Finding the GOAT Album: Beastie Boys’ Licensed To Ill vs. EPMD’s Strictly Business. Which Is Better?

One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?

“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.

Both Beastie Boys’ Licensed To Ill and EPMD’s Strictly Business ushered in firsts for many. Licensed to Ill was the first heavy dose of Hip-Hop for the mainstream, and Strictly Business was at the vanguard of the Funk and Hip-Hop fusion that would go on to become one of the dominant sounds of the 90s. Which album had the greater impact? You must decide which goes forth (click one then click vote).

Voting For This Poll Has Closed. Visit the “Finding The GOAT” page for current ballots.


Licensed To Ill by Beastie Boys

Three New York City natives, the Beastie Boys combined their loves of Rap and Rock & Roll on 1986’s Licensed To Ill. Eventually becoming the best-selling Hip-Hop album of the 1980s (the only to go diamond), this Def Jam debut cast a wide net with the voice of the streets. With Run-D.M.C. and Rick Rubin overseeing much of the album’s writing and creation, L.T.I did not veer far from the path to commercial success employed by the Rush-managed superstars. However, whereas Run and DMC waxed rhymes about hard times, St. John’s and long Cadillac sedans, the Beasties introduced themselves as horny, Budweiser-chugging, White Castle-devouring playboy pranksters. It just so happens that MCA, Ad-Rock and Mike D could rhyme at a high level, with distinct voices, and denim veneers to Run-D.M.C.’s leather. “The New Style” embodied this approach, as did “Time To Get Ill” and “Slow And Low.”

However, the Beasties presented much more than a party-animal re-tread. “Brass Monkey,” a song about a beer cocktail showed the group’s ability to rap fast, and pass the mic like a hot potato. The record had a sensibility different than any ’86 Hip-Hop out there. “Paul Revere” was a Western story, with the group grooving vocally to a slow, backwards beat. Musically, Rick Rubin used drum sounds and patterns that would have more in common with later 2 Live Crew and Sir Mix-A-Lot records, than anything in Manhattan. The LP grabbed accents from Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and The Clash. The Beasties’ Punk background was subdued, but omnipresent in their sonic surroundings. Cleverly, the album contained songs that stood out from the rest, making it an all-ages party. “Girls” was to Licensed To Ill what “I Need Love” was to Bigger And Deffer—authentic, but defiantly a stand-apart from the rest of the album. That, and “Fight For Your Right (To Party)” were mainline injections into the MTV generation youth movement. This LP had the items to lure 10 million plus into the building, to experience Hip-Hop, which just happened to be transmitted by three Jewish New Yorkers and their punker producer. This debut is a time piece that cemented a career, even if the Beastie Boys immediately strayed from its image, themes, and sound. Few artists and albums accomplished as much at once as this rhymin’-and-stealin’ LP, which may be the crown jewel, commercially speaking, of the Def dynasty.

Album Number: 1
Released: November 15, 1986
Label: Def Jam/Columbia Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, February 1987; certified platinum, February 1987; certified diamond, March 2015)
Song Guests: DJ Hurricane, Kerry King, Keene Carse, Danny Lipman, Tony Orbach
Song Producers: (self), Rick Rubin


Strictly Business by EPMD

In the summer of ’88, Erick Sermon and Parish Smith set it straight with an incredible audio achievement. Strictly Business was a cottage industry, in its advanced sound and rich microphone chemistry from the two Brentwood, Long Island MC/producers. “You Gots To Chill” broke ground with a style that would go on to be associated with West Coast production. In the closing days of boom-bap, E-Double and PMD gave audiences wide-body tracks with melody and pulsating Funk. This song in particular appealed to pop-and-locking dancers more than breakers, while the deft lyricism from the pair rode the beat tightly, in step, in a way that others couldn’t. “Strictly Business” did the same, with an effective loop and rhythm scratching from DJ K La Boss. In the era of the Jeep, EPMD rose to the top immediately with songs that refused to compromise strong lyrics, for glass-shattering beats.

EPMD’s sound, especially in the ’80s, has been revered as timeless. The specific sample chop and arrangements of Strictly Business reappeared as hits for The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, and Jay Z in the late ’90s. The album’s lyrical themes largely maintained a cool exterior. “Strictly Business” and “It’s My Thing” were B-boy bravado moments, songs about how even out the gate—EPMD chased away biters. “Jane” however, showed that E and P could break from that, launching a legendary series (like the catalog titles), and thus, a Rap archetype. Meanwhile, “The Steve Martin” presented a group that was not just serious business, and could laugh at the world, to go along with their pop-culture-infused rhymes. As independents on a label that would close its doors by the 1990s, EPMD’s debut would go gold in mere months. Strictly Business is pure pleasure to listen to, and launched a product that was highly influential, although impossible to replicate in the Hip-Hop landscape.

Album Number: 1
Released: June 21, 1988
Label: Fresh/Sleeping Bag Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #80 (certified gold, November 1988)
Song Guests: DJ K La Boss
Song Producers: (self)

So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.

Related: See Round 1 (The 1980s) of Ambrosia For Heads’ Finding The GOAT: The Albums