The Story of Yo: The Oral History of the Beastie Boys

How did three beer-chugging, groupie-grabbing white boys in matching Chinese gym suits become hip-hop elder statesmen and the brains and conscience of alternative culture? Old roommates, high-school friends, funky bosses, hangers-on, and the occasional pop star cough up everything you never needed to know about the Beastie Boys.

MCA on the cover of SPIN's September 1998 issue / Photo by Mark Alesky
MCA on the cover of SPIN's September 1998 issue / Photo by Mark Alesky
WRITTEN BY
Alan Light

RHYMING AND STEALING: 1984-'86

Russell Simmons (cofounder, Def Jam Records and Rush Management): I met the Beasties at Danceteria. They were wearing red sweatsuits with stripes, red Pumas, and do-rags. They were assholes.

Yauch: Rick started getting tight with Russell. We really formed into a hip-hop group as Russell was starting to manage us. We started playing real shows, opening for Kurtis Blow or the Fat Boys. It was scary at first. One time Russell put us in a limousine and sent us out to the Encore club in Queens. We were definitely the only white people for miles, and we were getting out of, like, a stretch limousine. How much more obnoxious and conspicuous could we have possibly been?

Bill Adler (former Def Jam publicist): I saw them on a bill at the Encore headlined by Kurtis Blow. It was just a ridiculous fucking crack house. Blow didn't hit till two in the morning, and the Beasties didn't hit till three. It was one of the very first gigs that they'd done as rappers under Russell's aegis, and they were wearing their red gym suits and whatnot. All of Russell's goodwill couldn't keep this crowd from being skeptical. It was a disastrous gig. The turntables blew up.

I think I made out with Adam Yauch once in their dressing room. —Madonna

Diamond: These three white MCs jump onstage — may as well have come from outer space.

D.M.C. (member, Run-D.M.C): Russell was like, "Yo, when you meet these guys, they're gonna bug you out. These white guys are ill." The first time I met 'em, I thought I was on Candid Camera.

Chuck D (member, Public Enemy): They came out to our radio show at WBAU [in Long Island], trying to prove to the rap market that they were viable white kids. You really couldn't doubt their legitimacy 'cause they were down with Def Jam and Run-D.M.C, and the beats were right. And as long as they talked about white boys and beer and stuff like that, who could knock their topics?

Adler: Russell looked at the Beasties in these extravagant matching red Chinese gym suits and said, "No. N-O! You've gotta be who you are and who you've been."

Leyla Turkkan (former Beasties publicist): Russell was obsessed with them. This was back in those Danceteria days when everybody was really high on coke. All he could talk about was the Beastie Boys, and I just didn't believe it was going to work. We had a bet going on whether they would ever fill Madison Square Garden, because I didn't think it was going to go over. I lost.

Yauch: One day Russell came in and said, "Hey, guess what--Madonna's manager called. Do you guys want to go on tour with her?" Apparently, her manager had asked for the Fat Boys. Russell didn't manage them, but he thought up a lie quick, like "Oh, the Fat Boys have another gig that week. What about Run-D.M.C?" They were too expensive, so Russell offered them a good deal on us.

Jarvis: I was the tour manager for the Virgin Tour, being old enough to rent a car being my main qualification. Mike D said we would only stay at hotels with swimming pools. I remember Russell saying, "Either it works, or let's get thrown off the tour in as big a style as we can."

Horovitz: It's not like any of us knew Madonna, but we all used to hang out at Danceteria so we knew about each other. I don't know why she thought it would be a good idea, though. It was a terrible idea! But it was great for her in a way because we were so awful that by the time she came onstage the audience had to be happy.

Madonna: They were very bad boys — they said "fuck" all the time on stage. The audience always booed them and they always told everyone to fuck off. I just loved them for that. I couldn't understand why everyone hated them — I thought they were so adorable.

Yauch: Russell came up to me and said, "They're going to kick you off the tour. If you want to stay, you need to go ask Madonna." I went into Madonna's dressing room and was like, "You know, we really like being on the tour. Can we stay?" And it worked.

Madonna: I think I made out with Adam Yauch once in their dressing room.

Adler: I saw them open for Madonna at Madison Square Garden, playing for 15,000 twelve-year-old Madonna wannabes. The Beasties went on grabbing their dicks, throwing beer around, jumping around like wild men and doing it with complete bravado. They were booed the entire time. I thought, these guys are great.

Simmons: Every night they'd make 95 percent of the people in the audience hate them. But they built that other five percent into a fan base.

Rubin: I was a really big fan of pro wrestling, and the theatrics of the outlaw mentality. The idea was the entertainment value of being obnoxious, and not to take anything away from my friends, they were kind of obnoxious anyway. People always asked me, "Did success make the Beastie Boys assholes?" No, they were always assholes. And if they never sold any records, they'd probably be just as arrogant.

The Captain (Mike D's former roommate; former road manager): Yauch was definitely the worst — the swarthy Beastie Boy with the leather jacket, swaggering and slumping.

Jarvis: What can a bunch of teenagers who aren't even old enough to drink really get into? We somehow convinced them to give us a couple of beers in the rider. I don't even think, other than myself and Mike D, anyone was even smoking pot. There was no whoring around or any of that insane rock-star behavior.

Doctor Dre: After Rick finished the Madonna tour, he said, "Hey, you DJ pretty good, why don't you get down with these guys?" On the Raising Hell tour with Run-D.M.C, our breakfast was scotch, Jack Daniels, and Budweiser beer, and my mouthwash was gin and tonic. Everyone always wanted to ride on our bus because of the stories. We had the Nintendo, the radio, the best stuff in the bar. But everyone was scared for us to ride on their bus.

Adams: At that time, Def Jam was closer to the way Motown was — it was like a family. It had a lot to do with the fact that Russell and Rick were spearheading every project. But it also had a lot to do with the fact that it was before people were making a lot of money.

D.M.C.: From day one they were killing. Even when nobody knew them. It could be a completely black, Negro, Southern crowd there to see Run-D.M.C. and Whodini, but when the Beasties came on it wasn't like people were walking around getting hot dogs — they really paid attention to them white boys.

Frere-Jones: The Beasties were able to be down because they had an obvious affinity for black music, but presented themselves honestly as these middle-class Jewish kids. They weren't trying to be something they weren't.

MC Serch (former member, 3rd Bass): To me, they were the Antichrist — they didn't go to [hip-hop clubs like] Harlem World, didn't go to Union Square. I was [a white MC] busting my ass in the streets going through what I considered the proper hip-hop, urban channels and these guys go on tour with Run-D.M.C. To me, they were the worst possible thing to happen to hip-hop culture.

Doctor Dre: I was onstage at the famous we-almost-got-killed concert at the Apollo Theater, opening for Run-D.M.C. Everybody was like, "Look, whatever you do, don't say 'nigger'" — because it was part of what we did, before a lot of people were doing that in hip-hop. They didn't mean it in a negative way, they meant it as something warm and generous to their audience. But Russell grabs me and says, "Don't let 'em do it." And I'm like, "What am I gonna do? I'm in the back DJing." So they're out there doing "She's On It," and Ad-Rock says, "All you niggers, wave your hands in the air!" I've never seen so many blank stares! Mike looks back like he doesn't know what to do, but Yauch was like, I'm out of here! And Ad-Rock's going, "Come on y'all, come on y'all," and nobody's waving back. They finished the song, dropped the mics, and ran off the stage. I'm still out there, and everybody's kind of looking at me. I run upstairs to the dressing rooms, and everything's gone. They weren't even on the tour bus. They all jumped in a cab and went home.

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