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.
YOUNG AND USELESS: 1982-’84
Adam Yauch (a. k.a. MCA, Beastie Boy): I met this guy John Berry at Tier 3, a little teeny hole-in-the-wall punk club in Manhattan. One day he brought Mike [Diamond] with him. They had this band called the Young Aborigines‚ Mike D played drums, John played guitar, Kate Schellenbach played percussion.
John Berry (former Beastie Boy): When I first met Adam Yauch, he was the funniest motherfucker I’d ever met in my life. He had this incredible knack for picking up somebody’s voice. He was really into Monty Python, especially the “Silly Walk” skit.
Adam Horovitz (a.k.a. King Ad-Rock, Beastie Boy): I have this memory of seeing Yauch at a record store. He wore an overcoat and boots and just looked funny. I’m not saying that I looked cool. But he looked funny.
Sasha Frere-Jones (member, Ui; journalist): I went to St. Ann’s in Brooklyn Heights, this private progressive school. Mike D came in as a junior. He was from Manhattan, wore an Isaac Hayes T-shirt, was into punk rock, and instantly started hanging out with all the good-looking girls.
Kate Schellenbach (former Beastie; member, Luscious Jackson): Yauch would come by and try to play the bass. He knew “Public Image” by Public Image and that was it. Like, two notes. And then we started switching instruments around — I played drums — and making up songs about the bodega downstairs. Mike D had nothing to do, so we made him the singer.
Yauch: The idea was “let’s start a hardcore band,” kind of as a joke. We called it the Beastie Boys. We were trying to think of the stupidest name, something that maybe sounded like the Angry Samoans.
Berry: This may be arguable, but I think I actually came up with the name. We decided that we should have a gang, an Elks Lodge-type thing. We had secret handshakes and stuff, and we’d wear old-man clothes from the Salvation Army and smoke cigars. The thrust was to walk around and annoy people.
Yauch: Our first gig was a party at John’s house. It was my 17th birthday, and we bought a bunch of beer. I think it was the first time Mike ever got drunk. After we played, Dave Parsons, who ran the record store Rat Cage downtown, came up and said, “I’m thinking about starting a record label — would you guys want to make an album?”
Scott Jarvis (recording engineer): Between the time we recorded Polly Wog Stew and when we mixed it a few weeks later, the 171A studio went under. The guy running it was on the road with Bad Brains and was supposed to be sending the rent, but it never came. The ex-girlfriend of the guy who actually owned the space came by and told me that he was going to sell the equipment — which didn’t even belong to him. So I took the tape machine over to my girlfriend’s apartment and laid everything out on the bed. Everyone came over and we did the mixes there, editing it together with, like, Scotch tape.
Schellenbach: We played only a handful of shows. But they were good — we played [the Alphabet City club] A7 with Bad Brains, we opened for Circle Jerks.
Darryl Jenifer (member, Bad Brains): We were fucking with Mike, trying to intimidate him — just Rasta shit — so they created this other band, the Imperial Knights of Schism. Instead of being fucked over, they started a band and made fun of our dialect and the way we looked. Mike put on blackface and a mop on his head — he had the balls to do that!
Thurston Moore (member, Sonic Youth): The Beasties weren’t like street rats — they obviously had this edge over everybody else. Their humor was a little more sophisticated, not just fart jokes. Mike D was this skinny kid jumping in the air and landing on the stage like a screaming little bird.
Berry: I became less and less interested and started missing rehearsals. A couple of times I showed up really fucked up on crystal meth.
Horovitz: After their record came out, my band, the Young and the Useless, started covering Beastie Boys songs. When John Berry went AWOL, I took his spot. I came up from the minors.
Schellenbach: We were all getting into Grandmaster Flash and the Sugar Hill Gang and Funky Four. The Roxy and Danceteria were happening, and everybody was into break dancing and graffiti and trying to write rhymes.
