Rick Rubin Was Shocked Beastie Boys' "Licensed To Ill" Became A Hit LP
Rick Rubin reflects on his work on the groundbreaking Beastie Boys LP "Licensed To Ill," which he says he hoped would sell 25,000 copies. It sold more than 10 million copies.
Rick Rubin loved both Rap and Rock before he became an iconic music producer. The New Yorker was able to fully incorporate elements of both genres into one of his best-selling works, The Beastie Boys' Licensed To Ill. Released in 1986 on Def Jam Recordings, the album morphed the trio of Mike D, Ad Rock and MCA from rockers who rapped into full-blown rappers during the lengthy recording process.
“That one was recorded over a long period of time, and I think one of the reasons it’s as good as it is is that each song really has its own life, which I don’t think would’ve been the case had we made the whole album in two or three months," Rubin says in an interview with XXL. "It wouldn’t have had the breadth and depth that it does, especially musically. That was kind of two years of our lives. Not two years of our lives in the studio every day, but we’d work on a song for a couple of days, then we might not go back in the studio for another month or six weeks, then whatever was sort of speaking to us at that moment would be the next one. So it really came together over time, with all of the influences—both of the day and the influences we’d grown up with. I’d grown up with Led Zeppelin and AC/DC and more hard rock, and they’d grown up on punk rock, and you can feel all of those influences in that record."
In part because of the album's rock undertones and the heavy guitar riffs on "Fight For Your Right" and "No Sleep Till Brooklyn," and that the Beastie Boys where White, the album appealed to a new, largely white, fanbase upon its release, even though the LP was also revered among hardcore Hip Hop fans. It has sold more than 10 million copies, though Rubin says his sales goals were much more modest.
“We were making it for us and our friends, and if it would’ve sold 25,000 copies we would’ve been ecstatic," he says. "[Laughs] Really. The fact that so many people liked it was really a shock to us, because it’s such an inside album. There’s so many inside jokes and it’s such a personal album. And it’s ridiculous. The stuff they talk about is really ridiculous, and it entertained us, but we never imagined that it would entertain anyone else."
Despite the album's success, Rubin did not work with the Beastie Boys on its second album, which was released on Capitol Records, not Def Jam, after the Beastie Boys left Def Jam over creative and financial differences.
“I think in some ways [their sophomore album] Paul’s Boutique was a reaction to Licensed To Ill, because I think they wanted to do something different, and I think Paul’s Boutique, in their mind, was different," Rubin says. "I remember hearing Paul’s Boutique and it blowing my mind. I really loved it. I thought it was the future. When it came out, it wasn’t very well-received, but it was really a brilliant album.”