One of the most common observations about the Beastie Boys’ classic Paul Boutique, which turns 25 this year, is that it’s an album that could never be made again, thanks to the way sampling laws have changed. But that assertion deserves some qualifiers.
Sampling law has obviously come a long way since the mid ’80s, when the Beasties bit big chunks of Led Zeppelin with impunity on their debut, Licensed to Ill. As early as 1988, when they had decamped to California to make Paul’s Boutique with the production team of the Dust Brothers, Matt Dike and Mario Caldato, there was an awareness that the landscape was changing. “I thought that the more samples you had, the less sample clearance you’d have to do, because you just couldn’t differentiate one from the other,” the band’s A&R man, the late Tim Carr, told me some years ago. “So that was the theory in play. It was like Jackson Pollock.”
That’s not a bad description of Paul’s Boutique, a dizzying canvas filled with color and quotations — both musical and verbal — that constantly reveals new facets, and remains the group’s magnum opus.