1. It starts, as I suppose all these things do, with someone’s older brother. It is sometime in 1991-1992, and I am in kindergarten at Washington Elementary in Oshkosh. Back then, kindergarten was only a half day, and I went in the morning because my parents could then send me to a daycare in the afternoon. This daycare was in the basement of a church, and there were maybe 6 other kids my age; most of the daycare was taken up by 3-year-olds like my sister.
I don’t remember a whole lot about this daycare except for two things: 1. The time I pooped my pants and I tried to hide that fact by throwing my underwear in a locker, which of course was the locker actually assigned to me, so everyone knew it was me because the whole locker area smelt like shit and they found shit-filled Ninja Turtles underwear in my locker 2. the fact that for the kindergartners, the area where we hung out—this elevated room in the basement that was segregated off from the rest of the kids—had a boombox that we basically controlled. Most of our time was spent goofing off and wrestling and picking on the one girl in the room—it was 5 boys, 1 girl—but we also spent a lot of time fiddling around with that boombox. We listened to the radio mostly, but every once in a while, we’d play tapes that someone brought from home. Kyra, the girl, used to play New Kids on the Block, and then we used to have to BE New Kids on the Block for Kyra’s enjoyment (I suppose this what a PUA would call “building worth”).
But the tape I remember listening to the most was the tape of Licensed to Ill that Zach’s older brother gave to him. We played that shit over and over again, and “by that shit” I mean the three song stretch of “Girls,” “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” I remember headbanging to “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and slam dancing and basically being 6-year-old punks. I remember trying to get every word of “Girls” right, and I remember when the tape got taken away because our teacher—who spent most of her time sitting outside the room reading magazines and checking on us every half hour—finally heard that we were singing songs about wanting to have drunken parties while inside of a church.
I was supposed to tell my parents I was sorry for listening to that music—our teacher was trying to teach us “responsibility”—but I never did. I didn’t feel bad for liking the Beastie Boys.
3 . I know the Beastie Boys eventually began to hate this album—they never made anything close to it again, and felt bad about the subject matter—but as a kid who was born 7 months and 9 days before it came out, it’s one of the few albums that has been a constant my entire life. It’s in that Thriller, Purple Rain, seminal albums of the ’80s territory. I think a song from License has been played at every dance/wedding/church service I’ve been to my whole life. I played air guitar to “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” at my first dance in sixth grade, and then two weeks ago at a bar. I have no doubt that I will try to slam dance with another 80-year-old in the nursing home when “Fight For Your Right” comes on.
4. When I was in middle school, we had this school-wide project in English class, where for a quarter of the year, every English class wrote, filmed, and produced its own 10-minute movie, and then we had a film festival every year. It was a pretty cool thing to be involved in; it was basically the only thing everyone in school always looked forward to academically.
In sixth grade, the love story (there were sub groups in every class writing a script based on different genres) me and a group of girls wrote became the movie our class made, and I was a character actor in it—I played the fat weirdo in 3 separate scenes. In seventh grade, the science fiction script me and the two “hottest” guys in class wrote got selected and filmed, despite not having a third act…or a first or second one. But then in eighth grade, I was selected as director of our class film, a script about a kid who was dating two different girls at once, and then they conspire to sabotage a skateboarding contest he was in.
As part of being the “director” I was the principal editor, along with this girl Katie, who I had taken to a couple dances in 7th grade before it became clear that we liked each other mostly because we liked to argue angrily with each other in classes and at lunch.
So here’s where I’m going: as part of editing this movie, we had to pick music for scenes, and Katie and I had a very angry fight in the school library—where the editing computers were—over my insistence we use “Girls” as the soundtrack for a scene where the main character goes between dates at a restaurant. I don’t remember all of what I said, but I know she kept saying that that song was “misogynistic” and I was mostly mad that I didn’t know what that even meant because I was 14 and stupid.
I guess I remember this because it taught me that there are different ways to interpret songs, and that maybe I need to be aware of how other people will react to songs that I think are great. I also remember this because this would basically be the beginning of my exposure to the never-ending—which it shouldn’t end—misogyny and hip-hop battle.
Either way, the song was in the movie. I won.
6. The major thing I get from listening to this album in 2014 is how audacious the sample swipes are here; I mean Led Zeppelin, the Clash, Black Sabbath samples are on here, which would cost something like 12 billion dollars today.
But that’s maybe the most genius thing about the album. It was made to sell a generation of Middle Americans on hip-hop as an art form, and functionally, the album is a rock album with spoken vocals. There are more guitars on this than the newest Van Halen album.
I know it’s messed up that a white group helped prime a large population for rap music, but at the same time, I don’t think N.W.A. would have made as much of an impact in Wisconsin—my cousin Troy had their first album, and he lived in Wausau—if a generation of kids hadn’t listened to “Fight For Your Right” at every turn up function. We had no frame of reference for rap at all—and I don’t mean this in the Macklemore way of people who don’t listen to rap liking him, I mean that the Beastie Boys were the only rap group on pop radio in Wisconsin in the ’80s (my dad confirmed this)— until the Beasties. For that, they’ll always be Important.