“Shadrach” was the Beastie Boys‘ third single from Paul’s Boutique (said single pictured above), but it’s best known as an album cut. In his excellent 33 1/3 treatise on Paul’s, Dan LeRoy calls “Shadrach” the album’s most important track (p. 97), and its importance is inherently bound up in the importance of the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego mythology. If you’re unfamiliar with the Bible, let me break it down for you.
AND THE MAN UPSTAIRS, WELL I HOPE THAT HE CARES
Nebuchadnezzar (“Nez to my friends, only I ain’t got no friends”) was king of Babylon in the 6th century BC. He basically did three things: built skyscrapers, started wars, and one day decided, “Fuck it, I’m building myself a big ass statue of gold.” Being king, he ordered everyone to get on their knees and worship the statue “as soon as I press play on this boom box and ‘Hotel California’ kicks in. Everyone got that???”
Everyone did as they were told, except for three Jewish boys: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were busy sippin’ on wine and mackin’, rockin’ on the stage with all the hands clappin’. There was also that matter of not worshiping false idols and maintaining faith in one true God, all of which made Nez so furious he went home and bit his pillow. He also ordered guards to throw the three boys into a fiery furnace because that’s what kings do.
So, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were tossed into the furnace and … nothing happened. Miraculously, the flames didn’t hurt them. If anything, they totally added to their hash buzz. It was their faith in God, not gold, that saved their lives. Well, that and the fact that God knew these knuckleheads were gonna get themselves in trouble, so he had a secret service angel assigned to them.
When Nez saw this he correctly surmised, “If these fuckers can’t be hurt by fire, then they must be seriously connected.” He made a big song and dance about Jewish faith and the great Jewish god, but really he was just protecting his ass. He may have been King of Babylon with armies at his command, but even he couldn’t control fire. Well played, Judeo-Christian deity.
YOU DON’T PAY THE BAND, YOUR FRIENDS, YO THAT’S WEAK
“What happened was they didn’t get paid by their former record company so they went to Capitol. The story has a good ending.”
—Adam Yauch on the original Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, 1989
The parallels between the Beastie Boys and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are obviously limited. But, the story of three Jewish boys taking on the establishment and not only surviving, but thriving, continues to resonate. Of course, where the biblical trio survived because of their faith in God, the Beasties survived (and thrived) because of their faith in each other. This is no small difference.
That faith in each other led to the most pugnacious element of Paul’s Boutique, its deliberate uncommerciality. This wasn’t just Capitol’s predictable response to their expensive new acquisition (“I DON’T HEAR A SINGLE!”). This was also the opinion of the Dust Brothers, who consisted then of Mike Simpson, John King, and Matt Dike, the other trio of geniuses responsible for Paul’s. Dike confessed to LeRoy that he half-seriously suggested a follow-up (of sorts) to “Brass Monkey.” Yauch’s response was unequivocal. “Fuck ‘Brass Monkey!’ None of that fast-rapping commercial shit!” (p. 57).
It should be noted that the Beasties’ defiance of the marketplace was also a reaction to their dissolving relationship with Russell Simmons and Def Jam. Licensed To Ill sold millions of records (the very definition of commercial, I’d say), the Beasties toured behind it for months, and yet they weren’t paid royalties. Def Jam sued the Beasties, the Beasties sued Def Jam, suffice to say everyone involved got more suits than Jacoby & Meyers. According to Beastiemania.com, “When Simmons learned the band had been looking at offers from other labels, he terminated their contract with Def Jam. Beastie Boys eventually signed with Capitol Records, ending all ties with Def Jam.” If the Beasties were gonna go out like the Titanic, they were gonna sink (or swim) on their terms.
THREE MC’S AND WE’RE ON THE GO
“We like things that people recognize, but don’t know who or what it is. We’ll be listening to something and have a few tracks made and then, all of a sudden, somebody will remember a Tito Puente record or a Sammy Davis, Jr. record. We were mixing shit like Black Oak Arkansas with Sly & The Family Stone, or Alice Cooper with the Crash Crew. To get just the right sound, we used a blue bong, high quality indica buds, hash, hash oil, freebase, red wine, cigarettes, LSD, coffee, and whippets.”
–Mike Simpson in Angus Batey’s, Rhyming & Stealing: A History Of The Beastie Boys, p. 105
So, let us return to “Shadrach.”
Beastie Boys – Shadrach
Paul’s Boutique, 1989
LeRoy believes that “Shadrach” is “as punk rock a moment as anything in the Beastie Boys catalog” (p. 98), mostly because it’s a symbolic declaration of independence from Def Jam, Licensed To Ill, and expectations for a sequel, which actually could’ve been called Ill II. While I don’t disagree with any of that, I’m not sure it’s anymore punk rock than a 12:30 medley that doubles as a history of (and love letter to) old-school, NYC-based hip hop or a song based around Beatles samples that couldn’t have been made at any other time in history, for no other reason due to expense.
