Beastie Boys ‘Paul’s Boutique’ Broke Ground w/ Country Influence

May 4, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  33 Comments

Today we learned of the death of Adam Yauch, aka “MCA” from the hip-hop and hardcore punk group The Beastie Boys. You may wonder why such news would be germane on a country music website, but 25 years after the release of The Beastie Boys commercial blockbuster album License To Ill, country music is attempting to fight off an incursion of the most awful, ill-advised, and poorly-executed attempts to bridge country and hip-hop influences into something called “country rap”.

In my Survival Guide to Country Rap, I pointed out many reasons why the fusion of country and rap rarely works, and how it can be harmful to the health of both genres by killing contrast and aiding the formation of one popular mono-genre of American music. But I also left open the idea that at times, when approached with respect and understanding, the two polar genres of country and rap could be bridged successfully.

Today many people will be pouring their brass monkey’s while listening to License to Ill, but it was not The Beastie Boys 1986 blockbuster that had the most influence in music, it was their 1989 follow up Paul’s Boutique that is considered their magum opus. Along with albums such as Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and The Sex Pistols’ Nevermind The Bullocks, I and other music critics would put Paul’s Boutique up there as one of the most influential albums in all of music, for all time.

The reason for this is because Paul’s Boutique created many of the trends that continue to be alive in popular music today, the biggest being the use of sampling in songs. Though many music listeners, especially country music listeners may see this practice as cheating, this was a completely inventive approach at the time, and a way to make old-school-sounding music in a music world The Beastie Boys had difficulty relating to. The Beastie Boys were the old-school pioneers of the late 80’s, similar to the neo-traditionalists of country today. Feeling an inferiority with present day sounds, they borrowed from the past to create feeling and nostalgia through their music. The Beastie Boys were embarrassed of being labeled one hit wonders and hacks, and wanted to assert their creative influence on the music world.

Where the country world comes in is in the heavy-handed and stark use of country and Southern influences in Paul’s Boutique. In many ways, country and Southern sounds and themes are the foundation for the album. The problem with Paul’s Boutique was that it was not very popular in its time, and was considered a flop compared to License to Ill.

The most important mark of the project on popular culture was how it interjected violent themes into rap music. At the time, “Word To Your Mother!” was about as violent as rap got, while Johnny Cash had been serenading prisons about killing a man just to watch him die for 35 years. The Beastie Boys and Paul’s Boutique took stark country and western themes and lyric modes and set them to hip hop beats built in many cases from Southern sounds and artists. Many people credit Paul’s Boutique as being the formation of “gangster rap”, and country music themes may be just as much to blame for this as The Beastie Boys and The Dust Brothers who DJ’d the album.

Paul’s Boutique’s Country & Southern Foundations

“5-Piece Chicken Dinner” is the most obvious example, a simple fiddle and banjo riff put in the album to be completely ironic, but at the same times speaks to an appeal for country music that runs like a vein through the most influential hip-hop album of all time.

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“Looking Down The Barrel of a Gun” borrows from the Southern rock anthem  “Mississippi Queen” from another from another New York band called Mountain, though most of the track is played live by Adam Yauch (MCA) and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock). This song is the best example of the violent influences of country mingling with hip-hop beats into what would become “gangster rap”.

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“High Plains Drifter” is the best example of Paul’s Boutique taking classic country and western themes and adapting them into a modern hip-hop song, and how this allowed the violent “Wild West” storytelling element of country music to assert influence on hip-hop. Sonically the song borrows heavily from The Eagles’ “Those Shoes”.

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“Johnny Ryall” is another storytelling song about a “rockabilly Star from the days of old” who “got a platinum voice but only gold records” who now is a homeless bum living on the streets of New York. This song that also references Bob Dylan’s song “Maggie’s Farm”. The amazing thing about “Johnny Ryall” is how closely it mirrors the tragedy songs written about Nashville’s forgotten stars and songwriters, songs like “Murder On Music Row” that wasn’t released until a decade later. As much of the song seems to be centered around making fun of a homeless man, the underlying message is of a forgotten rockabilly great who never was given his due.

Whole album is below, “Johnny Ryall” starts at the 4:48.

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Paul’s Boutique is an example of where country elements can be integrated with hip-hop successfully, but it also teaches us the lesson of why in the end there is no country rap, there’s only country, and hip hop. At the very beginning of the formation of hip hop, of which Paul’s Boutique is an essential element of, it became a genre of music that borrowed from other genres, like the country elements in Paul’s Boutique.