Tom Cushman (friend): Over Christmas vacation, right before Michael had been invited never to return to Vassar again after only one semester, we decided to do a song. At the time, the thing in rap was this stay-in-school concept, so we wrote “The Reading Rap”: “Reading and rapping and you’ll be down / It’s in the mix, hear it in the sound / Hit the books, but don’t hit the street / And avoid the ends that you might meet.” We called ourselves the Beat Brothers.
Yauch: We went into the studio with a bunch of songs, but they were kind of half-written and never really came together. While we were in there just messing around, we recorded “Cooky Puss” and “Beastie Revolution.”
Schellenbach: “Cooky Puss” started getting college radio play, and we thought we should incorporate some kind of hip-hop experience into the live show. And that’s when Rick Rubin came aboard. I don’t quite know who found him, but it was like, “This guy goes to NYU and he could be our DJ.” We called him DJ Double R.
Rick Rubin (cofounder, Def Jam Records): I was the chairman of the social committee, and a DJ, and the Beastie Boys started coming to these parties at my dorm. They asked me to DJ for them since I was a friend of theirs and had a bubble machine.
Doctor Dre (former Beastie DJ; radio host, Hot 97, NYC): Rick had no skills. He would just play the record. But he had a lot of good DJ movements. He’d bob his head a lot.
Cey Adams (Horovitz’s former roommate; graphic designer): Rick would pick up the tab, which played a big part in us hanging out with him. At that time, the band was still wearing plain clothes. Then somebody got the idea to try and look a little more hip-hop. I think it was Rick. For the record, anything silly was usually Rick’s idea.
Rubin: We went to Chinatown and got these matching Chinese jogging suits, and we all had matching Adidas and Puma suits, too. We used to wear do-rags on our heads, which was kind of ridiculous.
Thomas Beller (former Beat Brother): No one ever actually said, “Kate, you’re out.” She went away for the weekend, and Rick bought the other three members matching Adidas sweatsuits, red and black warm-ups, and sneakers. They were at the [Manhattan] club Area dressed up like a trio and Kate bumped into them, kind of by accident. She just started crying, because it was obvious that there was not going to be a woman in a band that’s, like, going to have an inflatable penis on stage.
Schellenbach: Rick’s influence was really hard to deal with. Everybody in our crew was very open and not sexist at all, and Rick was this piggish guy from Long Island, or wherever the hell he was from. He was really sexist and homophobic, and they were all getting into his persona because they thought he was cool. And they were also getting into what they thought a hip-hop group was supposed to act like, grabbing their dicks and talking about girls. It was very disappointing and alienating.
Adams: The first time they got any money was when they sued British Airways for using part of “Cooky Puss” in an ad. Horovitz worked at a little ice cream shop that was like our club house. The minute they got that check, he quit his job and would buy stuff for everybody. It just felt like paradise.
Michael Diamond (a.k.a. Mike D, Beastie Boy): That money enabled us to make the move for independence. We got a floor in this Chinese sweatshop building on Chrystie Street [on the Lower East Side of Manhattan].
Yauch: The floor was blacktop. Somebody had actually rolled out tar across it, like the street. One time we were hanging out in the living room and we heard this really loud explosion in the kitchen. Our toaster oven had a hole in the top and a hole in the back. There was a hole in the wall behind it and a hole in the ceiling. Apparently, somebody upstairs fired a gun through the floor. We ran up there and there was nobody in the room but this old woman. We were like, “What happened?” and she didn’t speak English. You know some crazy shit had just happened in that sweatshop and they had quickly covered it up. Dragged the body out.
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.
SKIRT CHASING, FREEBASING: 1986-’88
Adam Dubin (codirector, “Fight for Your Right (to Party)”): Just before Licensed to Ill came out, they were having conversations about whether or not to kick Mike D out, whether he was cool enough to be in the band. They’d ask different people whether he was “Beastie down.” It was only by a pretty slim margin that they kept him in.
Simmons: I was shocked that there was a discussion about that. He was the only original member, right? That’s fucked-up.
The Captain: In the early days, it was always Adam and Adam against Mike. Those two used to room together, while me and Mike would room together. They would definitely pick on him. I woke up one morning and there was a pile of dirt on Mike’s bed. They’d broken into the hotel room in the middle of the night and dumped a potted plant on him.
