Beastie Boys' "Licensed to Ill" Turns 30, All Praise Hip-Hop's First #1 Album

Make sure you say happy birthday to the album that established hip-hop as a cultural and commercial force.

The current hip-hop climate seems to be leaning against '90s rappers, but how about '80s rappers? 

Exactly 30 years ago today, the Beastie Boys released their beyond-classic album Licensed to Ill, a project that without exaggeration would become one of the primary reasons hip-hop even exists today. 

November 15, 1986: Hip-hop is still very much considered a fad, a novelty. Sure, "Rapper's Delight" was a hit, but that was some guys talking about soggy mashed potatoes over a stolen disco instrumental. Sure, Whodini had an album go Platinum, and Run-D.M.C. had just put out their debut album to acclaim, but mainstream (aka white) culture, media, and business were largely still comfortable just ignoring hip-hop until it assuredly went away. 

And then Licensed to Ill dropped. It quickly became the overall number-one album in the country, went Platinum, had the Beasties opening for Madonna and truly brought hip-hop into living rooms across America. Hip-hop was now an undeniable force to be reckoned with and it would never leave. 

While the Beasties themselves would go on to disavow much of Licensed to Ill's lyrics and messages—their next album, Paul's Boutique, we be an almost 180-degree change—there's just no downplaying the importance of this album.

Younger generations may not know it, and because they don't know it they may not care, but without it, the hip-hop landscape would likely look dramatically different, and smaller, today. Call it the hip-hop Louisiana Purchase.

Licensed to Ill was just the beginning, both for the Beastie Boys' decades-spanning career and for hip-hop, but there's fundamental power in beginnings. So even if only for a moment, young, old or anywhere in between, let's take a moment to bow our heads in tribute to Licensed to Ill.

30 years later and now, perhaps more than ever, we still need to fight for our right.


By Nathan S, occasional keyboard hitter and beard maintainer. This is his Twitter.

Photo Credit: Glen E. Friedman