Beastie Boys - Licensed to Ill Album Cover

REVOLUTIONS: Beastie Boys' 'Licensed to Ill' 30 Years Later

Revolutions is a short film series that explores some of the records that have altered and influenced the music world. The Rock Hall and Klipsch Audio take fans deep inside these albums to showcase their significance and impact. In this episode we take a look at Beastie Boys’ 1986 album, “Licensed to Ill.”


Three dudes from Brooklyn, who had been playing in punk and hardcore bands, changed their tune drastically in 1983 releasing "Cooky Puss," a sample heavy hip-hop track. It caught the attention of the New York nightclub scene and started the epic journey that the Beastie Boys would be on for over 3 decades.

Their debut studio record Licensed to Ill would not only springboard their career but it would also be the foundation for their label, Def Jam Recordings, and their producer, Rick Rubin. Oh, and it was the first hip-hop album to ever reach number one.

The album would be filled with jokes, parody and satire. It would poke fun at the hair metal and glam rock dominating the airwaves. Like any three chord wrecking ball "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)", was the perfect single to launch the album.  Adam Yauch even states: “The song began as a goof on all the 'Smokin' in the Boys Room'/'I Wanna Rock' type songs in the world.”

With a young, DJ turned producer at the helm, Licensed to Ill features over 30 samples over its 13 track length. Something that had never been brought to the masses before. The opening track, “Rhymin & Stealin” is the original mashup. “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin and “Sweet Leaf” by Black Sabbath get a fresh makeover. Before you could ever do this in GarageBand you had to cut tape and loop that thing boys and girls.

Released in November 1986, the album art work captured the humor of the tracks that lay on wax underneath the sleeve. It featured a Boeing 727 that had a resemblance to an extinguished joint and the plane number “3MTA3” when viewed in the mirror came out to “EATME”. The album was a great big joke and a very catchy one at that. 

It would chart such hits as “Brass Monkey”, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn’” and the offensive and completely delinquent, “Girls”.  

The album brought hip-hop to the mainstream and because of its success opened the door to several of the Beastie’s peers including Public Enemy and Run D.M.C..  

It showed that hip-hop was here to stay and with the MTV era in full effect, the Beasties took advantage with classic vids to accompany the tracks which only helped their image grow. It grew the the genre from the one on one relationship between MC and DJ and helped bring a full narrative to the ears in a sound that would be the template for future hip-hop. 

Want to know which songs were sampled on Licensed to Ill? Listen closely and you may hear these songs.