Nobody would argue that Paul’s Boutique is a country record, for the same reasons you can argue Colt Ford isn’t country either: because as soon as you integrate hip-hop elements into country music, it ceases to be country and becomes hip hop. Hip-hop elements have no history, and no place in country music, while country music, just like every other music genre, went into forming hip hop. The lessons learned from Paul’s Boutique prove this.

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Two guns up for Paul’s Boutique.

RIP Adam Yauch, aka (MCA)

(Fellow Beastie boy Mike D also has an alter ego “Country Mike”, and recorded an album “Country Mikes Greatest Hits” for friends and family in 2000).

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Preview & Purchase Tracks from Paul’s Boutique

33 Comments to “Beastie Boys ‘Paul’s Boutique’ Broke Ground w/ Country Influence”

  • i was never a fan and i never listened to any of their music until today. i remain a non-fan. influential musicians or not. meh.


  • Good read Trig. You do have it all figured out don’tcha?


    • I don’t even have it close to all figured out, but I do try to learn and understand as much as I can about the things I’m passionate about. I’ve been wanting to write about the country influences in this album for years, but without a good context (unfortunately it had to be a death) it would have comes across as out-of-place and probably put me in the crosshairs of the skinhead demo, which it probably will anyway.


      • The country influences never occured to me on this album. Kinda changes the way I will listen to it in the future. One of my favorite albums……


  • I’ve praised Paul’s Boutique since it came out. My friend and I played it every waking hour it seemed like. A lot of people back then didn’t like it because it wasn’t Licensed To Ill II, but dammit, it’s a great album. I still listen to it everytime I clean my house.


    • “Shake Your Rump” has got to be one of the finest orchestrated hip-hop songs of all time. Before sampling was the norm, that song set a bar that has yet to be reached.


  • This man and his two best friends changed music forever. I grew up in a time where the opening riff of “Fight For Your Right” was a battle cry. “Sabotage” is still one of the best music videos of all time.

    For those on this site that don’t “get” or care for the Beastie Boys, at the very least I hope you will respect Adam’s legacy as an artist, activist, performer, husband and father.

    In parting, here’s some Country Mike just so things don’t get too “rappy” for y’all.


  • I tweeted this at you earlier Trig but I think it’s important that readers don’t forget what this band did.

    To sum it up, a benefit concert for a convicted cop killer who shot officer Daniel Faulkner point blank for no reason. Given this site is for country music I think a lot of your readers would stand up for the family of Officer Faulkner and would be outraged for the showing of support. Everything the Beastie Boys did was tarnished by this despicable act for me.

    Huge fan of the blog and check it daily but this praise for the Beastie Boys is definitely a miss.


    • Corey,

      Look man, first off I am not telling people they should be Beastie Boy fans. I didn’t even proclaim myself a Beastie Boys fan. What I did proclaim is their influence on music. People can take that information and decide if their music is something they want to look further into or not. Even if the two remaining members of The Beastie Boys went out and killed an army of police officers, their influence on modern American music up to this point would remain static. That is a fact.

      Furthermore, to expect me, any of my readers, or Beastie Boys fans from the past or present, or anybody in the general public to have acute knowledge on the particulars of a murder in New York City almost 15 years ago and a subsequent concert of which The Beastie Boys were one of many performers, is a little bit silly. I had never heard of the murder or the concert until you posted the link to a New York tabloid on this site, and my guess is 99% of people have never had any knowledge of the incident up to this point either. So to assume that I or anybody else posted about The Beastie Boys in the face of this knowledge, ostensibly endorsing cop killers or supporters of cop killers I think is a little irresponsible.

      I am saddened to hear that Officer Faulkner died, and I have nothing but support and respect for all law enforcement that put their lives on the line every day to protect us. But there are two sides to every story. You say Faulkner was killed for “no reason”, but even reading the story you linked to seems to dispute that, and so do probably the 13,000 people that showed up to the concert, and so did The Beastie Boys and MCA who was an active and well-known pacifist.

      I don’t know what happened. And neither does anybody else that wasn’t there. Honestly, this smacks of the polarization of the culture war, where everything has to be white or black. Either you hate the Beastie Boys because they support cop killers, or you love them BECAUSE they support cop killers. When in reality they played a concert 13 years ago as part of a massive body of musical work spanning 30 years.

      At the same time, I appreciate you bringing the issue to my readers.


