The genre of rap and hip-hop was not traditionally a place for white artists, so a white rap group such as the Beastie Boys was a trailblazer in this regard and many others. One can say that they achieved superstar status, and then pivoted to another genre to gain even more success. Along the way, this group also received their share of scorn and criticism both from critics as well as other musicians, so it wasn’t like their path was smooth in any way.
It’s evident that the history and biography of the Beastie Boys are worth reading up on, especially since they presented a unique form of music to their audience. With accusations of cultural pirating and a lot of changes in their genre, discussing this group can even become a bit confusing. Let’s take a closer look at these artists in order to understand their work and influence in the world of music today:
Formation and Early Years
The Beastie Boys started out as a hip hop group hailing from New York City. They officially banded together in 1978. At their height of fame, the members were comprised of Adam “MCA” Yauch on vocal and bass, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz for vocals, guitar, programming, and Michael “Mike D” Diamond on vocals and drums.
The original name for this band was the Young Aborigines, which was technically an experimental hardcore punk band. The four initial members were Mike D, Jeremy Shatan, John Berry, and Kate Schellenbach. In 1981, Shatan left the band and was replaced by Adam Yauch on bass. It was then that the band’s name became the “Beastie Boys”.
Shortly after that, Berry also left the groups and Horovitz replaced him. There was some local success for the band when they released the hip-hop single ‘Cooky Puss’ in 1983. Incidentally, the success of this track is credited to a prank call by the group to Carvel Ice Cream. This marked the band’s transition from punk to hip hop. Schellenbach also left the band a while after this.
About the Members
The three final members of the Beastie Boys were Mike D (Mike Diamond), Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz), and MCA (Adam Yauch). Each of them belonged to relatively wealthy families of Jewish descent and were based in New York. The group started out by playing in underground clubs in New York in 1981. The next year, they released ‘7″ EP Pollywog Stew’ with Rat Cage, an indie label. However, this effort garnered very little attention.
About the Transition
Many would accuse the Beastie Boys of cultural pirating, since they were performing hip hop and rap while having all-white members in their band. However, their music wasn’t pirating as they saw rap as being part of the post-punk musical underground. The aesthetics of punk and hip-hop are quite similar, but the criticisms were still present.
It didn’t help that their debut album ‘Licensed to Ill’ gave rise to several parodies. The album was an unexpected success, but the Beastie Boys were still considered to be macho clown until the mid-80s passed. That theory was eventually dismissed with the release of their second album, which was titled ‘Paul’s Boutique’. This album didn’t see the success of the first one. However, it’s now believed that this album was one of the first to signify the pop kaleidoscope and genre-bending that 90s pop would bring.
In 1985, the band joined up with Def Jam Records by producer Rick Rubin. This collaboration resulted in the track ‘She’s On It’, which was a rap song sampling ‘Back in Black’ by AC/DC. This also heralded the future release of their debut album.
It was in the same year that the Beastie boys got their first major national exposure by opening for Madonna on the Virgin tour. However, the band received a poor reception as they used profanity and threw taunts at the audience. They also opened for Run on another major tour.
After they released the debut album, they quickly gained quite a bit of fame. While it attracted a lot of criticism and was seen as a mindless and obnoxious record by several critics, it managed to sell more than 750,000 copies within the first six weeks of release.
Most of the success of this album was due to the track ‘Fight for Your Right (To Party)’. This became a major crossover single and made ‘Licensed to Ill’ the biggest-selling rap album in the 80s. However, the attacks on the group’s work continued, with some claiming that they were cultural pirates and others putting down their lyrics as being sexist and violent. Their concerts were also quite obnoxious, with females dancing in cages and other features that cause outrage. Their 1987 tour was marked with lawsuits and arrests, along with accusations of inciting crime.
Development of Behavior
The obnoxious behavior of the Beastie Boys was mostly meant as a joke at first, but it soon became more of a self-parody. After 1987, the group eventually decided to reimage its image and musical sound in the following couple of years. However, in 1988, the Beastie Boys were embroiled in a serious lawsuit against Def Jam, their record label. This was due to Rick Rubin claiming that he was the man behind the band’s success and even threatened to release certain outtakes and sell them as a second album.
