The Beastie Boys’ Licensed to sick arrived among a wave of revolutionary rap artists making incredibly important albums in the mid-1980s. Run-DMC Raise hell, Eric B. & Rakim’s Fully paid, and Public Enemy Hey ! Bum rush the show were all monumental in their claim that hip hop was not just more than a passing fad, but should be taken seriously as an art form.
Licensed to sick was not among them. Instead, Mike D, MCA and King Ad-Rock, along with producer Rick Rubin, made what turned out to be the first parody rap album. The three white boys, none of whom were of legal drinking age at the time, took turns referencing Budweiser, the wools and porn magazines in their exaggerated nasal stream behind samples of Led Zeppelin. The songs often took place in school or on the streets of New York as they were about teenagers singing teenage songs. They knew they couldn’t compete with the seriousness or courage of their contemporaries, so they opted for the ridiculous instead.
Although they turned hip hop into a joke just as it was receiving great respect from critics, the Beastie Boys ended up making songs so funny that they were adopted with their more serious contemporaries. ‘(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)’ was an MTV staple, while ‘No Sleep’ til Brooklyn ‘and’ She’s Crafty ‘could be heard in fraternity houses across America. Three Jewish punk rockers from New York City ended up being three of the biggest rap stars in the world.
Today, Licensed to sick is as much a time capsule as any rap album of the time, and maybe more. Created before sampling laws cracked down on major copyright infringements, the obviousness and basic composition of the arrangements only serve to make them endearing to the uniquely Caucasian performance of the Beasties. But the real nature of the flashback is what the Beasties are rapping. Most of the references and slang used by the band never escaped the ’80s, and today they can be a confusing aspect of the album for anyone under the age of 50.
So we walked through the thirteen tracks on Licensed to sick and chose some of the more puzzling topics, whether it be repeated slang terms, slightly outdated cultural references, or simply frequent touchstones of a group that has never been afraid to become too awkward. If you need anything to help you decipher The Beasties Legendary debut LP, here is the Licensed to sick dictionary to guide you.
The “Licensed to Ill” dictionary:
The legendary actor is known for his roles in The godfather, Barney Miller, and constant jokes about reports of his death while he was still alive. The Beasties have always been the type to throw pop culture references to people who didn’t have a lot of stuff to put in a rap song.
The benchmark of choice for the Beasties, around 30 percent of Licensed to sick is just alcohol references. These include Miller, Budweiser, Old Crow, Brass Monkey, Heineken, quarters, sixes, brew, martinis, 40s, Chivas, Old English beer, Moet and Thunderbird wine.
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
One of the many tales of Arabian nights, this reference also works as a double meaning to steal alcohol (more details below).
Featured in the song of the same name, a Brass Monkey is a cocktail typically containing rum, vodka, and orange juice.
The center of the universe and the home port of The Beastie. MCA has a castle there.
The commander of HMS Premium when his famous mutiny occurred. Part of the opening track ‘Rhymin and Stealin’ chronicles the mutiny.
Slang for cheating.
A fictional Hawaiian detective was famous for his films in the 1930s and 1940s. He was often played by a yellow-faced actor.
Cheech & Chong
Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, a comedy duo initially active from 1971 to 1985.
The Beasties loved KFC, mentioning the brand in ‘Slow Ride’ and ‘Hold It Now, Hit It’.
The Beasties often boasted of their ability to perfect certain ridiculously 1980s-centric dances, including The Smurf, The Popeye, The Jerry Lewis, and The Bugaloo Flu.
Slang for good, warm, pleasant, etc. Also, the level of the group, Def Jam Records.
Two blocks from Manhattan, just off Times Square on 42nd Street, known for its grindhouse theaters, porn theaters, prostitutes and drug dealers. When New York City started to clean up, The Deuce largely disappeared.
Rick Rubin, DJ and producer of the group.
Angel dust, slang for the hallucinogenic drug PCP.
Character from the 1950s TV show Honeymoons performed by Art Carney. Not to be confused with Edward Norton.
The gong show
A 1970s TV show hosted by Chuck Barris that featured an assortment of alternative talent.
Slang for a gun or weapon.
Led Zeppelin guitarist who was sampled on “Rhymin and Stealin” (“When the Levee Breaks”), “Time to Get Ill” (“Custard Pie”) and “She’s Crafty” (“The Ocean”). The specific reference in ‘The New Style’ refers to Page’s relationship with minor groupie Lori Mattix.
Slang for cracking cocaine.
Central talking horse character from the eponymous 1960s TV show.
Mutiny on the Bounty
A mutiny on the HMS Premium April 28, 1789 led by Lieutenant Fletcher Christian. It later turned into a number of films, including one with Marlon Brando.
A stand-up comedian and actress who has often used deliberately cheesy rhyme schemes in her work.
The Champions Dinner, when the Colonel’s Chicken is not available.
A hot dog brand known for its stalls on New York street corners.
A city in New Jersey that looks pale compared to Manhattan or Brooklyn.
Also known as “taxin ‘”, “ragtag”, “jackin'” or “skeezin ‘”
An aphrodisiac created by grinding the titular beetle which can often prove poisonous.
American actor known for his roles in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Too close for comfort, and Caddyshack.
The Beasties should have gotten money from American fast food chain White Castle, which features prominently on a number of songs throughout. Licensed to sick as a place to eat and go out.
Wool / wool
A joint of marijuana mixed with another drug, often crack or PCP.