Beastie Biography


Beastie Boys PhotoFormer hardcore trio who would go on to find international fame as the first crossover white rap act of the 80s. After forming at New York University original members John Berry and Kate Shellenbach would depart after the release of 'Pollywog Stew', leaving Adam 'MCA' Yauch (b. 15 August 1967, Brooklyn, New York, USA), Mike 'D' Diamond (b. 20 November 1965, New York, USA) and the recently recruited guitarist Adam 'Ad Rock' Horovitz (b. 31 October 1966, New York City, New York, USA) to hold the banner. The group was originally convened to play at MCA's 15th birthday party, adding Horovitz to their ranks from The Young And The Useless (one single, 'Real Men Don't Use Floss'). Horovitz, it transpired, was the son of dramatist Israel Horwitz, indicating that far from being the spawn of inner-city dystopia, the Beasties all came from privileged middle class backgrounds.

They continued in similar vein to their debut with the Cookie Puss EP, which offerred the first evidence of them picking up on the underground rap phenomenon. The record, later sampled for a British Airways commercial, earned them $40,000 in royalties. Friend and sometime band member Rick Rubin quickly signed them to his fledgling Def Jam label. They would not prove hard to market. Their debut album revealed a collision of bad attitudes, spearheaded by the raucous single, 'Fight For Your Right To Party', and samples of everything from Led Zeppelin to the theme to Mister Ed. There was nothing self-conscious or sophisticated about the lyrics, Mike D and MCA reeling off complaints about their parents confiscating their pornography or telling them to turn the stereo down. Somehow, however, it became an anthem for pseudo rebellious youth everywhere, scoring a number 11 hit in the UK. In the wake of its success Licensed To Ill became the first rap album to top the US charts.

By the time follow-up singles 'No Sleep Till Brooklyn' and 'She's On It' charted, the band had become a media cause celebre. Their stage shows regularly featured caged, half-naked females, while their Volkswagen pendants resulted in a crime wave with fans stealing said items from vehicles throughout the UK. A reflective Horovitz recalled how that never happened in the US, where they merely stole the car itself. More disturbing, it was alleged that the band derided terminally ill children on a foreign jaunt. This false accusation was roundly denied, but other stories of excess leaked out of the Beastie Boys camp with grim regularity. There was also friction between the group and Def Jam, the former accusing the latter of withholding royalties, the latter accusing the former of withholding a follow-up album. By the time the band re-assembled after a number of solo projects in 1989, the public, for the most part, had forgotten about them. Rap's ante had been significantly raised by the arrival of Public Enemy and NWA, yet Paul's Boutique remains one of the genre's most overlooked pieces, a complex reflection of pop culture which is infinitely subtler than their debut.

Leaving their adolescent fixations behind, the rhymes plundered cult fiction ( Clockwork Orange) through to The Old Testament. It was co-produced by the Dust Brothers, who would subsequently become a hot production item. Moving to California, Check Your Head saw them returning, partially, to their thrash roots, reverting to a guitar, bass and drums format. In the meantime the Beasties had invested wisely, setting up their own magazine, studio and label, Grandy Royal. This has boasted releases by Luscious Jackson, plus The Young And The Useless (Adam Horwitz's first band) and DFL (his hardcore punk project). Other signings included DJ Hurricane, Noise Addict and Moistboyz.

There has been a downside too. Horovitz pleaded guility to a charge of battery on a television cameraman during a memorial service for River Phoenix in 1993. He was put on two years probation, ordered to undertake 200 hours community service and pay restitution costs. His connections with the Phoenix family came through his actress wife Lone Sky. He himself had undertaken film roles in The Santa Anna Project, Roadside Prophets and Lost Angels, also appearing in a television cameo for The Equalizer.

By this time both he and Diamond had become Californian citizens, while Yauch had become a Buddhist, speaking out in the press against US trade links with China, because of that country's annexation of Tibet. (In 1994 Yauch set up the Milarepa Fund to raise funds and public awareness of the situation in Tibet, and organised the Tibetan Freedom Concerts in 1996 and 1997). Ill Communication was another succesful voyage into inspired Beastie thuggism, featuring A Tribe Called Quest's Q Tip, and a second appearance from Biz Markie, following his debut on Check Your Head. The In Sound From Way Out was merely a space-filler of b-sides and instrumental takes.

From the Encyclopedia of Popular Music