Paul’s Boutique is the second studio album by American hip hop group Beastie Boys, released on July 25, 1989 by Capitol Records. Produced by the Dust Brothers, the album is composed almost entirely from samples, and was recorded over two years at Matt Dike’s apartment and the Record Plant in Los Angeles.
Paul’s Boutique did not match the sales of group’s 1986 debut Licensed to Ill, and was promoted minimally by Capitol. However, it became recognized as the group’s breakthrough achievement, with its innovative lyrical and sonic style earning them a position as critical favorites within the hip-hop community. Sometimes described as the “Sgt. Pepper of hip-hop”, Paul’s Boutique has placed on several lists of the greatest albums of all time, and is viewed by many critics as a landmark album in hip hop.
Derided as one-hit wonders and estranged from their previous producer, Rick Rubin, and record label, Def Jam, Beastie Boys were in self-imposed exile in Los Angeles during early 1988, after being written off by most music critics.Following the commercial success of Licensed to Ill, the group was focusing on making an album with more creative depth and less commercial material. The group’s previous album had been enormously popular and received critical acclaim among both mainstream and hip hop music critics, although its simple, heavy beats and comically juvenile lyrics led to its label as frat hip hop.
Paul’s Boutique was produced with the Dust Brothers, whose use of sampling helped establish the practice of multi-layered sampling as an art in itself. While the Dust Brothers were set on making a hit record, they agreed with the group on producing a more experimental and sonically different record. In total, 105 songs are sampled, including 24 individual samples on the last track alone. The Dust Brothers produced the backing tracks with the intention of releasing an instrumental album, but were persuaded by Beastie Boys to use them as the basis of their album.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the sampling for Paul’s Boutique was eventually cleared, but at dramatically lower costs compared to today’s rates. According to Sound on Sound, most of the samples were authorized “easily and affordably, something that […] would be ‘unthinkable’ in today’s litigious music industry.”Mario “Mario C” Caldato, Jr., engineer on the album, said that “we realized we had spent a lot of money in the studio. We had spent about a $1/4 million in rights and licensing for samples.”This type of sampling was only possible before Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., the landmark lawsuit against Biz Markie by Gilbert O’Sullivan, which changed hip hop artists’ approach to sampling.
Speaking about the album 20 years on, Adam Yauch said:
The Dust Brothers had a bunch of music together, before we arrived to work with them. As a result, a lot of the tracks come from songs they’d planned to release to clubs as instrumentals – “Shake Your Rump,” for example. They’d put together some beats, basslines and guitar lines, all these loops together, and they were quite surprised when we said we wanted to rhyme on it, because they thought it was too dense. They offered to strip it down to just beats, but we wanted all of that stuff on there. I think half of the tracks were written when we got there, and the other half we wrote together.
All the tracks were recorded in Matt Dike’s living room in Los Angeles, with the exception of “Hello Brooklyn”. The fifth part of the album’s finale suite “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” was recorded in Yauch’s apartment building in Koreatown, Los Angeles. The location of recording was credited in the album liner notes as the Opium Den. The recordings for Paul’s Boutique were later mixed by the Dust Brothers at Record Plant Studios in Los Angeles.
The album is named after a store the group made up called Paul’s Boutique. On the cover of the album the group hung a sign saying “Paul’s Boutique” on an existing clothing store called Lee’s Sportswear at the corner of Rivington and Ludlow streets, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
On its initial release, Paul’s Boutique was commercially unsuccessful because of its experimental and dense sampling and lyricism, in contrast to the group’s previous album, Licensed to Ill.It was a commercial disappointment,peaking at only #24 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The album received a gold certification by the Recording Industry Association of America on September 22 of its release year; it went on to sell over 2 million copies by January 1999 and was certified double platinum. The album was re-released in a 20th anniversary package remastered in 24-bit audio and featuring a commentary track on January 27, 2009.