A classic Beastie Boys LP lives again live

We spoke to U.K. DJs Food, Cheeba and Moneyshot about the reconstruction of Paul’s Boutique they’re bringing to SAT’s dancefloor for POP Montreal this Friday.


Paul’s Boutique turned 25 in late July. I was 11 when it dropped and couldn’t understand it, but from around 13 on, I wore that red-shelled cassette out to death. And then another, and then another. There was this one point in the early ’90s, right before the Beastie Boys definitively re-stated their purpose between Check Your Head and Ill Communication, where turnin’ up a CD copy of Paul’s was like winning the cooler-than-you lottery.

Knowing all the words made you a star. Knowing where the samples came from made you a nerd. I’m suffering pangs of teen anxiety just writing about it. And that makes sense. One of the highest-profile commercial flops in the history of the music biz, Paul’s Boutique not only stands the test of time, but continues to quiz us on where we stand in our own times. This one album is the Beatles of hip hop, larger than the sum of its parts.

The hundreds of melodies and rhythms, re-interpolated and laid out fresh in the late ’80s by seminal, frontier-breaking producer duo Dust Brothers, recluse weirdo-type and Delicious Vinyl founder Matt Dike, and Ad-Rock, Mike D, and the lamented elder MCA (God rest), remain a canonical debate among DJs, diggers, music junkies and B-Boys fanatics.

Which brings us down to the matter at hand. This Friday, Ninja Tune O.G. and turntable history-maker DJ Food (aka Strictly Kev) and his Solid Steel radio cohorts DJ Moneyshot and DJ Cheeba bring their homage to Paul’s Boutique — first conceived and executed as the Caught in the Middle of a Threeway mixtape — to the dancefloor at SAT for POP Montreal.

Food, Moneyshot and Cheeba get these records and their stories straight down to the sounds of science, live. And by the modern-day magic of email, I got to talk Boutique with the three DJs, each a hurricane in his own right.

Darcy MacDonald: Please introduce yourselves and your relationship to Solid Steel.

Kev: I’m Strictly Kev, aka DJ Food, I’ve been part of Solid Steel and Ninja Tune for 21 years now, contributing mixes, music and artwork to the show and label. Old’s Cool Ninja.

DJ Moneyshot: Hello one and all, I am gland-master DJ Moneyshot, the archdeacon of mucking about on the turntables. I’m also happy to say that I’m a 100 per cent, fully fledged, Solid Steel disc jockey. The title was made official in January of 2009 in a ceremony that not only happened in my head, but also in the hearts of the listeners who’ve been clucking over my creations since about 2001.

DJ Cheeba: They call me Cheeba, partly ‘cuz I smoked my own body weight in herbs as a teenager, but I also ran with it because I had so many good name drops on vinyl from decades of ill funk and rap joints. I barely smoke anymore but hey, I’m too deep now to switch it up and confuse everyone — myself included.

I was partly responsible for hosting a Solid Steel club night here in Bristol for a good five or six years and as such set myself up with bi-monthly opportunities to tune my turntable skills and show off in front of the Ninjas, who had inspired me to start spinning in the first place.

DM: How did the Beastie Boys enter your lives? “Where were you when,” so to speak?

Kev:  I first heard “Slow & Low” on the radio sometime in ’85, I think on Mike Allen’s late-night Capital Rap show, and it sounded very fresh — plus it was on Def Jam, who were in the middle of a golden run of releases.

In ’86, I saw them open for Run DMC, LL Cool J and Whodini on the Raising Hell Tour in London, and again the next year on their Licensed to Ill tour.

Shot: Some of my earliest memories of digging hip hop are pawing through a mate’s older cousin’s record collection and bugging out on the covers.

The inlay of Licensed to Ill used to crack me up. Ad-Rock with an ice bucket on his head, mugging right up, made me want to check out the album, which made me a fan on the first listen.

In fact I may stop right here for a second and go and put on “Girls”…(shuffles off for two minutes and 13 seconds)…. Ahh, lovely! I must have been in my early teens. My tastes may not have changed since then, but at least I now have pubes.

Cheeba: It was probably around the early  ‘0s. Funnily enough, it was Paul’s Boutique I first got handed on cassette and it got played start to end repeatedly for some time, to and from school.

Back then, Walkmans would eat batteries if you used FFWD. so I never skipped “Five Piece Chicken Dinner” which I remember always made me roll my eyes a bit.

“Shake Your Rump” was the highlight for me even then. I just loved the pace of the changes and the funk — not that I really realized it was all samples of other songs. It wasn’t until Ill Communication that I really got deep into them, backtracked and soaked up Check Your Head and Licensed to Ill and labelled myself a diehard Beastie Boy.

BeastieBoysPaul'sBoutiqueDM: At the conception of this project, how did each of you contribute to the idea?

Shot: I’d made a Beasties sample mix based around CYH. The fellas dug it and talk turned to working on a sample mash up of PB. Because of the scale of the source material in the album, it would have killed just one of us if we’d tried it alone.

Kev plucked the title Caught in the Middle of a 3-Way Mix from a Beasties b-side, and I think he also suggested we tackle the samples one track at a time, in order, with each of the three of us taking 20 minutes each to sum up our sections.

After that it was radio silence, with each DJ beaver-ing away at home and putting their cards on the table when they’d finished. We all brought our own styles to it, but ultimately were informed by the Dust Brothers masterful sample-slinging.

