Matt Yglesias argues that because of the way copyright is viewed by the public and interpreted by lawmakers and the courts, making an album like The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique would be nearly impossible today.
The death on Friday of Adam Yauch, best known as the Beastie Boys’ MCA, surely sent many of us back to old albums we may not have heard for a while. And anyone who threw on Paul’s Boutique, the Boys’ best album, was surely struck by the sense that they don’t make records like that anymore. That’s not just because tastes and styles have changed. The entire album is based on lavish sampling of other recordings. “Shake Your Rump,” which leads Slate’s #MCATracks playlist, features samples of 14 songs by 12 separate artists. In all, the album is thought to have as many as 300 total samples. The sampling gave Paul’s Boutique a sound that remains almost as distinctive today as it was when it was released in 1989.
Perhaps the main reason-and certainly the saddest reason-that it still sounds distinctive is that a rapidly shifting legal and economic landscape made it essentially impossible to repeat.