As a musical group from the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan, the Beastie Boys has enjoyed international critical acclaim and commercial success since their start in 1979. They are one of the longest lived hip-hop acts, whose rock-and-punk-influenced rap has had a significant impact on artists in and outside of the hip hop community. Their recordings and live performances are well known for their rapidly changing and often experimental musical style, obscure cultural references and kitschy lyrics and performing in outlandish matching suits.
Beastie Boys came together in 1979 as a punk band called The Young Aborigines. In 1981 Adam Yauch (MCA) joined the group and changed the name to Beastie Boys. The name “Beastie” originally stood for “Boys Entering Anarchistic States Towards Internal Excellence,” and the initials B.B. intended to mimic Washington DC punk band Bad Brains. The band’s original line-up consisted of Adam Yauch (MCA) on bass, Kate Schellenbach on drums, John Berry on guitar, and Michael Diamond (Mike D) on vocals. Their first gig was at Berry’s house on Yauch’s 17th birthday. The band quickly earned support slots for Bad Brains and Reagan Youth at venues such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, playing at the latter venue on its closing night. That same year, the Beastie Boys recorded the 7” EP Pollywog Stew at 171A studios.
John Berry left the group (later forming Thwig) and was replaced by Adam Horovitz (Ad-rock), who had previously played in the punk band, The Young and The Useless, in 1983. The band also performed its first rap track, “Cooky Puss”, based on a prank call by the group to Carvel Ice Cream. The song became a hit in New York underground dance clubs upon its release.
It was during this period that Def Jam record producer Rick Rubin entered the picture and the Beastie Boys changed from a punk rock outfit to a three-man rap crew. The band released the 12” single, Rock Hard, in 1984 - the second record released by Def Jam that credited Rubin as producer. Soon after Rubin’s arrival, Schellenbach developed creative differences with the band, citing her friction with Rubin. It was believed that Rubin objected to Schellenbach’s place in the band as she did not fit the hip-hop image to which the band aspired. Schellenbach went on to join Luscious Jackson in 1991.
In 1985, the band supported Madonna on her North American Virgin tour. Later in the year, the group was on the Raising Hell tour with Run DMC, Whodini, LL Cool J, and The Timex Social Club. With their exposure on this tour, the track “Hold It Now, Hit It” made Billboard’s national R&B and Dance charts.
The band recorded Licensed to Ill in 1986 and released the album at the end of the year. It was a smash success, becoming the best selling rap album of the 1980s and the first rap album to go Number One on the Billboard album chart, where it stayed for five weeks. It also reached Number Two on the Urban album charts. It was Columbia Records’ fastest selling debut record to date and sold over five million copies. The first single from the album, “Fight for Your Right”, reached Number Seven on the Billboard Hot 100, and the video (directed by Ric Menello) became an MTV staple.
After the success of Licensed to Ill, the Beasties parted ways with Def Jam and ended their relationship with Rick Rubin to sign with Capitol Records.
A bootleg album featuring original demos of all the tracks from the final version of Licensed to Ill plus removed track “The Scenario” was released entitled “Original Ill” (also known as licensed to ill def jam master demos) in 1998.
The group matured with their second album, Paul’s Boutique, produced by the Dust Brothers and Matt Dike. Recorded in 1988, this extremely sample-heavy opus is still considered one of the strongest works by the Beasties. It is also considered a landmark in hip-hop recordings due to its intricate use of multi-layering and large array of samples.
The album was released in 1989 by Capitol Records, after the falling out between the Boys and Def Jam. It failed to match the sales of Licensed to Ill, reaching Number Fourteen on the Billboard 200 and Number Ten on the Billboard R&B charts. The lead single, “Hey Ladies”, reached Number 36 on the Billboard 100 and Number Ten on the R&B charts. Rolling Stone would describe the album as “the Pet Sounds/Dark Side of the Moon of hip-hop.” Paul’s Boutique would eventually sell a million albums, despite the initially weak commercial reception.
The follow-up album, Check Your Head, was recorded in the band’s own “G-Son” studio in Atwater Village, California, and released on its Grand Royal record label. The band played the instruments on this album, with Mike D on drums, Yauch on bass, Horovitz on guitar and Mark Ramos Nishita (“Keyboard Money Mark”) on keyboards. Mario Caldato Jr. (“Mario C”) engineered the record and would become a longtime collaborator.
Check Your Head was released in 1992 and went double platinum in the U.S., reaching a peak of Number Ten on the Billboard 200. The single “So What’cha Want” reached Number 93 on the Billboard 100 and made both the urban and modern rock charts while the album’s first single, “Pass the Mic”, became a hit in dance clubs. The album also introduced a more experimental direction, with funk and jazz inspired songs including “Lighten Up” and “Something’s Got To Give”. Hardcore punk even made its reappearance with “Time for Livin’”.
The Beastie Boys signed an eclectic roster of artists to the Grand Royal label including Luscious Jackson, Sean Lennon and promising Australian artist Ben Lee. The Beastie Boys owned Grand Royal Records until 2001 when it was then sold for financial reasons. Grand Royal’s first independent release was Luscious Jackson’s album, In Search of Manny, in 1993.
The Beastie Boys also published Grand Royal Magazine, with the first edition in 1993 featuring a cover story on Bruce Lee, artwork by George Clinton, and interviews with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and A Tribe Called Quest MC Q-Tip. The 1995 issue of the magazine contained a memorable piece on the “mullet.” The Oxford English Dictionary cites this as the first published use of the term, along with the lyrics from the Beasties’ 1994 song, “Mullet Head”. The OED says that the term was “apparently coined, and certainly popularized, by U.S. hip-hop group the Beastie Boys.” Grand Royal Magazine is also responsible for giving British band, Sneaker Pimps, their name.
