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When the Beastie Boys Released Their Masterpiece, ‘Paul’s Boutique’

'Paul's Boutique'

When we ranked the Beastie Boys‘ catalog as part of our ongoing Worst to First series, we had no problem playing Paul’s Boutique in the No. 1 spot. Today, July 25, we celebrate this iconic record’s anniversary by looking back at its legacy with Tim Karan‘s defense of its top ranking. You can see our complete Worst to First for the Beasties’ discography at the bottom of this story.

While Licensed to Ill provided the archetype for all Beastie Boys music (and arguably all pop music) to follow, 1989’s Paul’s Boutique is the act’s true artistic triumph.

A commercial disappointment upon its release, it’s a scrapbook of pop culture touchstones both obscure and overt with sampling on a scale the world had never seen before. The Beasties created it on the West Coast with help from the Dust Brothers following an ugly divorce from Def Jam, but Paul’s Boutique is actually an unabashed homage to New York City in the ’80s complete with street-level storytelling; filthy, window-rattling bass; and industrial loops and jarring sound effects that create an aural depiction of NYC from afar and a veritable cavalcade of American junk culture.

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But acclaim for the album would come mostly in retrospect as the rest of the world finally caught up to the post-modern art the B-Boys pioneered with “Hey Ladies,” “Shake Your Rump,” “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” and other deeper cuts that showcase more texture, lyrical dexterity and nuance than anything anyone creates even now – and that’s with the benefit of already having Paul’s Boutique as a blueprint.

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Worst to First: Every Beastie Boys Album Ranked

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