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The Beastie Boys Rap On The Making Of ‘Paul’s Boutique’

After the release of “Licensed to Ill” the Beastie Boys’ 1986 debut studio album, the New York-bred hip hoppers had the world at their feet. But with expectations for a follow-up dizzyingly high, the sophomore record, “Paul’s Boutique” was a flop when it came out in 1989. Its reputation has been restored in the years since, but the story behind its financial failure is a notable one. In an excerpt from “The Beastie Boys Book” published on Vulture, band members Michael Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) reveal the record’s many false starts and the curious reason Capitol Records fell short in promoting it.

“Capitol was betting millions of dollars on us,” Diamond wrote. “They wanted a new record immediately. We were … in less of a hurry.”

In the time leading up to “Paul’s Boutique” the Beastie boys had heard the work of the Dust Brothers, a producing-songwriting team known for their sampling. They decided to collaborate with them for a “funkier, jazzier” sound.

The groups began work on the record in 1988 in their friend, the DJ and record label owner Matt Dike’s apartment, but when Capitol caught wind of the lo-fi setup they made them move. The Beastie Boys agreed to, believing they should have more of a professional polish on the album.

“Capitol may have started to get nervous that we were holed up in a shitty apartment in the middle of a drug-and-prostitution zone,” Diamond wrote. “Or maybe we were just insecure and thought that to make a ‘big time’ record, we had to do it at some ‘big time’ studio.”

The Beastie Boys moved production to the Record Plant, an LA-institution whose hallways were lined with platinum records. They redid almost all of the work done at Dike’s apartment and found the new recordings lacking the original demos’ “magical essence.”

After struggling with a complicated mixing console at Quincy Jones’ studio the Beastie Boys moved for a second time: Back to Record Plant, booking the studio for weeks to finish up the record.

All this moving around had a hefty price tag.

“We wasted So. Much. Fcking. Money,” Diamond wrote. “It was hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars fronted us by Capitol, which would come out of our royalties. It was even more of a fcking waste because we still liked many of the instrumental tracks from Matt’s apartment best anyway.”

When “Paul’s Boutique” wrapped, the Beastie Boys became aware of Capitol’s strange push to promote it. The old president had quit and Horovitz remembers a meeting with the new bosses who introduced them to their planned street campaign. The people out evangelizing the record were part of the “Street Awareness Program” (or SAP) that suggested they do a diss track targeting MC Hammer instead of playing the record in clubs or on the radio.

When the record hit stores, Horovitz realized the label was only shipping out around 100 copies to stores with no back order. The Beastie Boys finally found out why “Paul’s Boutique” was being buried. In a meeting with the new president of Capitol Records, a middle-aged Deadhead, they were told the business had other priorities.

“[B]efore we can ask our whats and whys, he’s like … ‘The company’s just really busy right now. We’re all just focusing and working really hard on the new Donny Osmond album, so, next time. Okay?’”

Horovitz was gobsmacked.

“What he had just said to us, the multiplatinum fight-for-your-right-to-party guys, is … ‘Forget about the record you just spent the past couple years making,” Horovitz wrote. “’Donny Osmond’s new record is just a little more important than yours.’”

Thankfully, most music fans don’t share this sentiment.

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at [email protected].

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