Released in 1994, Ill Communication saw the Beastie Boys’ return to the top of the charts when the album debuted at Number One on the Billboard Top 200 and peaked at Number Two on the R&B/ hip hop album chart. The single, “Sabotage”, became a hit on the modern rock charts and the music video, directed by Spike Jones, received extensive play on MTV. “Get It Together” reached the Top Ten of the Billboard dance charts and also became an urban hit while “Sure Shot” was a dance hit. Some Old Bullshit, featuring the band’s early independent material, made Number 50 on the Billboard independent charts.
The Beastie Boys headlined at Lollapalooza - an American traveling music festival - in 1994, together with The Smashing Pumpkins. In addition, the band performed three concerts (in Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington D.C.) to raise money for the Milarepa Fund and dedicated the royalties from “Shambala” and “Bodhisattva Vow” from the Ill Communication album to the cause. The Milarepa Fund aims to raise awareness of Tibetan human rights issues and the exile of the Dalai Lama. In 1996, Yauch organized the Tibetan Freedom Concert, a two-day festival at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco that attracted 100,000 people.
In 1995, the popularity of the Beastie Boys was underlined when tickets for an arena tour went on sale in the U.S. and sold out within a few minutes. One dollar from each ticket sold went to local charities. The Beastie Boys toured South America and Southeast Asia for the first time. The band also released Aglio e Olio, a collection of eight songs lasting for just eleven minutes harking back to their punk roots. The In Sound From Way Out!, a collection of previously released jazz/funk instrumentals, was released on Grand Royal in 1996 with the title and artwork an homage to an album by electronic pop music pioneers Perrey and Kingsley.
The Beastie Boys returned to New York City in 1997 to produce and record the album Hello Nasty. The album displayed a substantial shift in musical feel, with the departure of DJ Hurricane. He was replaced by Mix Master Mike, who added to the Beasties’ sound with his kinetic DJ style. Released in July 1998, Hello Nasty clocked first week sales of nearly 700,000 in the U.S. and went straight to Number One in the U.S., the UK, Germany, Australia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden. The album achieved a Number Two rank in the charts in Canada and Japan, and was in the Top Ten in Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Finland, France, and Israel.
The Beastie Boys won two Grammy Awards in 1999, receiving the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album for Hello Nasty as well as the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for “Intergalactic”. This was the first, and as of 2005, the only time that a band has won awards in both rap and alternative categories.
Also at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards (VMA) they won the highly coveted Video Vanguard Award for their contribution to music videos. The following year at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards they also won the award for Best Hip Hop Video for their hit song “Intergalactic”. The Beastie Boys used both appearances at the Video Music Awards to make politically-charged speeches of considerable length to the sizeable MTV audiences.
The Beastie Boys started an arena tour in 1998. Through Ian C. Rogers, the band made live downloads of their performances available for their fans but were temporarily thwarted when Capitol Records removed them from its website. The Beastie Boys was one of the first bands who made mp3 downloads available on their website; they got a high level of response and public awareness as a result including a published article in The Wall Street Journal on the band’s efforts.
The Beastie Boys released The Sounds of Science, a two-CD anthology of their works in 1999. This album reached Number 19 on the Billboard 200, Number 18 in Canada, Number Six on the Internet sales charts, and Number Fourteen on the R&B/Hip Hop charts. The one new song, the single “Alive”, reached Number Eleven on the Billboard’s Modern Rock chart.
In the years following the release of Hello Nasty the group launched their official website, which underwent several transformations eventually culminating in one of the most popular recording artist related websites on the Internet.
In 2002, the Beastie Boys started building a new studio facility, Oscilloscope, in downtown Manhattan, New York, and started work on a new album. The band released a protest song, “In a World Gone Mad”, against the 2003 Iraq war as a free download on several websites, including the Milarepa website, the MTV website, MoveOn.org, and Win Without War. It became the most downloaded track during April 2003. The 19th and 20th Tibetan Freedom Concerts were held in Tokyo and Taipei, the Beastie Boys’ first Taiwan appearance. Beastie Boys also headlined the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
To The 5 Boroughs was released worldwide on June 15, 2004. It was the first album the Beastie Boys produced themselves and reached Number One on the Billboard album charts, Number Two in the UK and Australia, and Number Three in Germany. The first single from the album, “Ch-Check It Out”, reached Number One in Canada and the US Modern Rock Tracks, Number Two on the world Internet download charts, and Number Three on a composite world modern rock chart.
The Beastie Boys’ The Mix-Up (2007) is their first-ever full album of all-new instrumental material. The Mix-Up features Diamond, Adrock and MCA back on drums, guitar and bass, with able assistance from Keyboard Money Mark and percussionist Alfredo Ortiz, on twelve brand-new wordless, sample-less, scratchless originals. The Mix-Up finds NYC’s favorite sons drawing on one of their arsenal’s primary strengths and pushing it into bold new directions.
The 2011 release and long-awaited eighth album from the Hip Hop/Rock trio, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, was produced by Beastie Boys and mixed by Philippe Zdar. This album marks Mike “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “Ad Rock” Horovitz and Adam “MCA” Yauch’s first full length effort since 2007’s Grammy-winning all-instrumental The Mix-Up.
Make no mistake, The Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 does find the Beastie Boys at their best. Perhaps they’re no longer setting the style, but it takes master musicians to continually find new wrinkles within a signature sound, which is precisely what the Beasties do here.