2016 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Beastie Boys debut album Licensed to Ill, and in commemoration, the work will be reissued on vinyl, which is set for release on October 14. Licensed to Ill was wildly popular when it was initially released in 1986, and has since been certified diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). A quote by Chuck D of Public Enemy is included in Def Jam’s press release for the reissue: “The breakthrough of Licensed To Ill in 1986 paved the road legitimizing Rap to its USA masses… This record also expanded HipHop diversity allowing Public Enemy’s Takes A Nation to be its antithesis.”
Chuck D’s words here pose an interesting question: what exactly does it mean to “legitimize” an art form to the “masses” of fans in America and the western world? The answer to that questions seems to vary and possess its own degree of complexity. However, the case of Licensed to Ill is relatively simple.
The lineup of the newly formed Prophets of Rage is an extraordinary one: Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine, along with Chuck D and DJ Lord of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill. I have a profound sense of respect for all of these artists and their musical innovations and output. I particularly identify with their political ideology and the unprecedented aplomb with which they conveyed it. My young imagination can only vaguely fathom the sublimity of listening to Fear of a Black Planet as a new release in 1990 or thrashing to RATM and Cypress Hill in concert during their heydays of the same distant era. Despite the considerable length of time between now and then, each group’s body of work still manages to sound relevant and assumes a timeless quality.