Simmons: None of us knew they would sell records. The only people that we made Licensed for were the people who they hung out with, the people they thought were fashion-forward. Those guys didn’t make records like “Fight for Your Right (to Party)” because they thought they’d make any money. It was a fucking joke.
The Captain: Licensed to Ill was supposed to be called Don t Be a Faggot, but [Def Jam distributor] Columbia wouldn’t let them do it.
Fred Durst (member, Limp Bizkit): These crazy punks partied with hip-hop and it came out like rock’n’roll. Every white kid I knew became a Beastie Boys freak.
Doctor Dre: On the tour, Ad-Rock drilled a hole in the floor of the hotel and put a hose down into Yauch’s room to see if they could fill it up with water. Another time we were in London and MCA jumped off the third-floor balcony into the pool. We were banned from Holiday Inns for the rest of our lives. I still can’t get into a Holiday Inn! I tried the other day and they said, “We have your picture with those other guys.”
DJ Hurricane: Dre left in the middle of the tour, so Jam Master Jay [of Run-D.M.C] told Ad-Rock, “Yo, Hurricane can DJ real good.” He said, “You wanna DJ for us?” They were a white rap group, which was unheard of. But I thought about it for a little bit and then I called and said, “I’ll do it for you. You’re all cool with me. I don’t give a fuck what nobody thinks.”
The Captain: That Led Zeppelin biography Hammer of the Gods was like their tour guide. One of the first hotels we stayed at during our own tour was in Seattle, right on the water, and in the book there was this whole thing about how you could fish out of your window. There’s a story about Led Zeppelin, their roadies, some groupies, and fish. So they were all very gleeful to be at this hotel, and everyone starts fishing. But at this point, all the fish were dead. The next thing I know, there’s furniture floating by my room. They’d gotten so pissed off, they just threw everything into the water.
Chuck Eddy (journalist): I was doing a story on the Beasties for Creem, just after Licensed to Ill came out. We did the interview and they were bratty, throwing food at me, no big deal. That night, they went on The Joan Rivers Show and presented her with a book on extended sexual orgasms. We go back to the hotel and I turn in. At four in the morning, they got the key to my room from the hotel desk by saying that I was part of their party. Most of the Licensed to Ill long-form video is of them getting ready to go into my room, but I didn’t even know they had a video camera at the time. I just knew that they broke in, dumped water on me, and ran out of the room giggling. Next thing I knew, they turned into Tibetan monks and started making really boring jazz records.
Jimmy Gestapo (a.k.a. Jimmy Drescher, member, Murphy’s Law): The Beasties would sometimes come out and open for themselves as a group called Trip Hammer. They would wear these wigs and jam on Black Sabbath-type stuff. It was very Spinal Tap-ish. At one point they got this big, inflatable dick in a box. The phallus was, like, 25 feet tall, and was erected by a large tank of gas. Sometime during the set — boom, the fucking dick would pop up. One night Fishbone went out and got a bunch of live crabs and somehow adhered them to the phallus without anyone’s knowledge. The guy turns the valve and up pops the dick with these huge crabs wiggling around all over it, one right on top of the head. When those guys noticed it, they just bugged the fuck out.
Chuck D: After we knew we were out replacing Fishbone on the tour, we checked the Beasties out in Detroit. I was just blown away by their stage show. The girl in the cage, the dick rising up, the energy — it was like, what the fuck is this?
The Captain: This kid Dave Scilken was our trim coordinator. His entire job was to get chicks. They’d have a schematic of the building so they’d be able to tell Dave to get that girl in section whatever and he’d be armed with a fistful of passes. But he would always end up hooking himself up rather than the band.
Doctor Dre: Ad-Rock would try to get the older, sophisticated girls. Yauch would fuck anybody — he’d fuck the fish if they were in the fishbowl. Then he’d act like he was holiest man–that’s what would kill me.
