“Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellers, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.
He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” – Daniel 3:24-25, King James Version
Hip-hop has long been one of the biggest miners of classic literary and poetic tools, from internal rhyme and puns to meter and allusion. The Beastie Boys have long made that last literary device their stock-in-trade, harvesting high, low and junk culture for their rich and simile-laden lyricism.
The Beasties had their greatest musical collaborators in the form of the Dust Brothers and their work on 1989’s seminal Paul’s Boutique. Coming off of their metal-tinged and jokey debut, License to Ill, Paul’s Boutique sounded like the group had gone completely off the rails. It seemed like an absolute mess upon first listen, a freight train of densely layered samples and unceasing references. But here, for the only time in their career, the Beasties had a true musical match to their lyrics. Whether plowing through the constant and sometimes quite obscure references of the rapping or trying in vain attempt to decipher the musical samples beneath, both were a challenge, and it is what makes Paul’s Boutique one of modern music’s greatest return listens; there’s really no way to make sense of it all without repeat visits and those visits are greatly rewarding.
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The track I’ve always found myself drawn to is buried deep in the album: “Shadrach.” In addition to lyrical references that call on AC/DC, Batman, Charles Dickens, J.D. Salinger, Jacoby and Myers, Alfred E. Newman and the Bible, the song is comprised of more than nine individually sampled songs. James Brown, Rose Royce, Black Oak Arkansas, Funky 4 + 1, the Sugarhill Gang – these are just a selection of some of the more well known artists sampled. It’s a grab bag of American culture. “Shadrach” isn’t even one of the album’s most diverse tracks; others sample Bob Dylan, the Ramones, the Beatles and Johnny Cash among countless others. People have made a game over the years of identifying the samples (and a huge, huge tip of the hat for this research goes to the incomparable Paul’s Boutique Samples and References List and A Partial List of the Samples on the Beastie Boys’ PAUL’S BOUTIQUE websites) and it’s an enlightening journey through the minds of the Dust Brothers to see exactly what they were pulling from to create this kaleidoscopic ode to the Beasties’ home town. It’s no wonder it sounds right at home next to the Boys’ rhymes.
The title’s Biblical reference (which owes its origins to Sly and the Family Stone’s “Loose Booty,” one of the major samples here) is a story of devotion and unquestioned faith in the face of death. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were citizens in the Babylonian kingdom of King Nebuchadnezzar. When they refused to bow down and worship the gods of Babylon, the King ordered them thrown into a great fire as punishment. The three men attested that their god would save them, and, sure enough, the King looked in to find them walking through the fire accompanied by a “Son of God,” an angel. Whether the three MCs latched onto this story because of its three characters or because of their defiance in the face of adversity, it’s hard not to picture Ad Rock, MCA and Mike D as the titular characters, dropping science amongst the flames.
Below, check out the Beastie Boys track plus a selection of the songs sampled by the Dust Brothers for the song. Some of the samples are obvious, some are less so. But all of the sampled songs are great in their own right as well. words/ j neas
Video: Beastie Boys :: Shadrach
MP3: James Brown :: Funky Drummer
MP3: Rose Royce :: Do Your Dance
MP3: Sly and the Family Stone :: Loose Booty
MP3: Juice :: Catch A Groove
MP3: Funky 4 + 1 :: That’s the Joint
MP3: Black Oak Arkansas :: Hot and Nasty
MP3: Ballin’ Jack :: Never Let ‘em Say
MP3: The Sugarhill Gang :: Sugarhill Groove