“Shadrach” is musically genius, but not because it’s an explosion of beats like “Shake Your Rump” or “B-Boy Bouillabaise.” “Shadrach” is fairly simple. It’s largely based on Sly & The Family Stone‘s “Loose Booty” because why wouldn’t you base a song on this jam? That’s just good science.
Sly & the Family Stone – Loose Booty
Small Talk, 1974
So much here that’s fundamental to “Shadrach”: Rustee Allen‘s killer bassline, the horny horns, and of course Sly’s “Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego” refrain. There’s also Rose Stone‘s distinctive wail. Not to read too much into this, but the way her voice is looped makes her “Hey-hey-hey-hey” sound less like an R&B singer and more like a cantor at a Jewish temple. Given the biblical backstory and the enormous cultural reach of both the Beastie Boys and Dust Bros, is it totally out of the realm of possibility that this was the desired effect?
I find it curious that the Beasties would sample/cover two Sly Stone songs and both were from the unheralded Small Talk album. “Loose Booty” here and “Time For Livin'” on Check Your Head. By the way, if you’re new to Sly, here’s my advice on what to buy and in what order: 1) Anthology, 2) Fresh, 3) There’s A Riot Goin’ On, and then 4) Small Talk. Some of the most inventive funk songs ever committed to wax.
Black Oak Arkansas – Hot And Nasty (Excerpt)
Black Oak Arkansas, 1971
And herein lies the genius of Paul’s Boutique, which is to say, the genius of the Beastie Boys and Dust Bros. They were instinctively able to zero in on the best parts of songs and then turn those parts into mind-blowing new songs. Granted, that generally describes the hip hop mission statement, but only BB/DB were able to “mix shit like Black Oak Arkansas with Sly & The Family Stone,” and have it make perfect sense. Black Oak Arkansas was a mostly terrible band with a lead singer (Jim Dandy Mangrum) who sounded like Captain Beefheart on a gas-huffing binge. And while “Hot And Nasty” isn’t that bad, Wayne Evans on drums and Pat Daugherty on bass bring undeniable funk and are easily the best part of the song. I’m not sure how much Daugherty makes the cut, but Evans’ opening drum lick is all over “Shadrach,” perfectly combining with “Loose Booty” to form the song’s foundation. In all ways, just a brilliant sample.
THE MUSIC WASHES OVER AND YOU’RE ONE WITH THE SOUND
Here are the rest of “Shadrach’s” known samples. I’ve listed them in order of appearance, time when they appear, and though excerpts, I tried to include a little more than just the sampled section, so you can get a flavor of the song. There are also numerous cultural references, which you can read about on the Paul’s Boutique Samples and References List and Beastiemania.com.
Rose Royce – Do Your Dance (Intro) – Drum beat/handclap (:00-:09)
Rose Royce II: In Full Bloom, 1977
The intro to “Shadrach” is taken from the intro to “Do Your Dance,” a Top 10 R&B hit for Rose Royce in 1977.If you know the name Rose Royce at all, it’s for the previous year’s Car Wash soundtrack, an album that produced a #1 pop hit (the badass title track), three R&B Top 10s, and provided “Shake Your Rump” with four separate samples. I’m not a particular fan of disco, but I’ll give Car Wash a free pass, in large part because of producer, Norman Whitfield (links to Adios Lounge post from Oct 2008).
Sugarhill Gang – Sugarhill Groove (Excerpt) – Chord (:16, :26, 1:42, 1:51, and 2:54)
The Sugarhill Gang, 1980
“Hit the guitar and then the bass
Then hit that chord that’ll shake this place”
Everyone knows The Sugarhill Gang because of “Rapper’s Delight.” To capitalize on the unexpected success of that 1979 single, Sugar Hill Records cobbled together six tracks for the group’s self-titled debut album, released the following year. As a rap song, “Sugarhill Groove” is nothing special. But, as an example of hip hop incorporating live instruments, it’s the earliest template for groups like the Beastie Boys. The underrated Sugar Hill Records house band featured Skip McDonald on guitar, Keith LeBlanc on drums, and Doug Wimbish on bass, later to join Living Colour.
Here’s a cool profile of the other Sugar Hill gang [via Last Days of Man on Earth, Sept 2007].
Ballin’ Jack – Never Let ‘Em Say (Excerpt) – “Never gonna let ’em say that I don’t love you” (2:36)
Ballin’ Jack, 1970
Ballin’ Jack was a late ’60s/early ’70s rock group from Seattle, largely inspired by their childhood friend and fellow Seattleite, Jimi Hendrix. “Never Let ‘Em Say” was actually the B-side to a 1970 single, released just prior to their self-titled debut. The A-side was “Found A Child,” which you don’t think you know. However, that tune was appropriated by Matt Dike to form the basis of Young MC‘s “Bust A Move,” a record that sold approximately 5 billion copies to white people worldwide.
