The Beastie Boys fought, and possibly died, for my right to party.
—Mark, Peep Show
The Beastie Boys are a famous rap trio that have been around since 1979, enjoying critical and commercial success throughout their career, helping invent and popularize Rap Rock (alongside Run DMC), playing an important role in the popularization of hip-hop as a whole, being one of the few rap groups whose members play instruments, being one of the main influences on Alternative Rock before they even actively tried to court the genre's fans with their later work and being the first white rap group to gain massive success.
Not too bad for three Jewish kids from New York City.
Initially formed as a hardcore punk band in 1979, the group changed its name to "The Beastie Boys" in 1981. Its initial line-up had Michael "Mike D" Diamond on vocals, John Berry on guitar, Adam "MCA" Yauch on bass and Kate Schellenbach on drums. Supporting such famous bands as Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, The Misfits and Reagan Youth, the band recorded its first hardcore EP, Pollywog Stew in 1982. Berry left in 1983, being replaced by Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz, and the group recorded its first rap song, "Cooky Puss". Gradually, they created their specific style, quickly switching between rapping, shouting and line-trading.
The now-rap-oriented Beastie Boys were signed to Def Jam in 1984. Schellenbach left, Rick Rubin took over as producer and the classic line-up of Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock became permanent. A few singles followed, such as a contribution to the Krush Groove soundtrack named "She's on It", "Hold It Now, Hit It" and the double A-side "Paul Revere/The New Style", along with opening spots for Public Image Ltd., Madonna and a joint tour with Run DMC, LL Cool J, Whodini and the Timex Social Club.
Bourgeoning success or not, the Beastie Boys were still undoubtedly a Token White among The Eighties rap scene. However, they sidestepped any problem of credibility within the rap community by aiming their music directly at an audience of rock fans that probably didn't really care about rap. Their debut album, Licensed to Ill (1986), relied on a simple recipe of pounding beats, loud guitars, punk riffs, Led Zeppelin samples and hilariously over-the-top lyrics full of Bacchanalian excess, guns, drugs, alcohol abuse and tons of boasting about the Boys' prowess with the ladies and similar matters. Ill sailed straight to #1 on the US charts, becoming the first rap LP to do so, attracted predictable whining from people who didn't understand that it was all an elaborate joke, sold over 10 million copies and produced a massive hit single: the goofy Punk Rap "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)", a parody of "attitude songs" with guitars by Kerry King from Slayer, accompanied by a video depicting the Boys crashing a dorky party and making all hell break loose.
In the resulting tour, the Boys did all they could to live up to their self-imposed Memetic Badass status, trashing hotel rooms, attracting lawsuits and arrests (including a gig in Liverpool where Ad-Rock was arrested after only 10 minutes) and having a set that included female members of the audience dancing in cages and giant inflatable motorized penises. They also found the time to leave Def Jam, Rick Rubin and New York altogether - they signed with Capitol, moved to Los Angeles and worked with the Dust Brothers on their next album, which would be a change of pace towards more funky, sample-heavy material. The result was Paul's Boutique (1989), routinely considered their masterpiece of Sampling as art - nearly 105 songs were sampled, from sources as varied as The Beatles, hip-hop, funk and soul tracks, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Elvis Costello, Isaac Hayes, The Ramones, the Jaws theme, the "Shower Theme" from Psycho and others, with the result being 15 catchy, diverse tracks ranging from funky hip-hop to rap-rock ("Johnny Ryall", "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun"). While not matching Ill's monumental commercial impact, it did sell well enough and drew critical acclaim where the band was previously dismissed as One Hit Wonders. It's still considered one of the best hip-hop and alternative music albums ever made.
One of the tracks on Boutique, "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun", featured live instrumentation, with MCA on bass and Ad-Rock on guitar. Their follow-up album, Check Your Head (1992), saw the Boys pick up their instruments again (Mike D on drums, Ad-Rock on guitar, MCA on bass), accompanied by Mark "Money Mark" Ramos-Nishita on keyboards and longtime collaborator Mario "Mario C." Caldato Jr. as engineer and producer. This was another New Sound Album, seeing the Beasties engage in a game of musical Mix and Match, putting together hip-hop with a ton of samples (including the one they're most proud of, one from "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" by Bob Dylan), jazz- and funk-inspired jamming, instrumentals and a punk rock cover of "Time for Livin'" by Sly and the Family Stone. Head also marks a crucial point in the band's evolution, being the moment where they left behind their earlier over-the-top Badass-ery: while they would still boast from now on, they would be more blatantly humorous and not discuss ingesting of every controlled substance known to man, sex, and wacky fratboy hijinks. They also found the time to sign others to their label Grand Royal Records and publish Grand Royal Magazine, credited with coining the term "mullet".