The Captain: The fly girlies were into Yauch, because he had the swarthy George Michael thing. Horovitz would appeal to the pimply-faced teenage ones. And Mike D would appeal to the fat black chicks. They’d go, “Mike D, he’s so fine.” It was like it was a scientific equation.
Dubin: “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” was the second video. [Slayer guitarist] Kerry King plays that crazy solo, and Rick said he definitely wanted Kerry in the video. He was going to use it as a bit of a stepping stone for Slayer. But Rick didn’t just want Kerry in it — he wanted to do an effect where he appeared 60 feet tall. The Beasties went fucking nuts! They’d be like little imps next to him. That was one of the first conflicts I really remember between them and Rick.
Henry Rollins (former member, Black Flag and Rollins Band): Thurston Moore showed me a video of them on American Bandstand. They threw all their microphones up in the air and they were breaking them and not even trying to lip-synch. Then one of them hands a broken cordless mic to Dick Clark and goes, “Here’s your mic … Dick.”
Simmons: The Together Forever tour with Run-D.M.C. was fun as hell. I was high all the time. I can barely remember the fucking thing.
DJ Hurricane: Me and Russell used to smoke dust together on tour, for real.
Dubin: The Beasties movie [for Def Pictures] was going to be called Scared Stupid. They’d go to a haunted house, like Abbott and Costello. Rick was going to give them eight points, to be split among the three of them; he’d keep everything else. But at this point, they were saying, “Hey, wait a minute, we’re starting to be successful — we want some control and dah, dah, dah.” If your producer is also your manager and your label head, who’s going to fight for your rights? So the Beasties were like, “Fuck this — this sucks.” People started taking meetings with them, and I think Universal was going to come forward with about $4 million. So they told Rick, “We’re going to make our own movie with these people.” And Rick said, “No, you’re not — you can act, but your contract says you can’t do anything that has any music in it without me.” He was basically saying, if you don’t do a Beastie Boys movie with me then you’re not doing a movie at all. He squelched the whole thing.
Simmons: That was stupid. No record company should do that. What I should have done was tell Rick, “Forget it. They think it’s a better opportunity. It’s a bigger budget. It’s a different kind of film. It protects our music.” I was young and inexperienced and made the mistake of not protecting them. Rick made the mistake of not understanding that you can’t control it all.
Diamond: That was when our relationship with Rick and Russell was really starting to take some strange turns.
Molly Ringwald (actress): I did a movie called The Pick-up Artist and they used “She’s Crafty” on the soundtrack. Adam Horovitz asked the producer if I’d go out on a date with him, and we went out for a while. It was very intriguing to date a guy in a very raucous group, but in fact, Adam was very sweet. I went on tour when they were with Run-D.M.C. and it was a hoot. I mean, there was no trashing hotel rooms or anything like that.
The Captain: On their first date, they drank premixed bottled cocktails and did Whip-Its. Molly was the source of a lot of problems. He’d fly off at any available moment to hang out with her. At one point he said unless he went on vacation in Ireland with her, that was the end of it, no more Beastie Boys. So we had to call off the tour and let him do his thing. Molly wanted Adam to grow up, so whenever she was around he was super uptight. When it was over, he was like, “What did people think when I was going out with her?” And I told him, “We all thought she had your dick in her purse.”
Yauch: By the time we hit the South and the Bible Belt, we started getting sheriffs worried about us. The English press happened to come along on that [segment] and they had a field day.
Adler: When they first went to England, there was a lot of advance publicity and fear and loathing on the part of the tabloid press. But the Beasties weren’t satisfied with that. So Russell concocted some kind of minor outrage, a fight at a party between Run-D.M.C. and the Beasties.
Simmons: I told Yauch to go punch [Jam Master] Jay in the face. We got on the cover of every paper all over the world. The Beasties did it ’cause it was fun. I did it because it would make us money.