Trouble Funk – Say What? (Excerpt) – “And we love the hot butter (say what?) the popcorn!” (3:04)
In Times Of Trouble, 1983
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Paul’s Boutique Samples and References List and Beastiemania.com are wrong, and Wikipedia is right. There is a Trouble Funk sample in “Shadrach,” but it’s not from “Good To Go,” it’s from the opening moments of “Say What?” I think the confusion may have come from “say what” being shouted several times during “Good To Go.” One listen to “Say What?” should clear up any confusion.
Now’s probably a good time to mention that Trouble Funk’s record label, Tuf America, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Beastie Boys on May 3, the day before Yauch died of cancer. Classy move, dickheads. You’ve had well over 20 years to address this and didn’t. Best case scenario, you’ll receive a nominal pittance and everyone outside of DC hates you. Worst case scenario, the lawsuit is dropped and everyone outside of DC hates you. Hope it was worth it.
Funky 4 + 1 – That’s The Joint (Excerpt) – “Being very proud of being MCs” (3:13)
The Funky 4 + 1 occupy an important place in hip hop. They were the first rap group to feature a female MC (Sha Rock), the first rap group to perform on national TV (SNL, Feb 14, 1981), and the first Bronx rappers to sign to a label (Enjoy). The Beasties were particularly fond of “That’s The Joint,” sampling it both here and on “Shake Your Rump.”
Incidentally, I’ve listened to “Shadrach” probably 1000 times and always assumed this sample was, “Being very proud to be an MC.” It’s printed that way everywhere, including the Paul’s Boutique liner notes. However, that’s not what the rapper — who I believe is Lil’ Rodney Cee — actually says. He says “MCs,” plural. You can hear the ‘s.’ Lyrically, the preceding references to ‘we’ means “MCs” is grammatically correct.
“We’ll be busting in and we’ll be turning it out
While we rock to any beat without a doubt
Just chilling hard, living in luxury
And being very proud of being MCs”
Like Galileo dropped the orange.
James Brown – Funky Drummer (Outro) – Drum break (4:05-4:07)
We conclude our Beasties appreciation with quite possibly the most sampled drum break in hip hop history. Clyde Stubblefield learnin’ fools. Which brings me back to the issue of sampling and copyright. While formal royalties should certainly be paid, usually one guy is getting paid, and it’s not always the guy who created the music. For example, when the Beasties pay for the use of “Funky Drummer,” it ain’t going to Clyde Stubblefield, the drummer who invented that beat. It’s going to James Brown. Clyde got paid a session fee in 1969 (hopefully) and that’s the extent of his investment. Why is that acceptable? Because some lawyers said so? Lawyers are asshats. I think the James Brown estate should do what’s right and annuitize a fair stipend for Stubblefield. After all, it was on “Funky Drummer” that JB directed us to “give the drummer some.” I think giving should begin with JB. Then again, what do I know? If I had a penny for my thoughts I’d be a millionaire.
NOW WE’RE GONNA BUST WITH THE PUTNEY SWOPE SEQUEL
As it turns out, the Beasties and Sly Stone were only the latest musicians to jump on the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego bandwagon. In the 1930s, a Louisiana composer named Robert MacGimsey wrote “Shadrack,” and it was recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1938. That version begat numerous vocal quartet covers (Ames Brothers, Golden Gate Quartet) and jazz covers (Benny Goodman, Sonny Rollins). Here are two of my favorites.
The Larks – Shadrack (1954)
The Larks are obviously in the vocal quartet tradition with this amazing gospel rendition from 1954. They shot this for an early version of the “Showtime At The Apollo” TV series and previously released it as a single on Apollo Records (“Shadrack” b/w “Honey In The Rock”, January 1952). I love how the four voices all blend together, the lead singer riding just on top of the mesmerizing backup vocals. It’s chanting as much as it is singing, and you can trace those rhythms and harmonies all the way back to West Africa. In other words, don’t expect any Beach Boys comparisons.
Which brings us back to the man who started all this Shadraching: Louis Armstrong, arguably the first significant 20th century American roots musician.
Louis Armstrong – Shadrach (1951)
Though he originally recorded “Shadrach” in ’38, this clip is from the 1951 film, The Strip. Starring Mickey Rooney, the movie features Armstrong, Jack Teagarden (trombone), Barney Bigard (clarinet), and the rest of Louis’ All-Stars. Clearly they’re having a big time in the house of Babylon.
In terms of vocals alone, I don’t think people realize how important Louis Armstrong was to the development of blues and jazz singing … and by extension, rock ‘n’ roll and hip hop. Armstrong didn’t necessarily invent slurs, scatting, and singing over and behind the beat. However, he definitely popularized those affectations and made it acceptable for every singer and rapper who came after him to sing and rap how they damn well pleased.
But the children of Israel would not bow down
Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego …