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Music

Dropping Names, Cutting Tapes: Beastie Boys – “3-Minute Rule”

Coming after the aggressive intensity of the end of “The Sounds of Science”, “3-Minute Rule” seems slight, like the Beasties went on a mini-vacation.

Beastie Boys

Paul's Boutique

US Release: 1989-07-25
UK Release: Import
Label: Capitol
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“3-Minute Rule” starts with the sounds of a ping pong game. This opening sample seems apropos for a track that is relentlessly laid-back, almost lazy-sounding, in fact. Coming after the aggressive intensity of the end of “The Sounds of Science”, “3-Minute Rule” seems slight, like the Beasties went on a mini-vacation. It’s forgivable, though, since everyone needs a rest sometimes, including the listener.

The texture of “3-Minute Rule” is remarkably sparse. The main samples are from Sly & the Family Stone, the Steve Miller Band, and Fancy. The groove settles into a mid-tempo, lethargic funk. Lyrical interaction between the three Beasties, the quality that characterizes so much of the group’s best music, is notably missing. Mike D, MCA, and Ad-Rock each contribute about a minute of rapping without any commentary from the other two. We realize how much the Beasties are dependent upon collective storytelling. When they try to each tell their own narrative, devoid of the other’s support, the result is slightly stilted verses. After Ad-Rock’s final “And I’m out”, the groove continues for another thirty seconds or so. This ending feels kind of tedious and perfunctory.

Lyrically, “3-Minute Rule” covers a lot of the same ground we have come to expect from the Beasties on tPaul's Boutique. Similar themes as “The Sounds of Science” are explored, such as the superiority of the Beasties rapping over anyone else, their top-notch sexual prowess, their mischievous, trickster natures, etc., but without the fun, over-the-top bravado of the former tune. A couple of the lines, in fact, are borderline clunkers. When MCA says, “A lot of parents like to think I’m a villain / I’m just chillin’ like Bob Dylan”, the rhyme feels predictable and too cheesy for its own good, even for a group that never takes itself too seriously. Sometimes the lines are just excessively matter-of-fact, like Ad-Rock’s pronouncement that “I’m reading On the Road by my man Jack Kerouac”. Normally, mentioning important literary/musical figures like Dylan and Kerouac would seem ironic and clever. But, without the other Beasties to support these allusions, the name dropping seems a bit hollow.

Even a mediocre Beasties track yields a lot of pleasures, though. At times, the rappers transform cliches into playfully original phrases (“Roses are red, the sky is blue / I got my barrel at your neck, so what the fuck you gonna do?”). A classic Jimi Hendrix album title is used to a simultaneously intriguing and creepy effect (“Are you experienced, little girl? / I want to know what goes on in your little girl world”). We’re not sure whether to laugh or cringe at a line like “I was making records when you were sucking your mother’s dick”. Of course, with the Beasties, this thin line between brilliance and stupidity has always been the point. If the group leans dangerously heavily towards the latter with “3-Minute Rule”, they bounce back to the former with “Hey Ladies”, the next tune on Paul’s Boutique, and the record’s most famous track. That, as they say, is a whole other story . . .

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