DUST IT OFF: Beastie Boys’ “Love American Style EP”…25 years later

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Before the first day of summer 1989, there was a greater than great buzz for the follow up to the Beastie Boys’ debut album, Licensed To Ill (Def Jam). It wasn’t just about the music, as the Beastie Boys were a group who received a level of buzz that was quite different from your ordinary rappers. Then again, it was 1989, there wasn’t something called an “ordinary rapper”, or at least everyone was doing something to be original, and the Beastie Boys were definitely not like anyone else. Fans knew the group had jumped ship from Def Jam to Capitol Records, on top of moving from New York City to Los Angeles, partly because the Beastie Boys had enough of their former label and needed to find not only a change of pace, but freedom. Def Jam threw out a lawsuit, claiming the Beastie Boys owed them a contractual album, and they were going to do anything in their power to release an album, even if it was without their permission. That album was said to have been called The White House, complete with production from those who were a part of Def Jam’s roster, including Chuck D. By the time the summer of 1989 came about, when the final second album was released, then the news changed. Chuck D. was allegedly quoted as saying something to the effect of “once he heard the actual album, he knew the group were in good hands”, his way of saying that he wasn’t going to handle any part of the production as Carl Ryder. Chuck D.’s own pseudonum as one-quarter of the production team known as The Bomb Squad. However, that’s a jump ahead for what was a sneak preview of that second album, Paul’s Boutique (Capitol).

Paul’s Boutique was supposed to be everything the industry wanted it to be: the best follow-up of Licensed To Ill, the worst follow-up to Licensed To Ill, there were a lot of things discussed but no one could quite guess what their direction would be. Would it be more of the same, a rehash of the old formula, or could it be the future? Will the Beastie Boys be able to go past the sophomore slump or would they prove to be a one-album wonder. The Beastie Boys were loved, as much as they were hated, for their drunken college rhyme schemes and nothing more. There was definitely a clever side to their pranks and humor, but people seemed to love them for their childish ways as much as people didn’t. They were white guys and nothing more, but those who did hear more were anxious to know what they’d come up with next.

The Love American Style EP was far from what anyone expected. The title was based on the 1970’s sitcom of the same name, so on that alone the group were setting a mood. What type of mood, not quite known yet. The cover photo was taken with a fish-eyed lens of three women posing around in a red, white, and blue=painted kitchen. Trippy, psychedelic, far out, but what did it mean? Does it mean anything. The EP consisted of the first two hits-to-be from Paul’s Boutique, the big single being “Hey Ladies”.

If music videos were already becoming, for some, the sole way to be literal about a song, then fans watched the disco-era clothing and scenery of the video and wondered why did the Beastie Boys turn disco? Keep in mind too that in 1989, the link between hip-hop and disco was not something thoroughly discussed or investigated, for there wasn’t a hip-hop mainstream media just yet. If you were to read about topics like that in the mainstream, you might catch it in Spin, but rap music was still rap music, it was the end of the decade. The music was still kicking it, but people were also wondering of rap music would become a fad of the 80’s and return to obscurity once 1990 found itself on the calendar. “Hey Ladies” began with a sample from The Commodores’ “Machine Fun”, a funky song that might not be stereotypically disco but caught a group that made some feel its 1970’s splendor. Listeners seemed to refuse to detach the disco-era feel of the video with the song, which left some confused. Meanwhile, those who watched the video and saw a Foghat 8-track, heard the Deep Purple sample, and heard lyrics like “take my advice, at any price/a gorilla like your mother is mighty weak, man” and “woke up in the morning with a one ton ho” were catching something new, that something else was going on that had nothing to do with the Licensed To Ill experience. Either you got “Hey Ladies” at first or you didn’t. I could sense the disco-ness of the song but it seemed a lot more than just flat out disco. The Roger, Deep Purple, and Kool & The Gang sample puzzle felt as if there was a lot more going on, quick glimpses from other records that felt more original than Licensed To Ill. I wanted to hear more.

While “Hey Ladies” was the introduction to what was to come on their second album, the first song on Love American Style EP was the incredibly funky “Shake Your Rump”. It seemed further from the first album but felt more like what was going on in rap music at the time. It felt modern, as if you could put this next to De La Soul, The D.O.C., MC Lyte, Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo, Kid ‘N’ Play or Boogie Down Productions and it would match with everything else on a mix tape. What I loved about “Shake Your Rump”, outside of the samples, was how they were more than happy to pass the mic to one another as if they were on a basketball court or basement and just throw rhymes to one another. There were different levels, depths, and textures in the same song, as if one could hear each verse distinctly, going into a different room (or a multitude of rooms) before making it to the outside. The moment I heard the line “disco bag dropping and you doing the bump”, followed by the “shake your rump-pah” sample, and heard the crowd going nuts while another sample was being scratched. I went absolutely crazy. This felt right, as if this was the block party in New York City I had to be in, and I wanted to be a part of this place.

No one outside of the group or CapitoL Records had any sense of what this new album would be like. No one saw the cover, no one knew the vinyl pressing had an 8-panel gatefold. There was a buzz for what was new, but outside of “Hey Ladies” or “Shake Your Rump”, there were no other hints. “33% Is God” and “Dis Yourself In ’89 (Just Do It)” were nothing more than instrumental versions of the two songs, but were they? They weren’t quite remixes, it seemed what the Beastie Boys and producers The Dust Brothers did was enhance an instrumental by creating individual songs that could be enjoyed on its own. Years later, when the background for John King, Mike Simpson, and Matt Dike were learned, you realized why they did sound like a mix tape, or an old radio aircheck: they wanted it to be like that. Imagine tuning into a radio frequency in the distance and finally catching something that feels good. If you were in a car, you’d drive to the limits of the city and keep on driving so you could listen to that frequency until the gas ran out. You knew if you drove just outside of the city limits, you may not ever get that frequency again. This is what Paul’s Boutique would sound like, but no one 25 years ago knew that in full yet. I’d like to think a lot of people don’t know that now. The sound was meant to capture a time and place, and a feeling that already didn’t exist. 25 years after the fact, we’re still wondering how so many forgot to keep the spirit alive. Fortunately, there are many who know the full strength of the album that was to come.


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