It’s easy to forget that the Beastie Boys’ second album, Paul’s Boutique, was considered a commercial flop when it came out on July 25, 1989. Following on the heels of their hugely successful 1986 debut, License to Ill — which went nine times platinum the year of its release and had everyone from urban teenagers to suburban housewives fighting for their right to party — Paul’s Boutique struggled to reach gold status.
The album also saw the Beasties parting ways with their original label, and Mike “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horowitz, and Adam “MCA” Yauch swapping their famous producer for L.A. duo the Dust Brothers, who had produced Tone-Lōc’s “Wild Thing.” Many people predicted that the trio’s demise was near.
Boy, did the Beasties prove those naysayers wrong. A quarter-century later, Paul’s Boutique is considered a classic that influenced countless artists across various genres. The album also helped three white guys from Brooklyn change the face of hip-hop. To mark its 26th anniversary, we take a look at some fascinating facts about Paul’s Boutique.
1. Paul’s Boutique tanked upon release. The Beastie Boys’ sophomore album only reached No. 24 on the R&B/hip-hop album charts, while their 1986 debut, License to Ill, had hit No. 1 on the overall Billboard 200 (it was the first rap album to achieve that feat). That said, Paul’s Boutique went on to receive tremendous critical acclaim and is now widely considered one of the most innovative albums of the 1980s.
2. Paul’s Boutique is one of the most sample-happy albums of all time. The Beasties sampled countless artists on Paul’s Boutique, including the Ramones, Kool & the Gang, and Afrika Bambaataa; in fact,the album was composed almost entirely of samples. “Ninety-five percent of the record was sampled,” Paul’s Boutique engineer Mario Caldato Jr. once told Rolling Stone. “The list of samples on the album is so long — they’re still getting sued over it.”
3. The Beastie Boys spent approximately $250,000 on sample clearances in the late 1980s — and it would now cost them millions. According to engineer Caldato, the band spent approximately a quarter-million dollars on samples for Paul’s Boutique. It’s estimated that with today’s laws and clearance fees, the Beasties could never get clearance for all the samples they used — and if they did, it would cost them a fortune.
4. The Beasties split with their renowned hip-hop label to make Paul’s Boutique. After releasing Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys controversially parted ways with their first producer Rick Rubin’s iconic hip-hop label Def Jam in favor of corporate label Capitol/EMI. Many fans criticized this move, but the trio’s relationship with Capitol ended up being an incredibly fruitful one, with Capitol releasing the rest of the Boys’ studio albums for the duration of their career.
5. The Beastie Boys walked the walk. The group didn’t just rap about living the high life — they were actually doing many of the things they rapped about. “The songs were really about the life we were living,” engineer Caldato said. “Staying at fancy hotels, eating at fancy restaurants, renting Beemers, chucking eggs at people. A lot of them are true stories. On 'Egg Man,’ the words go 'Chuckin’ eggs from the Mondrian Hotel at the cars goin’ by,’ and they did that. 'Chillin’ with Bob Dylan’? Yeah, we were. We went to a Christmas party Dolly Parton had at her house. There were all these celebs, and there was Bob Dylan! We were like, 'F—, let’s spark a joint.’ So we sparked a joint with Bob!”
6. The Paul’s Boutique album cover art features a real street corner on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and was an ode to the Beastie Boys’s beloved NYC. The album cover folds out to show a panoramic view seen from the corner of Ludlow and Rivington Streets in Manhattan — the Beastie Boys’ home turf. Although the shop is depicted as “Paul’s Boutique,” they hung the artificial sign specifically for the photo shoot, and the store was actually Lee’s Sportswear.
7. The album cover photo was attributed to Nathanial Hornblower, but it was really taken by photographer Jeremy Shatan. Nathanial Hornblower was the tongue-in-cheek nom de plume of Adam Yauch, but it was really Shatan who captured the iconic cover image of Paul’s Boutique. “Matt Cohen, the guy I hired, and I were listed as 'photo assistants,’” Shatan said in a 2003 interview with Beastiemania.com. “It didn’t really bother me as it really was their idea, but wouldn’t that actually make Mr. Hornblower the Art Director? At least they spelled my name right!”
8. Manhattan rejected a petition to name a square after the Beasties. Last year, avid Beastie Boys fan LeRoy McCarthey petitioned the city of Manhattan to name the corner of Ludlow and Rivington “Beastie Boys Square,” due to the acclaim it received from being featured on the Paul’s Boutique cover. The petition got a lot of attention and media coverage, but alas, it was denied by Manhattan’s community board by 24 to 1.
9. The album’s experimental nature enabled the Beastie Boys to cast off the “frat hip-hop” label. The heavy beats and juvenile lyrics on License to Ill had people thinking they were little more than a party band. The complexity and experimental nature of Paul’s Boutique, as well as its clever, more mature themes, allowed the Beasties to shed that derogatory label and be taken more seriously.
10. The Beastie Boys remastered Paul’s Boutique in 2009. Just three years before Yauch’s untimely death from cancer at age 47, the Beastie Boys remastered their landmark album in honor of its 20th anniversary — giving it a cleaner, richer sound, some new artwork, and an enlightening commentary disc.