Cheeba: We egged each other on for a while to tackle PB in a similar way (to Moneyshot’s CYH mix) before agreeing to split the mission three ways which also worked a treat to riff on the title of the B-side from that era. It stalled a lot but eventually we got it done.

Kev:  After dividing the album into three distinct parts so that we all had specific tracks to work on, we took all the sources and went away to do our respective thing with them. We’d laid out ground rules in as far as we’d use the material that the Dust Brothers and Beasties used but expand on it, then it was up to us to put our own personal stamp on our sections.

DM: What are your individual favourite songs on Paul’s, and why?

Kev: “Shake Your Rump,” “Hey Ladies,” “Shadrach” and “A Year & a Day” — the first three are all classic cut-up party bangers, and the last one is just a great mix of Led Zep break, Isley Brothers guitar and solo MCA rhymes

Shot: “Shake Your Rump” is the mad note! Each new sample crow-barred in adds new twists and turns to the beat. I love the drum rolls and the Moog bass scratching, especially. It just all works. God knows what they chose to leave out, or how many things they auditioned before picking the choice elements they went with.

Cheeba: Well, as I mentioned before, “Shake Your Rump” was always the stand-out for me since first hearing the album on cassette. It’s just dope in a million different ways! It plays up to my own short attention span, churning through killer breaks, funk and disco riffs at a pace I really dig.

Add to that the raps are on point, and as it’s the opener of the LP, it never fails to just make you jump out your chair after that “Snakefoot” drum roll.

It really, truly does rock a house party at the drop of a hat still… trust me, I love a good house party and standardly end up resurrecting the dancefloor at 5 a.m. with it as my go-to Break-Glass-in-Case-of-Emergency banger.

DM: I think people may have it twisted like you guys have the whole album rebuilt up from scratch, when the truth is the set is based around the sample sources and readjusted in the spirit of where the album takes the listener.

Please explain in technical terms your individual roles in bringing this concept to life from the notepad, to the rehearsal space, to the stage.

Kev:  Sometimes people don’t read the small print. They think it’s just a Beasties career tribute.

What we’re doing is quite specific and nerdy actually — real diggers’ stuff, in a similar way to what Shadow and Cut Chemist are doing with Bambaataa’s records right now. It’s essentially a complex DJ routine based around all the sources they sampled on Paul’s Boutique, plus a capellas and more.

(On stage we have) three DJs across four turntables, a pair in the middle for the DJ who’s leading the mix and one each on either side for overdubs, scratches and additional content.

We each take a third of the show and play our respective parts with the other two riding shotgun so to speak. This means we switch decks at certain points and none of us wear headphones so we don’t get all messed up with that side of things.

We decided early on that setting up six decks at clubs and festivals would be excessive, plus the reality of having six tracks spinning at once was unlikely, so having four forced us to focus more on the content and strip it back.

Si and Roy found us a couple of rehearsal spaces in Bristol and we holed up in them for a few weekends to learn the mix and work out who would do which part best. Once we’d performed it a few times live, we realized which parts were weak or needed extending and the spaces where we could improvise a bit.

We’re now trying to fit a more complicated video show to the basic one we have at the moment but it’s proving to be a bit of a head-fuck, to be honest, in both time and technical execution.

DM: In putting this together, did any of you discover records you didn’t already have in your collections?

Kev:  The Eagles one used on “High Plains Drifter” was new to me.

Shot:  Oh, loads. I had a lot of the funk and old school rap stuff, but maybe not as much vintage reggae like Pato Banton’s “Don’t Sniff Coke,” which turns up on Sounds of Science, or the Scotty track “Draw Your Brakes” which I think is on Stop That Train.

It was also nice to get some Donovan in there, and the theme from Jaws —two things I doubt turn up in many DJ sets.

DM: In the PB spirit of fucking shit up, does this tribute go deeper than sample sources? And are there parts of this set that are meant to be kept secret?

Kev:  I think we covered a lot of the sample origins on this, we didn’t leave much out unless it just wasn’t needed or going to work. There’s some stuff shoehorned in there, too, but we did mess around with the material.

You’ll hear stuff coming and going that you’ll recognize, but then you’ll be somewhere else entirely before being jerked back into the album again. It’s a pretty disjointed set in places and we’ve not taken the easy option for the audience either. There’s some rock out bits and some super slow head-nod stuff, just like the album.

Shot: There are between 100-200 samples in there, some of which the Dust Brothers hid quite well. We wanted to showcase each one as best as possible by cutting it up, making it jump out, or revealing itself as more than just than the small loop you might recognize from the track it’s used in. We’re all massive nerds for samples, so wanted them to get the space they deserved.

Cheeba: I think we all aimed to show off as many of the samples as they sat in their original form, as well as showcase other parts of the tracks that might have loops and riffs that beg to be flipped and dragged out.

In the live show, we also put our own technical style into the delivery: beat juggles, cuts and different ways of twisting the blends that aren’t on the mixtape. We all agreed the live thing needed to add much more to the mixtape, both in dragging out the dancefloor-friendly bits and adding some showmanship and style to the performance. ■

DJ Food, DJ Cheeba and DJ Moneyshot’s 3-Way Mix (Paul’s Boutique reconstructed), with support from Soul Khan and DJ Brace, happens at SAT (1201 St-Laurent) on Friday, Sept. 19, 9 p.m., $25/$30