This song is about an alcoholic beverage. Brass Monkey is rum, vodka, and orange juice mixed over ice. Very popular with college kids trying to get drunk. The Beasties are not limited to just this cocktail, however, as the song explores various alcohol-related activities and beverages, apparently financed by their producer, Rick Rubin ("Double R. foots the bill most definitely"). Also showing up in the song: martinis, Moet champagne, and Chivas Regal whiskey.
In some circles, a Brass Monkey is mixture of malt liquor and orange juice, typically made by adding OJ to a 40-ounce bottle of Olde English. That's not what the Beastie Boys had in mind though. As Mike D confirmed, they were referring to a premixed cocktail served in a can. Made by the Heublein Company, it was sold in the '70s and '80s. The company wasn't specific about the ingredients, claiming it was made from "a secret combination of liquors."
Licensed To Ill was the first rap album to go #1 in the US. It is the best-selling rap album of the '80s.
The term "Brass Monkey" comes from the figure of speech, "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey." An actual brass monkey was thought to be a naval contraption - here's the story we heard:
Back in the day of naval wars being fought with the old fashioned cannons, they would stack the cannonballs in a pyramid. This conserved space and made it easy to load them. However, they would roll around the deck if there weren't something to hold them in place. To solve this problem, they used a large metal plate with indents in which to place the bottom rows of cannonballs. They found that if they used iron, when it got wet the cannonballs would rust, so they used brass and called it a brass monkey. Brass tends to really expand and contract with the weather, and when it got really cold the indents would get smaller, causing the cannonballs to be dislodged, hence the saying, "It's cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey."
However, a pyramid of round objects will topple if it rocks more than 30 degrees - not to mention any sudden forceful shock to the stack - which would rank the pyramid shape among the worst shapes to use on a boat, seeing how there is an abundance of rocking and shocking to be had at sea. In addition, the coefficient of expansion of brass is 0.000019; that of iron is 0.000012. Long story short, if the base of the pyramid was one meter long, the change in temperature needed to shrink the brass 1 millimeter with relation to the cannonballs would have to be close to 100 degrees Celsius... so a little less than 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
The track for this song was based on a sample of "Bring It Here" by Wild Sugar. By 1988, sampling had become commonplace on many hit songs and there was still no legal precedent for clearing the samples. This song almost became the test case, as Wild Sugar came after The Beasties for compensation, but the case went away, most likely settled out of court. It was in the best interest of the Beastie Boys and their label Columbia Records to keep the big test case out of court so they could continue rhymin' and stealin', which they did for a few more years. It wasn't until 1991 that the big lawsuit happened: Gilbert O'Sullivan suing Biz Markie for sampling his song "Alone Again (Naturally)
." This is when the law came down that all samples had to be cleared.
Licensed To Ill
eventually sold over 10 million copies, but at the time, the only Beastie Boys song casual listeners knew was "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)
," a novelty that went into hot rotation on MTV.
"Brass Monkey" carried more credibility in the hip-hop community, and the group performed (meaning lip-synched) the song when they appeared on Soul Train