Ricky Powell (photographer): They played at this old theater in Liverpool and the crowd was just ill. There were two big bald security dudes in the pit, and all of a sudden I noticed globs of spit all over their heads. Then cans started getting thrown onto the stage. The Beasties said, “Cool out. Don’t throw shit,” so the crowd started throwing bottles. Ad-Rock was there with a bat, hitting cans like they were baseballs, just to survive. The Beasties walked off and the crowd bum-rushed the stage, tearing it down. We got away just in time. In London, the cops came from Liverpool to pick up Ad-Rock because some girl in the audience said that a can hit her in the face. It was total bullshit — she was 80 feet back! He had to spend a night or two in this old jail cell. He said it wasn’t that bad. He was in with some old-timers who were telling him dope stories.
Yauch: Some woman asked us for an autograph in a pretty rude way. We were late and I said, “I’m sorry, we have to go.” And she said, “If you don’t give me an autograph right now, I’m going to stitch you up in the press.” I reacted with something like, “Fuck you,” and we drove away. The next day there was a headline in the newspaper that said “Beastie Boys Mock Dying Children.”
Adler: The tabloid press made up this story about how the Beastie Boys swore at some crippled fans. Angry mobs were forming and members of Parliament were trying to get them expelled from the country. Things got really, really serious.
Simmons: They got depressed, very depressed. They thought they wanted all of this but realized it really wasn’t what they wanted [after all].
The Captain: We were playing a show somewhere and things had gotten really foul. Yauch decided that he didn’t want to go onstage. Mike and Ad-Rock ran out like maniacs, but Yauch sat on a flight case off to the side and delivered his lines. Then he dumped a bucket of beer into the middle of the stage and stomped up and down on it. In the middle of a song, he threw a little temper tantrum, going, “Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored.” That epitomized how it had gone too far.
Yauch: I was really upset and pissed at Rick Rubin, feeling like Def Jam and Rush Management had gone on a really selfish tangent. We started getting sick of each other and of being on the road. Even sick of the band and what it represented, like we were ashamed to be a part of it. We decided to take some time apart from each other.
Jenifer: Yauch put together a band called Brooklyn, and we played one show at the World in New York. It sounded sort of like Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
Cushman: One night we had been drinking tequila and working on the Brooklyn shit, and decided to go down by the Brooklyn Navy Yards, underneath the BQE [Brooklyn-Queens Expressway]. Yauch had this gun he was shooting, and then this car is coming down the street. All of a sudden, Yauch just picks up the gun and levels it. He aimed off about 20 feet, but shot in the basic direction of the car. I remember it swerving and I was like, “Oh … my … God.” I just started booking, fucking running as fast as I can to get back to his apartment. Finally we get in the door and we’re quiet for a moment. I was like, “Why?” And he said, “I don’t know.”
The Captain: When all the touring was done, Russell wanted to throw them back in the studio straightaway and have them make an album. They were just not ready for it. Russell didn’t really see it ’cause he hadn’t been there. He was insisting, and that’s when the lawsuits against Def Jam and Rush Management began.
Rubin: I think the success destroyed our relationship. We were not friends again for a very long time. I think a lot of that really stemmed from the media. Probably because they were white, the Beastie Boys didn’t have the same credibility as Run-D.M.C. or L.L. Cool J. A lot of the press looked at them like the Monkees, like this put-together thing. The perception was that it was my record, that they were a fabrication.
Simmons: Rick didn’t make LL Cool J and he didn’t make the Beasties, and I didn’t make Run-D.M.C. We didn’t sign guys we thought were dependent on us, anyway. And when it turned out good, we shouldn’t have taken all the credit. When the fights started between Rick and the group, I regret that I didn’t get involved in a more meaningful way.
Glen E. Friedman (photographer): After that period, they became very paranoid of people getting credit for things that they were doing. Everyone was treating them as though they were the puppets of Rick and Russell. Businesswise, they were never the greatest people to deal with. But after that period, it got ridiculous.
Yauch: I think we almost dreaded getting back together, but it was the only way we were going to get off Def Jam. Our lawyers were telling us we had to start making something to prove to record companies that we could exist outside of Def Jam and Rick Rubin.