      • As a County Music fan, and not a Beastie Boys fan, I have never (and still don’t) see the importance of Rap as related to Country. I’ve never heard of “Pauls Boutique” and after exposure, still don’t see the importance. However, I do respect your perspective and the trail you are following.

        On the other hand, I had heard of the murder of Philadelphia Police Department’s (not NYPD..C’mon, at least read the article) Off. Faulkner and the Beastie Boys participation in a benefit concert. It is relevant, even only as a footnote.

        Let your readers assign the importance.


        • I am glad this issue was posed so people can decide for themselves.

          I just want to clarify though, I did not say that rap was important or even influential on country. In fact I said the exact opposite:

          “Hip-hop elements have no history, and no place in country music, while country music, just like every other music genre, went into forming hip hop.”

          I just find it unusual to get mad at somebody who just died for one concert he played for free ten years ago, and ten years after the album this article is talking about was released. It just smacks of Facebook-style reactionism that seems to discount the bigger picture surrounding the situation, and plays right into the environment of outrage that has stymied our country for going on a decade.

          Why aren’t we getting mad at Cancer? That’s something we can all get behind!


          • Trig, I never said I was mad at anyone, just the issue was relevant. Look at how the CM community responded over the Dixie Chicks comments about Bush. Right or wrong, many CM fans’ values affect their feelings about music. And what is the music without passion?

            I doubt the BB even knew too much about the issue, beyond what was told to them. Or maybe they knew the entire story. I certainly morn the passing of anyone in their prime to Cancer, if their only transgression I know of was having an opposing viewpoint, even if I find that viewpoint repugnant.

            As far as the time elapsed between the concert and his death, I would suggest people make value judgements based on observed actions. Time alone rarely changes those. Again – Dixie Chicks. Have they ever really recovered their popularity?

            And to give you your due, you did say Rap had nothing to do with Country, it was a bit confusing to me as written. Or more likely as I read it.


          • The Dixie Chicks are another example of irresponsible reactionary viral-style outrage run amuck, if not the best example ever. I doubt playing that benefit concert was even a blip on The Beastie Boys career radar, while one comment by one member of a band destroyed them. You’re right, the country music community is extremely fickle and reactionary, and though it can be expected, it doesn’t make it justified, in fact it’s quite embarrassing. Music Row right now is taking that same reactionary political energy and using it as a sales and marketing tool in the form of all these mawkish patriotic anthems.


    • For all the things for people to get angry about over this article, I never thought it would be about a police officers death that The Beastie Boys are very loosely involved in for being one of many participants in a benefit concert. How about getting mad that I’m talking about a rap group on a country music website? That seems like a much more legitimate beef.


      • I believe it would be supporting the release of someone who was convicted of killing a police officer, in cold blood in the line of duty. Who wouldn’t have some feelings about that?

        As for your Rap and CM article, even if I don’t agree, you make your case in a well researched and written manner. I can choose not to listen to Rap, but can’t fault your presentation. Get mad? This is what makes good conversation…


  • the Beastie Boys are my favorite band of any genre of music. i’ve definately disagreed with some of they’re political stances over the years but if I let that dictate what I was and wasn’t going to enjoy i’d have to get rid 90% of my music collection.


    • Amen!


  • Good read Trigger Man. Paul’s Boutique is indeed a modern classic.

    “My man MCA’s gotta beard like a billy goat.”



  • The song Paul Revere is somewhat country inspired


  • I came across a great story by ?uestlove, drummer of The Roots, about his first tour opening for The Beastie Boys in the Spring of ’95. (Jimmy Kimmel’s house band – If you’re not familiar with them, one of the best hip-hop albums ever made is Illadelph Halflife about their life in West Philadelphia in the 90s.)

    He makes a great point “you can EASILY hear the Beastie influence on the debut ‘NWA & The Posse’ album—which of course if you throw Public Enemy’s production in the mix their sophomore followup: Straight Outta Compton becomes a birth of a nation.”

    I think to call this the birth of gangsta rap is too general. Nothing in the realm of Straight Outta Compton existed until that catapulted everywhere. There’s a reason why everyone knows Straight Outta Compton and Illadelph is in the aficionado range.

    Not to take away from the album either. Obviously it is a necessary contribution.


  • When Steve Earle was touring after Washington Square Serenade, he said he chose John King to produce because “Paul’s Boutique is one of the greatest albums of all time, period.”