Evolution continued with Ill Communication, which built on the musical smorgasbord of Head and managed to return the Boys to #1 on the charts. This was mostly achieved through another massive hit single, the furious, one-chord rap-rock "Sabotage", with a Spike Jonze-directed video parodying 1970s cop shows. The Beasties continued touring but became more involved with charity and political activism - MCA had converted to Buddhism in the meantime, organizing the Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1996 and including the Beasties' first overly political/spiritual tracks, "The Update", the instrumental "Shambala" and "Boddhisatva Vow", on Ill Communication.
Adding Michael "Mix Master Mike" Schwartz as DJ and returning to New York after nearly a decade in California, The Beasties churned out Hello Nasty (1998), which added an eighties electro-funk influence to the huge Mix and Match of genres from Head and Ill, and sneaking in some Brazilian, Latin, lounge and dub influences. This album's big hits were the Rachmaninoff-sampling "Intergalactic", "Body Movin'" and the minimalist "Three MCs and One DJ". The first two had their own requisite humorous videos, "Intergalactic" being a parody of kaiju films and "Body Movin'" parodying the film Danger: Diabolik, famous as the last episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The Boys won the MTV Video Vanguard Award in 1998 and "Intergalactic" won the VMA for Best Hip Hop Video in 1999. They used both appearances to make lengthy, political speeches about how Muslims aren't terrorists (for the former) and the debacle that was Woodstock 1999 (the latter). They also took the time to appear in the Futurama episode "Hell Is Other Robots" in 1999. However, MCA was unavailable at the time of the recording, so he was voiced by Ad-Rock.
A long hiatus followed, filled by side-projects (Mike D's Country Mike project, Ad-Rock's BS 2000), a planned tour with Rage Against the Machine that was cancelled after Mike D was seriously injured in a biking accident and organizing further Tibetan Freedom Concerts. Also, the group's label Grand Royal Records collapsed in 2001 due to mounting debt issues. Its non-Beastie Boys assets and back catalog were purchased by fans who started GR 2 Records.
The first new song by the band appeared in 2003, the Protest Song "In a World Gone Mad". The self-produced To the 5 Boroughs (2004) followed. While it again hit #1 on the US charts, the minimalist sound, heavy old-school hip-hop influence and explicit political slant to the lyrics divided the fanbase.
The Beasties then created their first instrumental album, The Mix-Up (2007), which continued mining the funk-, soul-, dub-, Latin- and jazz-influenced grooves that had been present on their albums since Head, with additional contributions by Money Mark and percussionist Alfredo Ortiz. The band toyed with the idea of releasing a remix album with vocals by other artists, but this was dropped. The album was supported with appearances at various festivals such as Roskilde, Bestival, Electric Picnic and Southside.
The group completed their new album, Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 1, with a Pt. 2 due later formed of left-overs from the sessions. However, MCA had a cancerous tumor discovered in his throat and had to undergo surgery, causing the planned tour to be cancelled and the release of Hot Sauce to be postponed.
As of 2011, MCA was once again in shape to tour, and the release of Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 1 has been postponed indefinitely, while Pt. 2 (with an almost-identical tracklist to Pt. 1) was released on May 3, 2011. Additionally, a pseudo-sequel to the "Fight For Your Right" music video (featuring the first single from Pt. 2, "Make Some Noise") was released the same day as the album.
Adam "MCA" Yauch passed away on May 4th, 2012, survived by his wife and daughter. His bandmates have hinted that they might still work together in the future, but not under the "Beastie Boys" name.