After this, the Beastie Boys broke away from the record label and moved to California to sign with Capitol Records. They also joined up with the Dust Brothers, using their debut album as a base for the Beastie Boys’ second album, ‘Paul’s Boutique’.
The second album was quite different from the first, so much so that many weren’t sure what to think about it. Some publications had glowing reviews, but the biggest single on it was ‘Hey Ladies’. As a result, this album remained largely ignored. While it may not have performed well commercially, though, ‘Paul’s Boutique’ enjoys a cult following to this day. Its techniques would even be considered as being visionary.
In the early 90s, the record ‘Paul’s Boutique’ was officially declared to be a disaster. The Beastie Boys still forged on, though, creating their own record label by the name of Grand Royal. They also built a studio of their own.
In 1992, the Beastie Boys released ‘Check Your Head’ which was a refinement of their eclectic approach. This album propelled the band back to the top of the music charts. In just a few more years, the band was counted among the most influential groups of the decade. It was a mixture of an old-school form of hip-hop, hardcore punk, and raw funk. While less developed than ‘Paul’s Boutique’, this album was just as diverse.
At this point, the Beastie Boys had started to cultivate a whole musical community with their music and record label. They also published a magazine with the name ‘Grand Royal’. This era was quite a remarkable one for a band that didn’t display any remarkable musical talent in their first few offerings.
The cult following of the Beastie Boys also made their album among the Top Ten hits when it was released in the spring of 1992. Their songs were huge hits on alternative rock and college radios, making the band hip again.
In early 1994, the Beastie Boys released ‘Same Old Bullshit’. This was essentially a collection of early punk recordings by the group. After this, their fourth album ‘Ill Communication’ was released. This was basically a kind of extension for ‘Check Your Head’ and débuted at No.1 upon release. With singles like ‘Sure Shot’ and ‘Sabotage’, the album reached double-platinum status.
In the summer of the same year, the band headlined the Lollapalooza festival with the band the Smashing Pumpkins. Grand Royal also became a proper record label around that time, released Natural Ingredients by Luscious Jackson.
After a quiet few years dedicated to political causes and their record label, the Beastie Boys became active in music again in 1996. This was when they released an instrumental soul-jazz and funk collection as well as EP Aglio e Olio. The same year, Adam Yauch founded a festival for the awareness of the situation in Tibet. This festival became an annual event.
Another success came about in 1998 when their fifth album ‘Hello Nasty’ was released. This was their third album to top the charts.
It wasn’t until the middle of 2004 that the sixth album of the Beastie Boys was released. This was by the name of ‘To the 5 Boroughs’. The next year, Capitol Records release a 15-track collection of the Beastie Boys’ career, named ‘Solid Gold Hits’.
After another year, the Beastie Boys released their concert film, with the DVD version coming out in July 2006. An instrumental album called ‘The Mix-Up’ further continued the prolific activity of the band, even winning them a Grammy in 2008. The band saw a return to rap with the album ‘Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 1’, but this remained officially unreleased due to Yauch’s cancer announcement.
After this announcement, Yauch went through radiation treatment as well as surgery, beating cancer the first time around. In 2010, the band announced that Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 will be released the following year and include the material that was to be in Part 1. The album was finally released in May 2011. However, in May 2012, Yauch relapsed and died from cancer. He was 47 years old at the time of his death.
After the death of MCA (Yauch), Mike D did hint at some music being recorded but never released. He claimed that Yauch would want the band to go on, but also said that disbandment was likely. In the June of 2014, though, Mike D finally confirmed that the Beastie Boys was no more.
Overall, the Beastie Boys band is considered to be a highly influential group in the rock and hip hop music scenes. They’ve had several artists cite them as an inspiration, including Eminem, Limp Bizkit, Sublime, Rage Against the Machine, Slipknot, etc. They’ve had no less than four albums at the top of the Billboard charts. Rolling Stones also named them among the Greatest Artists of All Time in 1995, while they were also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.
It’s evident that this group has a long and interesting history, with its influences still making their mark. If anyone is interested in rap, hip hop, and their related genres, they should know about this group and its unique brand of music.