A Beastie Boys Lyrical Guide To The 5 Boroughs And Beyond
During their many years as New York’s foremost musical ambassadors, the Beastie Boys have taught a generation of fans what it’s like to rhyme and steal their way through Gotham. For fans from all corners of the globe, the Beasties’ rhymes did more than a lifetime’s worth of “I Love NY” ads to offer a tantalizing taste of the Big Apple. Paul’s Boutique alone has more references to the NYC subway than an MTA map.
So now, as the Beasties deliver yet another love letter to their hometown with this week’s release of To the 5 Boroughs, we take a look at the many lessons the Beasties have taught us about life in New York.
The lyric: “I think her name’s Lucy, but they all call her loose/ I think I thought I seen her on 8th and forty-deuce” ó “She’s Crafty,” from Licensed to Ill
The lesson: Eighth Avenue near 42nd Street, in the shadow of the Port Authority bus terminal, was home to a wide assortment of adult entertainment, including peep shows, pornography retailers and characters of ill repute. While there is much less local color of this variety now (the area was cleaned up years ago), the association remains.
The lyric: “He’s even more over than my mayor, Ed Koch” ó “Johnny Ryall,” from Paul’s Boutique
The lesson: Edward Koch was the hugely popular mayor of New York from 1978 to 1989, and his tenure was approaching its end at the time of Paul’s Boutique’s release.
The lyric: “Washing windows on the Bowery at quarter to four” ó “Johnny Ryall,” from Paul’s Boutique
The lesson: Although it’s now the site of many high-income apartment buildings, the Bowery remains synonymous with skid row, and back in 1989, homeless people (also known as “squeegee men”) would often wash car windows at stoplights for change.
The lyric: “Shea Stadium, the radium, EMD squared/ Got kicked out of the Palladium. You think that I cared?” ó “The Sound of Science,” from Paul’s Boutique
The lesson: Shea Stadium in Queens is the home of the New York Mets. The Palladium was a nightclub on East 14th Street from which the Beasties were supposedly banned for life. It was recently razed and has been replaced by a dormitory for New York University.
The lyric: “Jump the turnstile, never pay the toll” ó “3-Minute Rule,” from Paul’s Boutique
The lesson: To get on the subway, one normally passes through a turnstile by paying with a Metrocard (which recently replaced the city’s world-famous tokens). Of course, if you jump over the turnstile, you can save a lot of coin. You may also be arrested.
The lyric: “Your old lady left you and you went insane/ You blew yourself up in the back of the 6 train” ó “Hey Ladies,” from Paul’s Boutique
The lesson: The 6 train is the Lexington Avenue local subway line, which travels from Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx to the Brooklyn Bridge/ City Hall stop in Manhattan. It’s also the same train referenced in the title of Jennifer Lopez’s first album, On the 6.
The lyric: “You got your finger on the trigger like the Son of Sam, I am” ó “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun,” from Paul’s Boutique
The lesson: In 1976 and ’77, David Berkowitz, a serial killer nicknamed Son of Sam, terrorized New York, killing six people and wounding several others.
The lyric: “Bum cheese on rye with ham and prosciutto/ Got more Louie than Phillip Rizzuto” ó “What Comes Around,” from Paul’s Boutique
The lesson: Phil Rizzuto played shortstop for the New York Yankees from 1941 to 1956 and later served for many years as a color commentator. He’s also well known for the unintentionally hilarious TV ads he hosted for the Money Store, a lender, throughout the 1980s.
The lyric: “So I’m out pickin’ pockets at the Atlantic Antic” ó “Shadrach,” from Paul’s Boutique
The lesson: The Atlantic Antic is an annual street festival that takes place on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights, a fairly well-heeled section of Brooklyn (where Beastie MCA was raised). It’s considered a prime location for picking pockets.
The lyric: “D- train ride, Coney Island vacation” ó “B-Boy Bouillabaisse,” from Paul’s Boutique
The lesson: The D subway line, which runs from 205th Street in the Bronx to Stillwell Avenue/ Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, is one of the better ways to get to Coney Island, a legendary seaside amusement area.
The lyric: “Pickpocket gangsters paying their debts/ Caught a bullet in the lung from Bernie Goetz” ó “B-Boy Bouillabaisse,” from Paul’s Boutique
The lesson: Bernard Goetz is the infamous “subway vigilante,” who shot four teenagers attempting to rob him on the subway in 1984.
The lyric: “The Bronx is up and I’m Brooklyn down” ó “B-Boy Bouillabaisse,” from Paul’s Boutique
The lesson: The Bronx is north of Manhattan and Brooklyn is south ó uptown and downtown, respectively. When taking the subway, this is useful information, as many trains run Brooklyn- or Bronx-bound.
The lyric: “Like Harlem World battles on the Zulu Beat Show/ It’s Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee, there’s one you should know” ó “Root Down,” from Ill Communication
The lesson: The Harlem World Battle was a historic battle tape from the “Zulu Beat Show” (WHBI-FM, New York, 1983-1985) that featured rappers Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee.
The lyric: “Second by second and minute by minute/ It’s like lotto, you gotta be in it to win it ” ó “Putting Shame in Your Game,” from Hello Nasty
The lesson: “You gotta be in it to win it” is a self-explanatory tagline used to advertise the New York State lottery.
The lyric: “A curveball’s what my pitch is/ So here we, here we come/ Like dum-ditty-dum/ I keep all five boroughs in stitches” ó “The Negotiation Limerick File,” from Hello Nasty
The lesson: New York is divided into five boroughs (constituent political divisions): the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island ó hence the new album’s name. Most New York natives identify strongly with their borough of birth, and the differences between Staten Islanders and Brooklynites, for example, are sometimes easily discernable. To impress all five boroughs would be an impressive feat.
A Beastie Boys Lyrical Guide To The 5 Boroughs And Beyond