- MCA (Adam Yauch) - gritty baritone vocals; bass (1981-2012)
- Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) - whiny, nasally vocals; guitar (1982-present)
- Mike D (Michael Diamond) - vocals "somewhere in the middle" of MCA and Ad-Rock; drums (1979-present)
- Kate Schellenbach - drums (1981-1984), left because she didn't fit into the new Rap Rock format, later played drums with Grand Royal artists Luscious Jackson
- DJ Hurricane (Wendell Fite) - turntables, sampling (1986-1998)
- Mix Master Mike (Michael Schwartz) - turntables, sampling (1998-present)
- Money Mark (Mark Ramos-Nishita) - keyboards, occasional vocals (1992-present)
- Mario C. (Mario Caldato Jr.) - producer, engineer (1989-1998)
- The Dust Brothers - producers (1989)
- Rick Rubin - producer (1986)
- Eric Bobo - percussion (1994-1998)
- AWOL (Amery Smith) - "hardcore beats" (1994-1996, plus the BS 2000 project)
- Biz Markie (Marcel Hall) - made guest appearances on Check Your Head (singing to a Ted Nugent sample on "The Biz Vs. The Nuge"), Ill Communication, Hello Nasty (providing Studio Chatter Piss Take Rapping on "Intergalactic") and The Sounds of Science, as well as on tour. Surprisingly given Biz's famous hit, he mostly sang on key.
- Alfredo Ortiz - percussion (2007-present)
- 1982 - Pollywog Stew EP
- 1983 - Cooky Puss EP
- 1985 - Rock Hard EP (the band's first rap rock album)
- 1986 - Licensed to Ill
- 1989 - Paul's Boutique
- 1992 - Check Your Head
- 1994 - Ill Communication
- 1994 - Some Old Bullshit (compilation of older, hardcore punk material)
- 1995 - Aglio e Olio EP (a hardcore punk EP)
- 1995 - Root Down EP
- 1996 - The In Sound from Way Out! (compilation of instrumentals from Check Your Head, Ill Communication and a few singles)
- 1998 - Hello Nasty
- 1999 - The Sounds of Science (anthology of greatest hits, B-sides and unreleased material)
- 2004 - To the 5 Boroughs
- 2007 - The Mix-Up
- 2011 - Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2
- TBA - Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 1
- Alternative Hip Hop
- Alternative Rock
- Big Applesauce: It is their hometown...
- Boastful Rap: Taken to hilarious extremes. "I got more hits than Sadaharu Oh!" anyone?
- Cerebus Syndrome: Paul's Boutique dropped the frat gimmick (but still included cartoonishly over-the-top violence), and Check Your Head dropped their trademark cartoony attitude altogether.
- Character as Himself: The music video for "Sabotage" features Sir Stewart Wallace (played by MCA) guest-starring as himself.
- Cluster F-Bomb: While they're not as bad as a lot of other rappers, several of their albums have been salty enough to earn the Parental Advisory warning (Ill Communication, for example).
- Cover Version: A Hardcore Punk take on Sly And The Family Stone's "Time for Livin'" appears on Check Your Head, and earlier on the same album there's the jokey "The Biz vs. The Nuge", which samples Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold" and has Biz Markie sing new lyrics.
- Credits Gag: On Ill Communication, Biz Markie appears "courtesy of his own damn self".
- Epic Rapping: "B-Boy Bouillabaisse".
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: "Brass Monkey".
- References to Brass Monkey appear in the lyrics of "Funky Ass Shit".
- Genre Busting
- Genre Roulette
- Grief Song: "Instant Death"
- Hardcore Punk: Their early work before signing to Def Jam records and producing Licensed To Ill. Occasionally return to this sound in some of their songs.
- Hip Hop
- Image Song: "Rhymin' and Stealin" could qualify, being a sarcastic commentary of their embrace of hip-hop.
- Infomercial: They created a faux infomercial to promote Hello Nasty.
- If You Know What I Mean: From "Paul Revere":
Ad-Rock: I said "I'll ride with you if you can get me to the border / The sheriff's after me for what I did to his daughter / I did it like this / I did it like that / I did it with a Wiffleball bat."
- Long Runner: They've been together for more than 30 years, making them one of the oldest rap ensembles around.
- Long Runner Lineup:
- The current trio of MCs has been together since 1983 (28 years) — one of the longest-running lineups in all of rap.
- Mix Master Mike has been their DJ since 1998 (13 years).
