License to Ill: Nov 15 1986
(or how two people heard the same album differently)
For two years, the Beastie Boys were like our own B-Boy secret. We were kids and had no idea how the music industry functioned. But in the Fall of 86, my Freshman year in High School, we got our first primer. License to Ill was the first Rap album that both white and Black people owned, and, while that was the case, we heard it differently.
First time I heard the Beastie Boys was winter break, seventh grade, Northern Burlington Middle. It was a time of extreme highs and extreme lows. My prayers had been answered and my dad had bought me my first Walkman…which I only got to enjoy for a week. My report card came and I had poor behavior marks (talking) and a 69 in Physical Science. He took that Walkman back.
One girlfriend had given me an ultimatum, Hip-Hop or her (seeing me boogie in the gym was embarrassing, and the B-Boy style was too much), we broke up, and immediately after, I had my first real B-Girlfriend. Her father was an Officer and mine was an NCO so I literally lived on the other side of the tracks but I floated every time I went to see her…only to find out that we were going to be moving to Germany.
I was on punishment but had snuck over to my girlfriend’s saying I was going to the Youth Center. When I returned, I played what I had recorded on Power 99 and that was the first time I heard “Larry’s Dance Theme” and “Slow and Low.” Looking at the calendar, that had to be 30 December 1984 (must’ve been white labels).
After a tumultuous time (for me) in Kaiserslautern, we were back in Denver devoid of progressive Rap radio. Having learned how to special order records, “Slow and Low” (and “King Kut”) was the trial run. Surprisingly, not only was “Slow and Low” the B-Side, the Beastie Boys were white. It made us no never mind, we just never listened to “She’s on It.”
My older brother and I were nervous that folks would jump on the bandwagon when we found out that the Beastie were in Krush Groove, which came out in October of 85. Luckily, their role was just a bit part (instead, it was the end of LL as an underground artist, his album Radio was released a few weeks later).
When we saw “Hold it Now, Hit It,” was entering the charts, we ordered that 12” and the Beasties were still our secret (weapon). B-Boy status, even in Denver, was based on knowing records that other people didn’t and being the one to break that act. From Dahlia to Locust, we was them dudes.
Cut To: the end of 86. November. The only thing playing in my Walkman was “Eric B for President/My Melody.” That single was so hot that I had to keep the volume down on the bus ride to school because as soon as someone heard that distinctive whistle in “My Melody,” people would be leaning over my seat, asking to listen (or Fontaine Swann would be snatching my headphones off, fuck a ask).
That’s when License to Ill dropped. My older brother and I copped it quickly and fed our people, and Black folk slowly began to show up to school with the album. Not nare white person owned it.
Winter break came. And when school started back up EVERY white dude I knew, and I knew a lot (I had all AP classes, token status in full effect), all of them owned the Beasties. See, “what had happened was…” in December “(You Gotta Fight) For Your Right (To Party)” was released with an accompanying video and young white kids lost their ever-loving minds. The Beasties were their new favorite band.
While we listened to “Rhymin and Stealin,” they listened to “Girls” (a song I still haven’t heard), while our favorite was “Paul Revere,” they swore by “No Sleep Til Brooklyn.” It was marketing genius and what made it so genius was we didn’t know we were being marketed to. All we knew was Black folk had their Beastie Boys experience and white folk had theirs, never did the two meet…until the Raising Hell Tour but that’s another story for another build.