Paul’s Boutique was the Beastie Boy’s second album, released in 1989. Following the huge success of Licensed to Ill, but estranged from their label Def Jam and producer Rick Rubin, the Beastie Boys sought to create a much more artistically sophisticated record. Pioneering the use of multi-layering, virtually all the album, excluding the Beastie Boy’s vocals, was composed of archival samples.
The idea for the album cover came from Mike D, featuring a fictional clothing store named Paul’s Boutique in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The location for Paul’s Boutique was an existing clothing store on the corner of Rivington and Ludlow Streets, called Lee’s Sportswear. The front of the album cover would feature the clothing store, but the cover would fold out to reveal a panorama of the entire intersection, photographed from 99 Rivington Street.
The photographer was Jeremy Shatan, although on the album cover, the photograph was credited to Nathaniel Hornblower, a pseudonym used by Adam MCA Yauch. Shatan recalls the day of the shoot, “we all showed up at the appointed time and I was impressed that they had made up a fake ‘Paul’s Boutique’ sign and had brought all these props. We shot about 30 rolls down there and then went to the roof of 101 Park Avenue in Midtown and did more panoramics up there. I don’t think those have ever seen the light of day.”
Initial record sales of Paul’s Boutique failed to match the success of Licensed to Ill, and Capitol Records stopped promoting the album. But Paul’s Boutique received high critical acclaim, Rolling Stone calling it the Pet Sounds of hip hop. Its underground popularity continued to grow and today it is regarded as one of the seminal hip records of all time.
Today the intersection of Rivington and Ludlow bears little resemblance to the iconic album cover. Lee’s Sportswear is long gone, along with its neighbor, Ben’s Shoes. Today the corner is home to a gourmet wrap restaurant.
In 2014, artist Danielle Mastrion painted portraits of the Beastie Boys on a mural where the original album cover was photographed, along with the name Paul’s Boutique. The seminal album cover remains a snapshot of the Lower East Side neighborhood, that, like MCA himself, is sadly no longer with us.