8 Things You Didn’t Know About The Beastie Boys’ Licensed To Ill


License To Ill just turned 30, feel old yet? The groundbreaking record was not only massive for rock and hip-hop, but for the lives of Beastie Boys members, Adam “MCA” Yauch, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond.

With the success of the record and careers that followed, it’s easy to look back at the 1986 version of the trio and label them purposeful geniuses. Take nothing away from the NYC rappers, but during the time they were just a bunch of Jewish kids trying to make each other laugh with nonsensical dorm-room-raps. Turns out that’s exactly what the world needed.

Here are eight things you never knew about their debut album, License To Ill.


1. The Rick Rubin Injection

The now well established, hairy and sought after producer was far from that in 1986. With only a handful of producing credits to his name, and working out of his NYU dorm room, the Beastie Boys remained faithful and chose to side with Rubin who had worked with them on their 1985 single, ‘Rock Hard’. That particular release had illegally used samples from AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’ causing it to be withdrawn from sales, but evidently that didn’t deter the trio.

Rubin is often noted as the one who injected the hip hop flavour into what was mostly a punk outfit, and Licensed To Ill will forever be one of his most influential records.

Here’s Rubin with the boys sporting matching tracksuits back in 1985. Shoutout to the ski goggles.

Licensed To Ill


2. Toppin’ The Charts

Licensed To Ill was the first ever rap LP to top the Billboard album charts, and also one of Columbia Records fastest selling debut releases. It has sold over 10 million copies in the United States alone, making it certified diamond!

Its competition in 1986? Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet (12x platinum) and Bruce Springsteen’s Live 1975-85 (13x platinum).

You can pick up a 30th anniversary edition vinyl with matching merch on the Beastie Boys website.


3. They weren’t necessarily new

Yes Licensed To Ill was their debut record, but a year earlier the Beastie Boys were touring with Madonna, and there’s no way that slot would be filled by a no-name-punk-rap-group.

Still, you might be thinking that it’s not quite a fitting match-up. And you’re right, it didn’t work.

Madonna fans were bewildered by the pairing, and the trio spent most of the tour being heckled and booed off stage. Not that they cared, especially Ad-Rock who made out with Madonna in a backstage bathroom.

The pop star explains below…



4. The Notorious Album Artwork

To match the cheekiness of the trio, the album artwork has a few hidden tricks.

For starters, when held up to a mirror the plane’s tail number, 3MTA3, reads ‘Eat Me’ (real mature guys), while the band-logo on the tail is meant to directly rip off the Harley Davidson emblem. On top of that, to quote the book 100 Best Album Covers “according to Rick Rubin, if you look at the cover sideways it looks like a penis with pubic hair.” Finally, when the album sleeve is folded in the Mad Magazine method, the piece turns into a burnt out joint.

The inspiration behind the artwork? Rubin states…

“At the time, I had just read Hammer of the Gods, a wild biography about Led Zeppelin‘s rock excesses. In the book there is a photograph of the Led Zeppelin private jet and the idea of this cover came from that. The Beastie Boys were just a bunch of little guys and I wanted us to have a Beastie Boys’ jet. I wanted to embrace and somehow distinguish, in a sarcastic way, the larger than life rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.” – 100 Best Album Covers

Funnily enough, the original artwork by David Gamabale popped up on Antiques Roadshow. A fan hunted him down and asked if he had anything associated to the original work. He picked up this beauty for $1,200.

Watch the segment below.


5. Touchy Album Title Much?

Licensed To Ill wasn’t the title they had in mind. In fact, the working album name was Don’t Be A Faggot.

Needless to say, attitudes around homophobia were a lot different in the 80’s, and so were the Beastie Boys. Their outlooks changed over time, from converting to buddhism and producing protest and gender equality songs.

With pressure from the record label, the band eventually landed on Licence To Ill – which was a pun on the James Bond film, License To Kill.

In 1999, Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz issued a public apology for the themes and language used on License To Ill.

“I would like to … formally apologise to the entire gay and lesbian community for the shitty and ignorant things we said on our first record, 1986’s Licensed to Ill. There are no excuses. But time has healed our stupidity … We hope that you’ll accept this long overdue apology.”



6. Slayer’s Kerry King Wasn’t A Fan

License To Ill was just one of four albums Rick Rubin produced in 1986. Another was Slayer’s, Reign In Blood.

Looking to bring the family together, Rubin got Slayer guitarist Kerry King to work on a couple of the Beastie Boy tracks. He’s responsible for the solo on ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn’ and is also donning the gorilla suit in the music video.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Rubin admitted that the musicians didn’t love working together…

“I don’t think he liked the song. I think he just thought it was bizarre. He’s a real, serious metalhead. He really loves metal, and I don’t think he listens to much music outside of metal. At least then he didn’t. I don’t think it spoke to his aesthetic. And honestly, in retrospect, I don’t think he really spoke to the Beasties’ aesthetic. They didn’t really like him either [laughs]. It was kind of mutual.”



7. This wasn’t the first combo of Rock & Rap

Rock and rap, what a crazy combo right? Thank god for the Beastie Boys! Well not really…

You’ll read a lot that License To Ill was the bridge that brought the two genres together, but that’s far from the truth. Run DMC’s mash up with Aerosmith came out earlier that year on their record, Raising Hell.

Well they were the first white kids writing raps right? Wrong again, remember the early Red Hot Chili Peppers? In an odd connection, actress Ione Skye dated Chili frontman Anthony Kiedis before marrying Ad-Rock in 1992.

License To Ill


8. Guest Writing Appearances

Again with the Run DMC facts. Members Darryl “D.M.C.” Matthews McDaniels and Joseph Simmons are both credited as writers for ‘Slow and Low’ and third single, ‘Paul Revere’.

The latter is a fictional story about how the group met, thus starting a trend in many Beastie Boys tracks that are linear narratives. The famous beat used on the track was thought up when the group decided to play a pre-recorded beat backwards.


Here’s the album in all its glory. Personal favourites: opening track ‘Rhymin & Stealin’ and timeless classic ‘The New Style’.


Now lets throw it back to this fantastic tribute by Seth Rogen and co. Compulsory viewing if your eyes are yet to be blessed with it.


About Jacob Burkett

Writing achievements include winning a bunch of 25 word or less comps, which makes me a specialist at Haikus.

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