Horovitz: After Licensed to Ill, I didn’t come home for a long time. I hung out in California a little bit, and went to San Antonio to make a movie [Lost Angels]. Then we went to L.A. and started on the next record. Once we were fucking around and coming up with shit, it was great. It wasn’t like the cover of a British newspaper. We were us again.
LIKE PIMPS THEY’RE PIMPIN': 1988-’89
David Berman (former president, Capitol Records): Tim Carr [then an A&R executive at Capitol] came in and wanted to sign the Beastie Boys. What really convinced me was meeting them. They were, without a doubt, the smartest bunch of really arrogant kids I had ever met. I was like, “They’re too smart not to pull it off.”
Tim Carr: By today’s standards, it was the cheapest deal ever. They had sold four million records, and they had a little problem getting some royalties and record payments from their former label. They cut a deal with Def Jam where, if they chose not to go after a certain amount of money they were owed, they could have their freedom.
Diamond: For Paul’s Boutique, we had a lot more money and a lot more time. It was definitely more on our own terms.
Mike Simpson (member, Dust Brothers): They had heard about our studio, so they came by and stuck their heads in. We were putting together these dense, crazy tracks for no specific reason, and they were like, “Wow, we’d love to use this stuff. Can we buy these songs from you?”
Yauch: The technology was advancing really quickly. The Dust Brothers were working with samplers, and they could quickly layer a lot of different loops. When we first heard their tapes, they played us what ended up being “Shake Your Rump” and “Car Thief.” I thought it would be incredible to rhyme on. And they said, “Actually, that’s too much music, but we could strip it down to beats.” And we said, no, we want to rhyme on it the way it is.
John King (member, Dust Brothers): If we were doing something too commercial with the music, they would say, “Nah, I don’t like that.” They didn’t want it to blow up. Yauch said, “We won’t promote this at all, it’ll be a cool thing that people find out about.”
Carr: Mike D was driving around and playing the tracks for me. They started with a drum part that was obviously from the intro to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” And I said, “I don’t know if you can do that.” And right as I said that, a guitar line from Abbey Road came in. Mike said, “Well, hopefully they’ll be able to work out the samples.” And I said, “Mike, come on — it’s the Beatles.” He goes, “Yeah. I know. But what could be cooler than being sued by the Beatles?”
Simpson: We became obsessed with throwing eggs at people. The Beasties were staying at the Mondrian hotel, on the ninth floor. Summer was starting and every day all these people would line up in front of the Comedy Store across the street. It was just open season. Eventually they got a very diplomatic letter from the hotel management, like “We’ve had some reports of things falling out of your window. If there’s a problem with your window, please let us know.” Then we started driving around in limos, throwing eggs at people. That’s how we came up with the song “Egg Man.”
King: We’d go skiing together and Yauch would bring along a vial of liquid acid to drop in his eyes when he started hitting the slopes — the double black diamonds.
Powell: Paul’s Boutique was definitely Mother Nature’s candy-influenced, if you know what I mean.
King: There’s a lot of lines on the record that are inside jokes. That made it really fun for us, but it also made me think, “Who’s going to enjoy this?”
Turkkan: All the really hard-core hip-hop heads wouldn’t publicly admit it, but quietly, they’d all say to me, “Oh my God, the beats on this record are the most unbelievable thing on earth.” From Chuck D to LL Cool J to KRS-One, they were all in awe of Paul’s Boutique.
Simmons: Eric B. told me he could steal 15 albums off the Beastie Boys’ second album.
Carr: Paul’s Boutique came out and I figured that the marketing department would do the next part of the job, so I left for a vacation. While I was away, David Bermanwas fired. And as the legend has it, somebody who had firing power over him said, “We’re the laughingstock of the music business because we signed the Beastie Boys.” Heads definitely rolled.
Doctor Dre: For Yo! MTV Raps, we got in a Jeep and drove up a mountain. We talked about Paul’s Boutique and ways of trying to get their audience back. Then we drove by Rick Rubin’s mansion. I think we pissed on the front gate in unison.