    I’m not sure I buy the country influences, honestly. I always felt the Beasties used country ironically. Still, as irony, their stuff is better than 100% of the country rap I’ve heard.

    I think the Beastie Boys touched many people. They were rap before rap was big. They were rock rap before rock rap was big. Even though they’ll never be considered great lyricists, they evolved sonically to consistently stay ahead of the curve. The Spike Jonze Sabotage video will always hold a special place in my heart, it influenced so much that came after it.

    I’m sad for MCA, but the thought that keeps popping into my head was the lightning strike at the ’98 Tibetan Freedom Concert. That was some scary shit to see firsthand. Both events show how often life is really out of our control.


  • When i was young and had already formed strong opinions about what i thought was “quality” music, Beastie Boys made their first mark with “Fight….” i didn’t like the song and thought it was annoying. Yet i was still unable to resist the gravity the album had at the time and ended up with it, much to my mothers chagrin. i really liked “No sleep til Brooklyn”, and about half of the album . My interest soon faded and their next album slipped under mine and most peoples radar and at the time my strong opinions confined me to a narrow minded view of good music. Some years later Check your Head came out and people were all wearing B-boys shirts. I ignored it because i didn’t want to hear another Licensed To Ill. A friend convinced me to listen to the whole thing and that was one of many moments when I widened my scope. That album was so good that i saw that the B-Boys were actual musicians and entertainers. sitting in their basement studio building yet another total transformation of their sound. Masterful. I was a Fan again but because what they were doing was ACTUALLY of substance. Lets face it there was not a lot of substance in their first album. They said things that a person can relate to which made me see them as striving minds and not the proto-wigger image that ” ….ILL ” had branded them as.
    Thank you B-boys for check your head, it was one of many steps in my musical tastes and evolution, i wouldn’t be listening to so much great music today without breakthrough albums like this. MCA a loss indeed.


    • If I had a “favorite” album by The Beastie Boys, it would be “Check Your Head.” I consider it just as much a fusion jazz/funk album as a hip-hop album. Willie Nelson’s “Red Headed Stranger” was easily his most influential album, but that’s not my favorite Willie album either.


  • Never heard of Beastie’s being compared to gangster rap.. Ice T was around way back then and so was Public Enemy..Ice T pretty much invented ganster rap..


    • Actually, that would probably be Schooly D’s fault. Certainly pre Beasties.

      Always liked the Beasties. Sad to see this death.


  • Loved the article Trigg… and yeah Paul’s Boutique is a incredible influential album…It maybe my fav album of all time … and this from somebody that has hardly any hip hop or rap albums in my collection !


  • I’m a HIGH (high) PLAINS (plains) DRIFTER (drifter)……

    People still don’t get it when I tell them The Grateful Dead was a Country band. Some folks just don’t get it. Great take on the Beasties Triggernan.


    • All you need to do is hear Jerry Garcia’s pedal steel opening to CSN’s “Teach Your Children” to know he had a country soul…


      • Not to mention albums such as Workingman’s Dead and Reckoning. Also, his work with David Grisman.


  • Just though I’d clarify Trig, the Long Island (NY) Southern Rock band you are referring to is MOUNTAIN, and the tune they sampled was Mountain’s biggest hit “Mississippi Queen”. The singer/lead guitarist in that band Leslie West lives about 20 mins from my house and can frequently be seen around town, just hanging out and going to restaurants. Real good people.


    • I make mistakes from time to time because I’m my own editor. I actually think I got that one right though. I meant to name the song and not the band. Thought it was too much info and confusing. Not including the band name though probably made it even more confusing, so I just changed it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!


  • nice article beastie boys are the only rap i care for aside from eminem.


  • Thanks for the article Triggerman, and it is really funny I had some of the similar thoughts run through my head as I listened to the album the other day, particularly about Johnny Ryall and High Plains Drifter.

    I grew up a Hip Hop head and didn’t get into country music and blues until the last five or six years or so. I can still appreciate both, but as many have pointed out they rarely work well together.

    For me the exception is Gangstagrass. It isn’t for everybody, but if you truly like both genres then I think one can appreciate Gangstagrass. If you don’t know of them they do the theme song for Justified on FX.

    My final aside is there are more parallels between hip hop and country than many realize. Beyond both genres affection for gun references, there is often a storytelling element that reflect “pictures from life’s other side” and give voice to the down trodden and struggles of working class folks. (This is more true with old school hip hop than new stuff about that is all about bling)


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