Licensed to Ill

Music review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Licensed to Ill Music Poster Image
Rappers' hit debut packed with girls, booze, and attitude.

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Kids say

age 11+
Based on 4 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this music.

Positive Messages

When the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill was released, debate raged among parents and critics concerning whether the rappers' macho attitude was deliberately absurdist, or they were really glorifying a life of gun-toting, boozing, and womanizing. Today, we have more perspective on the group; their subsequent releases show ever more clever musical references and increasing musical and lyrical complexity. It seems clear that while the Beasties sure weren't selling a positive or inspiring message, they also weren't necessarily here to corrupt America's youth.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though the Beastie Boys' rhymes on Licensed to Ill seem to aggrandize guns, womanizing, and boozing, the bandmembers themselves turned out to be caring individuals, often using their fame to promote meaningful causes. For example, at the 1998 Video Music Awards, Adam Yauch (who died of cancer in 2012) spoke passionately to the MTV audience against stereotyping Muslims as terrorists. At the 1999 VMAs, Adam Horovitz addressed the reports of numerous sexual assaults taking place at Woodstock '99, and urged bands and promoters to provide better security at their concerts. Yauch was also one of the organizers of the series of Tibetan Freedom concerts held between 1996 and 2001.


More than half of the songs on Licensed to Ill mention having guns, threatening with guns, or shooting people. Examples include "shot those suckers" in "Rhymin' and Stealin'," a father is "shot in the head" in "New Style," someone in the doo-wop-influenced track "Girls" is "pistol-packing." "Rhymin' and Stealin'" mentions cutting someone's throat and "raping."


 In "New Style," the singer is a "father to many and married to none"; this track also refers to sex with twins and with underage girls. The super-popular song "Fight for Your Right (to Party)" says "your mom threw away your best porno mag." References to sex generally seem to victimize or objectify women. "Rhymin' and Stealin'" mentions "bitties with t--ties." In "Paul Revere," the singer is on the run because of what he did to the sheriff's daughter. On the concert tour to promote this album, the band displayed a giant, motorized, inflatable penis.


The only curse word on "Licensed to Ill" is "ass," but there's a lot of rude language: "t--ties," "whore," "ho," "dick."


Numerous mentions of alcohol brands, many of which are probably chosen simply because they rhyme with something else. These include Moet, Thunderbird, Miller, Old Crow, Heineken, and Chivas. There are also frequent references to White Castle, the East Coast burger chain, for some reason.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Almost every song on Licensed to Ill includes some amount of drinking alcohol, with numerous brand-name alcoholic drinks mentioned. There are also general references to beer, brew, champagne, rum, and vodka. "Girls" also mentions crack and sniffing glue. "Rhymin' and "Stealin'" refers to freebasing cocaine. In "Posse in Effect," the singer drinks "quarts, cans, bottles," and in "Fight for Your Right (to Party)," Pop "smokes two packs a day."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill was the best-selling rap album of the 1980s, but it generated controversy among rappers -- concerning whether these white artists were co-opting black culture -- and among parents who felt the rhymes on this album glorify alcohol and drug use, violence, and womanizing. Others believed the band's absurdist approach to these themes should be taken more as parody. The album and band became a focus in the debate over placing parental advisories on music releases. The lyrics do contain numerous references to sex with "girlies," some rude words ("ass," "whore," "ho," "t--ties," "dick"), and numerous mentions of guns and violence. There are also a few references to drug use (freebasing, crack, "dust") and one song featuring a dad who smokes cigarettes. Most concerning is the vast amount of alcohol (beer, vodka, champagne, rum, whisky) consumed in almost every song.

User Reviews

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  • Kids say

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Kid, 11 years old October 24, 2020

Great album.Beginning of white rappers.

Good album with songs like "Fight For Your Right,No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn,and Brass Monkey."Even though some of the messages are drinking,sexual t... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old November 2, 2018

this is one of the best 80's albums ever!

This album is great nothing is bad in this album.

What's the story?

The Beastie Boys began their career in the late 1970s as a punk band, but in the '80s began shifting their focus to rap music. Their debut album, Licensed to Ill, became the best-selling rap album of the '80s and the first rap album to reach the No. 1 spot on Billboard's album chart. It features the No. 7 single "Fight for Your Right (to Party)." When the album was released, it became a focus for debate concerning parental advisories for music releases. In the years since this album was released, The Beastie Boys released seven more albums of increasingly complex and mature music. The music world mourned the death of member MCA (Adam Youch), who died in May 2012 of cancer of the salivary gland.

Is it any good?

The Beastie Boys' debut, Licensed to Ill, is somewhat immature -- bratty even -- but in a good way. The Boys' brash, rude attitude, and the ways they deftly combined rock and pop with rap, rocked some boats when the album came out, but with a little hindsight, the album seems practically charming -- more like a perfect parody of kids and rappers. These clever songs have a lot of humor to them, as well as cool samples and a party vibe.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Beastie Boys' macho attitude. Does it seem real to you? Do you think they are the people in the songs?

  • Do you think that kids' behavior or views regarding sex, drugs, and alcohol are formed or changed by the music they listen to?

  • Do you think there are more guns and violence in rap music than in other music?

Music details

  • Artist: Beastie Boys
  • Release date: November 18, 1986
  • Type: Album
  • Label: Def Jam
  • Genre: Rap
  • Topics: High School, Pirates
  • Parental advisory: No
  • Edited version available: No
  • Last updated: November 11, 2020

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