Powell: The G Spot [in L.A.] was named after the Grasshoffs, some old funky couple. The boys were renting the house and used to dip into their closets. They were full of ’60s and ’70s funky shit, like, Sly and the Family Stone-style. A lot of velvet. When the Beasties put it on, they looked like weird pimps. Mike had the Breakstone Butter crown and used to rock it to the supermarket. He hooked himself up with the master bedroom. Horovitz had the player’s room, this weird underground thing that had a window that looked into the pool. I took the Paul’s Boutique sleeve from inside his bedroom.
Adams: They were living very differently when they were in California. Yauch was living in a log cabin. Horovitz had a big house up in the Hills. They all had more than one car and big swimming pools and all that. Their friends were the sons and daughters of rock’n’roll royalty.
Donovan Leitch (member, Nancy Boy): Horovitz had kind of an attitude about L.A. at first. The first time we went out to eat, I ordered guacamole. He goes, “Guacamole, I bet you call that guac.” But then he learned to like guacamole and everything else about L.A.
Monte Messex (former member, D.F.L.): There were always parties, not like night parties, but softball games and barbecues and birthday celebrations. Horovitz started to become close friends with [actress] lone Skye’s friends. He and lone used to baby-sit for me all the time. They came to my wedding and I went to theirs.
GET IT TOGETHER: 1990-’94
Diamond: The initial notion for Check Your Head was just all three of us getting back to playing instruments. We’d been hanging out with the Dust Brothers and listening to stuff like the Meters and Sly Stone and the Crusaders, so we just sat down and said, “OK, let’s play something funky.”
Yauch: We’d been making these pause tapes for each other that would go from jazz instrumentals into reggae into hardcore. We decided to sequence the album like a pause tape — put together these different kinds of music.
Mario Caldato (Beastie producer): Mike D came home kind of drunk one night and crashed into the wooden gate at the G Spot house. He was like, “Oh, shit, we’ve got to get this fixed. We need a carpenter.” I said, “My boy Mark [Ramos-Nishita] will hook it up.”
Money Mark (Beastie keyboardist): I became the carpenter for that gig, and we started talking about music. Things unfolded pretty quickly.
Powell: Mark brought the Sanford and Son-type feel.
Money Mark: What was to become the “G-Son” studio was this old ballroom, and next to it was a plumbing shop. It was called Gilson’s, but the “I” and “L” had fallen off the sign, so the [owners] just put a little hyphen there and made it “G-Son.” The Beasties were getting busy trying to make the record, so I kind of rushed the making of the control room. We were building and recording at the same time.
The Captain: They built skateboard ramps in there and put a basketball hoop in. You’d hang and play ball and jam.
Diamond: We were having trouble getting focused, so we went to San Francisco. We were up there when we got the news about Dave Scilken [who died of a drug overdose].
Jill Cunniff (member, Luscious Jackson): The funeral reminded me of the Studio 54 thing. They were all going to party, party, party, and then people start dying.
Schellenbach: We all kind of reconnected when Dave died. Some other guys from our scene had passed away, too. We all went out to dinner [in New York] and remembered how close we had been. We were like brothers and sisters. It was like, “Wow, these people are the same. They’ve gone through their craziness, but it seems like they’ve really settled down.”
Caldato: Dave’s death really put an emotional touch to the record. That inspired the final push — to try to make something good out of what happened. Lyrics for songs like “Gratitude” started coming together after that.
Sean Lennon: Check Your Head changed my life. The music was brilliant and they had evolved as people and as a band, like when the Beatles did Sgt. Pepper.
Rollins: I took Mike D to the gym once while we were on the Check Your Head tour. I showed him a couple of lifts, just some basic stuff.
Powell: They’d put on mullet wigs and Ian Anderson-type beards and go walking through the crowd. River Phoenix came out for a couple days in Florida. He was doing roadie work for them. I remember him wearing checkered highwater busboy pants.
Erin Potts (director, Milarepa Fund): I was living in Nepal on my college year abroad. Adam [Yauch] came over to Kathmandu, and it was a big deal for the expatriates living there. I could give a shit — I hated the Beastie Boys. I didn’t hate any band as much as I hated them. On that trip, the group he was traveling with had run into a bunch of Tibetans who had just escaped. They were so excited to be out that they had an impromptu party right there. Their story had a big impact on Adam — enough so that the day after I met him we drove around the Tibetan part of town and sat in a monastery for a long time.
