This article originally ran in 2016, but we’re dusting it off for Mike D’s birthday on November 20th.
Ever felt overwhelmed by an artist’s extensive back catalog? Been meaning to check out a band, but you just don’t know where to begin? In 10 Songs is here to help, offering a crash course and entry point into the daunting discographies of iconic artists of all genres. This is your first step toward fandom. Take it.
It may be hard to believe, but over 30 years have passed since the Beastie Boys’ debut, Licensed to Ill, introduced the world to Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D. Long before Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit dominated the intersection of rap and rock, the New York trio brought the nasal goofiness and hardcore energy of their former punk band to bear on the hip-hop world, effectively helping to break through an otherwise hard barrier between the genre in the mid-to-late ’80s.
They fought for the right to party, drank brass monkeys, and said hey to ladies, merry mischief-makers having a good time and pushing boundaries. They would, however, grow out of the adolescent provocation and come to bring a real artistry to their rhymes, eventually leading to a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
A lot changed between 1986’s Licensed to Ill and their final record, 2011’s Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. Rap evolved and changed, and the three MCs did as well, lyrically, musically, and as people. Over the course of eight full-length records, the Beastie Boys audibly grew from punk teens to elder statesmen, tail-chasers to feminist allies, punch-line obsessives to artists with genuine messages. Luckily, all of that growth and change was captured on tape, their lives changing along with those of their listeners.
Here, we’ve attempted to boil their expansive career down to 10 representative songs. These aren’t their best songs, necessarily, but the ones that represent key moments or aspects of their career. Check out the list below, and scroll to the end for a playlist of all 10 tracks.
— Adam Kivel