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Car Thief", from Paul's Boutique is based chiefly on a mellow, slightly psychedelic sample from the funk song "Rien Ne Va Plus" by Funk Factory. The first verse begins by describing smashing somebody's face with a cue ball, moving on to general destruction, and then extensive discussions on what substances the Beasties enjoy smoking.
- Metal Scream: "WWWHHHHHHYYYYYYY!!!" from "Sabotage". In fact, most of that song is screamed, yelled or shouted.
- Nerd Core: Not exactly, but they've referenced Star Trek, amongst other Sci-Fi films, in their raps.
- And Star Trek returned the favor, when they featured "Sabotage" in the new movie.
- New Sound Album
- N-Word Privileges: "Like John Holmes, the X-rated n***a". To be fair, it's rapped by Q-Tip.
- Pirate: "Rhymin' and Stealin'" is a rap song about being pirates. And it's awesome. The Led Zeppelin and Sabbath samples help a lot.
- Precision F-Strike: In "So Whatcha Want" and "Sabotage".
- Punk Rap
- Rap Rock: Once they started playing their own instruments again.
- Rated "G" for Gangsta
- Rated "M" for Manly
- Retraux: "Intergalactic". It's a callback to the early days of rap when it was about coming up with the best possible rhymes.
- Rhyming with Itself: "Pass the Mic". This was an accident, but they liked it enough to keep it in.
- Rockstar Song: "No Sleep Till Brooklyn"
- Sampling + Sampled Up: Chuck D himself said that "the dirty secret" in the rap community back in 1989 was that "Paul's Boutique had the best beats."
- Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll
- Shout-Out: Far too many to count in their albums. Everything from The Flintstones to Dick Butkus gets namechecked. And it never gets old.
- Even "fine wine" gets a nod in "Body Movin'": "Like a bottle of Chateau Neuf du Pap/I'm fine like wine when I start to rap."
- The short film "Fight For Your Right Revisited" (depicting a fictional day after the "Fight For Your Right" video) is practically crammed with shout outs.
- Hello Nasty's title refers to their PR firm Nasty Little Man, and how its receptionist would answer the phone with "Hello, Nasty".
- Signature Song: Originally "Fight For Your Right", now it's probably "Sabotage" and "Intergalactic".
- Standard Pre-Ass-Kicking Snippet: "Sabotage" has been heard in every other movie since it came out, including last year's Star Trek.
- Stealth Parody: Their early material was a parody of fratboy douchebags, especially the "attitude song" parody "Fight For Your Right". Unfortunately, lots of people missed out that part, thought they were serious and became a Misaimed Fandom, and now Licensed to Ill is an Old Shame for them. Great work, morons.
- It probably didn't help that Madonna of all people had to fight to keep THEM on one of her late 1980's tours. When Madonna has to go to bat for you, that's saying something.
- Stuffy Old Songs About the Buttocks: "Shake Your Rump".
- Take That:
- One man's ceiling is another man's floor, so get that money out yer ass, you whore! (from "What Comes Around") and Got fat bass lines like Russell Simmons steals money (from "B-Boys Makin' with the Freak Freak") are shots at Russell Simmons, the head of Def Jam Records who treated the Beasties so poorly they moved to Capitol.
- Their diss of 3rd Bass in "Professor Booty".
- In "Alive": "Goatee Metal Rap Please Say 'goodnight'"
- Token White: Back in The Eighties, they were the first white rap group. Considering that they were a Hardcore Punk band beforehand, when Licensed to Ill came out, people were still convinced that it was all a Piss-Take Rap. The Hip Hop community began to take them more seriously with Paul's Boutique onward, however...
- Wall of Text: The liner notes to Paul's Boutique and Hello Nasty print the lyrics like this, combined with All Lowercase Letters and No Punctuation Period, and also no indication of where a song starts and begins. Also, several of the lyrics are intentionally printed wrong.
- Watch It Stoned: "Car Thief", and numerous other songs.
- Many song on Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 nearly mix in elements from dubstep. And by "elements from dubstep" I mean "swooshy sounds out the ass".
- Wild Teen Party: The video for "Fight For Your Right".
- This joke refers to constant long gaps between their album releases. However, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two ramped the number up to eight, though one is an all-instrumental album.
- according to the Ill Communication liner notes