the rapper’s rhymes. In fact, the Beasties’ vocals are mixed only just above the sampled and live instrumentation, instead of being clearly and obviously on top, and so their voices become another texture in the album’s broad palette.
The vocals aren’t the album’s primary flavor, though, so the beats and music, rather than being looped endlessly, change to suit their songs. There are sections that are fairly repetitive, but the BB/DB stave off monotony by disappearing riffs and loops and bringing them back later on in the song, sometimes replacing or complementing them with another riff or texture, sometimes not. This is not to say the songs are never repetitive. Oftentimes they are—Paul’s Boutique is still pop music, after all. But its repetition is not monotonous. This is an album whose instrumental version you could enjoy.
Paul’s Boutique is a paragon of the phrase standing on the shoulders of giants: The Beastie Boys and Dust Brothers have made a lively, original new work out of scores of disparate riffs and sounds. They have shown just how new a thing one can make out of what’s come before. On top of this—and maybe this is the real issue—Paul’s Boutique is good, eminently listenable music. Twenty-four years after release, it doesn’t sound stale or dated but, rather, fresh, vibrant, and alive—and even if their subsequent albums didn’t match the promise of this one, Paul’s Boutique stands as a testament to the Beastie Boys’ talent, ability, and vision, and definitively proves that sampling can be, and is, a lively form of art.
- Artist: Beastie Boys
- Album: Paul’s Boutique
- Released: 25 jul 1989
- Genre: Hip Hop
- Duration: 53:08
- Label: Capitol