I read an article last week ranking the best entries in a book series about seminal albums in music history, and I got curious. The series is called 33 1/3 (RPM for LP vinyl, you whippersnappers) and it covers everything from the Rolling Stones to Public Enemy. The authors are different for each volume, and there are (as of this writing) 120 books in total. Intrigued, I looked through Amazon’s listings, found that Paul’s Boutique was rated highly, and bought a used copy.
The books themselves are small, but there’s a pleasing amount of information per page. Dan Le Roy, the author, starts out at the launch party for the album and then resets the clock to the end of the Licensed to Ill tour, explaining where the band was creatively, why they moved to L.A., how they eventually met the Dust Brothers and a man named Matt Dike (the unsung third producer of the album), smoked a mountain of weed, somehow recorded the album, and details the aftermath of the release (which bombed). The end of the book is a track-by-track runthrough of the album which goes into short detail about the stories, samples, and background of each.
I was not a fan of Licensed to Ill when it was released; all the proto-bros in my high school loved it, which didn’t compute (these were the same casual racists who hated rap and loved Slayer) and I couldn’t stand the nasal whine of their delivery.
Paul’s Boutique is a touchstone from my college years, after I’d been exposed to De La Soul, Tribe, and Jungle Brothers, and found that I did, in fact, like hip hop. The first time I heard it I was blown away by how different it was from what had come before. It was the soundtrack of most of the parties I was at in the latter half of college. It stands as a monument in my life for a time of optimism, poverty, boundless creative energy, and a sudden discovery of who I was and what I was good at for the first time in my life.