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Doing MCA's Work: We Interviewed the Guy Who Created a Visual Companion to Paul's Boutique

Adam Yauch was never able to follow through with his plan of releasing a video for each Paul's Boutique track so this guy did it for him.

by Jonathan Peltz
Jul 25 2014, 9:00am

“Homeboy, throw in the towel / Your girl got dicked by Ricky Powell.” It’s been exactly 25 years since those immortal words were uttered by Beastie Boys–and Ricky Powell’s self-esteem was never the same since. Paul’s Boutique was a celebration of change and diversity, not just in the sonically varied beats and crisscrossing lyrics, but in the way hip-hop albums were produced. It’s a bona fide masterpiece. I don’t have to tell you that to listen to it–but here’s one more reason to revisit Paul’s Boutique: on its anniversary, Paolo Gilli has gifted Beastie fans with a dope visual accompaniment to the album.

Paolo, the son of an Italian doctor in Heidelberg, Germany, first listened to the album at the age of 12, when it was released. Paolo cried at Adam Yauch’s death, and once he learned that MCA had planned on releasing a visual companion to accompany the legendary album, he enlisted help from his friend Fabio Suanno to make it a reality. They’re both just dudes who really, really like Paul’s Boutique.

It’s a fitting tribute considering the movie adds an entirely new layer to an album known for its smoky layers. The grainy chunks of 70’s cinema, synchronized with the sleazy beats, will make you feel like you’re watching the movie at a 42nd street porn theatre, the way it was meant to be seen.

I Skyped with Paolo, who lives in Turin, to talk about the making of Paul’s Boutique: A Visual Companion.

Noisey: Is the film a literal interpretation of the lyrics?
No. When you hear the album again, there’s a lot to draw from in the lyrics that is open to interpretation. You can use images from movies on some, but there are others where the Beasties’ lyrics are just nonsense. There is no storytelling. So for those, we thought of different things. What we did was to incorporate almost everything from the 1989 era of Paul’s Boutique. And that’s not a lot. There’s the Soul Train appearance, the ones on Yo! MTV Raps, and the press release party, which is all stuff you can see on YouTube. So we wanted to make it look like it all could have been done in ‘89. Because MCA’s original idea for the record was to do a video for every track.

But they never did that…
The album didn’t go so well when it came out. At that point, they had like four or five videos, which we use as a skeleton for the whole movie. Then we tried to fill in the blanks. I tried to have a different idea for every track.

Why do you think the album didn’t do so well when it came out?
I think it’s just that people had this idea about the Beastie Boys. It didn’t go that bad with the critics. Most of the public was into the frat pack image, and the beer, and the girls, which is fine and everything. But that was just the joke on the first album. So they heard that and expected License to Ill 2 and got Paul’s Boutique, which was completely different on every level.

What’s your day job?
I do data entry in a hospital office. Not that exciting stuff.

How much of your day was dedicated to the film?
I wrote it a few years ago. Tthe friend that I did it with, Fabio, who did all the editing, doesn’t live in the same city. He lives two hours away. So we would meet up every few months, work on a few track for like 48 hours at a time. Really it was the last six months we were trying to close it up and met up like once a month. I think if you made a timeline it would probably be about a month total of work.

Poster by Derek Langille

What are the legal issues behind this? Has anyone gotten in touch with you? Do you think you could get in trouble?
[Laughs] That’s a question we get a lot. I don’t know if you heard the reconstructed version of Paul’s Boutique that was released a few years ago by DJ CheebA, DJ Moneyshot, and DJ Food. They reconstructed the album using the original samples. They put it online for free and got like a million downloads. I talked to them [and] they just said to make sure it’s free and you won't make a profit. And then all you can do is just pray that no one gets pissed off from the big companies. I mean we use all copyrighted material so I hope it goes under the radar.

Why do you think you connected with the album when it came out?
Back then, at the beginning of the 90s, there was so much good stuff. I would always put that album away and it would just keep coming back to me. Maybe it’s because of the beats and the samples, because my English wasn’t that good at the time. Now I can talk with you, but back then, I read the lyrics on the sleeve and got some of it, but it was more the music. And I never heard anything like that after the album. The Beastie Boys and the Dust Brothers did something with that album. I can’t give you an answer. You should normally get bored after you hear something a million times. So I don’t know.

Are there any other albums you’ve thought about doing this for?
I’ve talked about that with Fabio, whether we’d ever do a followup. We talked about maybe NWA’s third album, Niggaz4Life. There’s great storytelling on that album. But I think that would be something like a XXX-rated movie. The thing I like about Paul’s Boutique is that it’s all in the 70s. That’s the best era for movies.

Yeah, the Paul’s Boutique beats are so perfectly hazy, kind of matching up with the graininess of 70s cinema.
Exactly. And there’s a lot of beats from the 70s. So I think it matches up with that mood.

Poster by Jim Mahfood

What is the main message people should take away from the album? The stories are all about cruising around and wrecking shit, but is there anything beyond that?
MCA released this one track, called "Year and a Day" and that’s the MCA he became later. I think you have to see the album as a changing point in music. Because no one did that at that point and no one could ever do that again. You couldn’t buy like 300 samples now. It changed everything for them and musically it’s a point of no return. I really see it on the same level as “Dark Side of the Moon.” It’s important for hip-hop but also for music in general.

What is your favorite cut on the video?
My favorite is definitely “Car Thief.” It’s just a standout track. If I remember correctly, that track was the first thing the Beasties heard from the Dust Brothers, and they asked them to do the whole record. It also happened to be the one with the most druggy references. I’m curious to see how people like that track.

For those interested, another dude released, “ForWhomtheCowbellTolls,” a chronicle of 25 years of the album. It’s a good time to be a weird music obsessive.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter - @thecrazypman


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