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Snapsongs: “The New Style” by the Beastie Boys

Thursday 16 May 2013 - Filed under Snapsongs

Let’s start off with a truism: for anyone who grew up in the 1980s, the Beastie Boys’ album Licensed to Ill was a seminal piece of work. For those in the know, it was the commercialization of a culture that had been building and evolving for at least ten years. For those far from the center of things, it was something that blew open the doors of a portion of music that had previously been sequestered by demographics and circumstance to a specific area of the country and a specific profile of listener. I straddled the intersection of these sets. Through friends I’d been exposed to Doug E Fresh and Run DMC, so this whole “rap” thing wasn’t a complete surprise. I knew it was a ghetto/black/urban thing, I loved the wordplay, scratching was interesting (if somewhat confusing), and I didn’t get beatboxing at all. But I loved “The Show (Six Minutes)” and “Hit It Run”. So it was kinda odd that three white nebbishy guys from Manhattan were the breakthrough act of choice, but they definitely embraced the idiom and acquitted themselves competently. And their admixture of hard rock samples and guitars helped smooth the process somewhat for the vast majority who didn’t get the rap. Without the Beasties I (and millions of other young white kids) probably wouldn’t have explored other artists Erik B. and Rakim, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Ice T or Tribe Called Quest. So it worked out.

I realize that their later work, like Paul’s Boutique and Intergalactic, are held up by listeners and critics as far better pieces of artwork, but for me they were too polished and busy, and the schtick had gotten old. Licensed to Ill was the alpha and omega of the Beasties and their genre-busting audacity. The funny thing was that I always considered the two “rock oriented” cuts, “Fight for Your Right to Party” and “No Sleep Til Brooklyn”, the weakest on the album. It was like, you were doing so well with things like “Hold It Now Hit It” and “Slow Ride”, why interrupt the flow with bullshit rock? I usually fast-forwarded over those songs to get to the real meat. I don’t know if there’s a person alive who was a teenager at the time who doesn’t know the lyrics to “Paul Revere”. I could probably reel them off from memory right now.

But there’s a reason why “The New Style” rises above the others in terms of memory and fondness. For this, we set a scene. Summer of 1990, on my first trip abroad. An eight-hour train ride from Cologne, Germany to Paris, France, with my German friend Michael along for the ride. Friends of his parents owned a flat on Rue d’Alesia in the 14th Arrondisment, and were on holiday in England for several weeks, so we had a place to stay. The trip there was filled with goofy cut-ups, silliness and dumbassery. At one point my friend presented me with an open bag of almonds and said, “Have a nut?” I replied, “Hammer time!” We broke up in peals of laughter, probably annoying the people around us as only teenaged boys can do. The “Hammertime” call-and-response became an in-joke through the entire trip.

It was something of a stereotypical European getaway. Un-air-conditioned flat with minimal furnishings; weird French television with random naked people on it; buying baguettes and coldcuts from the nearby grocery for breakfast; aimless rambling through the Metro and the streets of Paris. Paris is a weird city. When it’s cloudy, it looks kinda bleached, scuffed and dumpy. When it’s sunny, it looks bright, aged and exquisite. You can’t see the Eiffel Tower anywhere except the valley of the Seine. Car headlights are yellow and dim, at least they were in 1990. People drive like maniacs, but pedestrians rule. There are random bronze fountains in public squares, some buffed and polished, some dark and scummed with algae. It’s disconcerting to see a total of 54.00 on a cash register for some snacks and drinks, but the franc was 6 to a dollar at the time.

We were heading home late one night, and the city was showing another side to us. We were beat from a day of sightseeing, but for some reason we decided not to take the Metro back to Rue d’Alesia and walked back to the flat. Some streets were dark, some were lit, people were out talking, laughing, shouting incomprehensibly in French. The busy thoroughfares glowed with muted yellow light. The temperature was mild, maybe slightly warm. And in the middle of our walk, something prompted one of us to start: “Let me clear my throat!” And thus the Parisian bourgeoisie were treated to AD Rock’s coda rap to “The New Style” performed by a young American and his German friend, as they wended their way back to their vacation lodgings:

Let me clear my throat!
Kick it over here baby pop, and let all the fly skimmies, feel the beat…
Mmmm, drop!

Coolin’ on the corner on a hot summer day
Just me, my posse and MCA
A lot of beer, a lot of girls, and a lot of cursing
Twenty-two automatic on my person
Got my hand in my pocket and my finger’s on the trigger
My posse’s gettin’ big, and my posse’s gettin’ bigger
Some voices got treble, some voices got bass
We got the kind of voices that are in your face
Like the bun to the burger, and like the burger to the bun
Like the cherry to the apple to the peach to the plum
I’m the king of the Ave., and I’m the king of the block
Well, I’m MCA, and I’m the King Ad Rock
Well, I’m Mike D, I got all the fly juice
On the checkin’ at the party on the forty deuce
Walking down the block with the fresh fly threads
Beastie Boys fly the biggest heads

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2013-05-16  »  Edward Semblance