Album art for Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill, with black vinyl recordIn ‘What’s the Story?’, we take a look back at the fascinating tales behind some of our favourite album covers. This time it’s Licensed to Ill (1986), by Beastie Boys.

No, this isn’t the cover of Eminem’s best-selling 2018 record Kamikaze– but it’s the original coverart to which the rapper’s album pays homage.

The debut studio album by NY trio Beastie Boys features a gatefold image. On the front, the tail of a Beasties logo-emblazoned private jet. On the back, it’s revealed that the jet is concertina-crushed into a mountain (appearing a little like an extinguished joint).

Album cover artwork f or Beastie Boys

The full gatefold image of Licensed to Ill

The album’s producer Rick Rubin has said he came up with the idea after reading the Led Zeppelin biography Hammer of the Gods: “The Beastie Boys were just a bunch of little guys, and I wanted us to have a Beastie Boys jet,” he explained. “I wanted to embrace and somehow distinguish, in a sarcastic way, the larger-than-life rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle – the excesses and the destruction.”

Assembled as a collage by artist World B. Omes, the artwork prompted complaints from American Airlines who believed it resembled one of their own aircraft. They were further irritated when it was discovered that holding the cover up to a mirror reveals that the plane’s tail number, 3MTA3, reads ‘EAT ME’. (On Eminem’s cover, the tail number is TIKCU5 – ‘SUCK IT’.)

Licensed To Ill became the first rap LP to hit the top of the Billboard charts, has been certified with Diamond sales in the States, and remains one of Columbia’s fastest-selling records to date.

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