Rhymin' and Stealin'
A Sampling of How The Beastie Boys and Delicious Vinyl (Re)Made History
"Our stuff at the time sounded awesome because we were just grabbing people's awesome production--pirates sailing the seas of creativity," says John King, one half of production duo the Dust Brothers, from his home overlooking the Capitol Records building in Hollywood, Calif.
It was on the top of that very building in 1989 that he celebrated the release of the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, an album, like Tone Loc's Loc-ed After Dark, that marked the peak of the golden era of sample-heavy hip-hop. These two full-lengths showcased the inaugural production work of King, his fellow Dust Brother Mike Simpson, Delicious Vinyl co-founder Matt Dike, and Mario Caldato Jr., among others. And both albums are currently celebrating a 20th anniversary with a deluxe reissue--Paul's a remastered, repackaged CD with downloadable "director's commentary," Loc-ed digital only with six bonus tracks. Of these records, one was a commercial success, the other a cult favorite, while both were about artists putting together a puzzle: how to use positive flow to bypass the era's technical and critical limitations.
While the core of these sessions mythically revolved around a cramped apartment (a "dump") in California, it's important to note the East Coast's role in their making. Besides the obvious origin of the Beastie Boys, New York was also in the blood of L.A.-based DJ Matt Dike, whose events and after-parties were the backdrop for many initial meetings. Mike Simpson was also from Manhattan originally, while King spent part of his childhood in Fulton, Md. It was during one of King's frequent trips to the Baltimore area in 1975 that he first stumbled on a novelty record full of break-ins, offering an introduction to a groovy cut-up style the Dust Brothers, Dike, and company would further explore first as DJs, and then as producers.
"I'd go to the Columbia Mall and buy 45s of everything," King recalls. "And there was this record--Mr. Jaws, based on the movie--which featured an announcer who would ask these questions, and the answer would be a snippet of a hit song."
However, it was the East Coast's sonic landscape more than its physical topography that became the common thread.
"What was going on in New York was a big influence on us when [Matt Dike and myself] started our label in 1987," says California-born Mike Ross, Delicious Vinyl co-founder and production partner on Tone Loc's first singles "On Fire/Cheeba Cheeba," "Funky Cold Medina," and "Wild Thing." "Compared to the West Coast, New York was more of a funk-based, deeper message kind of scene," he adds. "There was more lyricism. And as Run-DMC hit, then Eric B. and Rakim, then EPMD, then Boogie Down Productions, etc., I would go and buy all those records.
"Listening to them all, we realized they were sampling all the records we'd play in clubs anyway," Ross continues. "So we got an [Emu] SP12 [drum machine/sampler], then a Sequential TOM. We had the Ultimate Breaks and Beats records, plus what we'd collected ourselves. We were in these local record pools and so much of what we were getting was horrible, so we figured if we followed our instincts we could make something way more dope."
With some rough tracks ready, Ross and Dike went looking for MCs. And one of the first they hooked up with was Tone Loc, whose voice had a laid back Rakim quality they liked. They debuted his first single, and through trial and error they learned how to re-EQ for the club rather than the studio, "to make it sound bright in the right places, and to create the separation to make it jump off," Ross says. That record also resulted in Tone Loc visiting the KSPC radio show of Simpson and King, whose fledgling productions, used first as bumper music on-air, were inspired by the crisp-yet-dense approach of Rick Rubin, Scott La Rock, and especially Public Enemy's Bomb Squad.
"We were on the West Coast, and in 1986, 1987, we were certainly aware of NWA, Ice-T, etc.," King says. "But a notch up for us would be Schoolly D, Big Daddy Kane, the Jungle Brothers, BDP's Criminal Minded, and especially Yo! Bum Rush the Show. So we were making instrumentals, fingering through sweet crates of records, and finding four golden seconds to repeat as we waited for someone to rap on them."
The Dust Brothers and the Delicious camp partnered on tracks for Loc, his occasional songwriting partner Young MC, Mellow Man Ace, and Def Jef before the Beastie Boys came in 1987, a substantial budget accompanying them. The success of M/A/R/R/S "Pump Up the Volume" had the Dust Brothers convinced of the cut-up sound's commercial viability, so when the three MCs came, heard some songs from Caldato's 16-track at one of Dike's parties and solicited a collaboration, Simpson, King, and Dike started stripping vocal samples off of the many rough tracks allocated from Delicious Vinyl's formerly collective pot, allowing space for the Beasties' ideas and verses.
At first King says he was disappointed they didn't do more Licensed to Ill style raps, which he considered artistically credible (and he was disappointed he couldn't lobby hard enough to give the Beasties the then-unfinished "Funky Cold Medina"). But even though they were amateurs in training being taken to their first multi-million dollar studio, they made a record indebted to what all found iconic at the time--samples heavy on the years 1971-'74 but expanding outward, synchronizing loops through crude MIDI controllers and six hands on the boards, and the kind of fun a bunch of 22-year-old dudes working together would create.
Success wasn't financial for all--Loc-ed After Dark followed Licensed to Ill as the second chart-topping hip-hop album, but Paul's Boutique initially fizzled. But thinking back on the earlier Delicious Vinyl sessions Mike Ross sums up a vibe as accurate for Paul's as it is his personal work with Loc-ed: "It brings me back to a time when it was just about hanging out, experimenting with collage for hours, playing tracks over and over while someone like Tone would be writing his rhymes. And what you'd get was these funny, autobiographical tracks, riffing on what we knew well, which was just being young and making music people would be tripping on. It was stories on wax, and both us, and hip-hop, were at the right age for it."
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