The Captain: When Yauch came back from Tibet, he had definitely changed. The whole Buddhist thing is detaching yourself from pleasures and material goods — at this point, he’s even given up snowboarding. He’s sworn off drinking for life. But he still has a big-screen TV.
Evan Bernard (director, “Root Down”): At first when people would call Yauch a Buddhist, he’d say he wasn’t a Buddhist, because he didn’t feel that he was committed enough to command that label. But I guess now he’s, like, full-on. He doesn’t like me bringing food into his apartment. He’s afraid that it would attract bugs and he can’t kill anything.
Eddy: Now that the Beasties are Buddhists, I should break in somewhere and pour water on them. That would be the ultimate revenge, since they’re not allowed to fight back.
Caldato: After we finished touring, everyone was excited, like, “Wow, let’s make another record.” So we went into the studio and did it in six months.
Yauch: On Ill Communication, we just expanded what we did on Check Your Head, trying to perfect those styles.
Q-Tip (member, A Tribe Called Quest): I was pretty fucked-up when we did “Get It Together.” I can’t really remember making it, but I know Ad-Rock took that beat from an old Moog record. The Beasties are the fucking Bugs Bunny of hip-hop. They just come up with the ill shit.
Bob Mack (former editor, Grand Royal magazine): Ad-Rock wrote “Sabotage” at the last moment. The album was in the bag, but he reached back into the can and pulled a rabbit out of his hat.
Jake Fogelnest (former host, Squirt TV): “Sabotage” is the greatest music video. It was the first time a band that had worked so hard to be taken seriously could put on funny costumes — and still be taken seriously.
Spike Jonze (director, “Sabotage”): Everyone was supposed to grow their own facial hair for the video. Yauch forgot and Mike D can’t grow any, so they used the glue-on kind. But Horovitz grew all his own. He’s like that — he does what needs to be done. Yauch is a professionally trained stuntman. The emergency-brake slides and high-speed reverse 180s — that’s all him.
Nathaniel Hornblower (auteur; gadfly; cheese farmer): Making videos is like cheese farming. It takes a team of experts each doing their part. “Sabotage” was a finely aged Appenzell Gruyère.
Bernard: I worked on Lollapalooza ’94 as the Beasties’ juice pimp. It went from the guy who would go out and hand backstage passes to girls to the guy who would secure fresh fruit.
The Captain: Marriage changes shit. There was a time in LA. when everyone would hang together at Mike’s house because he had a pool — we called it Club D. And then when he and [film and video director] Tamra [Davis] got married, we didn’t have a pool to hang out at anymore. Horovitz and lone Skye just seemed perfect for each other, there was so much love. When I heard they split up, I was just like, “You know what? That means there’s no hope for any of us.”
INTERGALACTIC EMPIRE: 1994-’98
Mack: The Beasties got sick of searching for places that had leftover pairs of Adidas, and no one was really making cool T-shirts and wacky magazines. Rather than complain, they created their own thing. That’s how [the clothing franchise] X-Large got started. Mike D was the brainstorm behind it — not really the money, but the seed. He kept on thinking and the whole Grand Royal concept emerged. It’s about them not really being a band, but more like a cultural thing, a way of life.
Gary Gersh (former president, Capitol Records): When I got to Capitol, the label had already passed on a [distribution] deal with Grand Royal Records, but I felt that it was essential to building the core of Capitol and bringing it into the future.
Mark Kates (president, Grand Royal Records): The band has to be cool with anything Grand Royal does, because I may be the guy sitting at the desk, but as far as the world’s concerned, it’s completely their label.
Natalie Carlson (label manager, Grand Royal): Mike D used to be really involved, but he wanted to go back to being more in the band. The Beasties are really more A&R staff than anything. Mike brings in Ben Lee, and Yauch brings in the punk-rock element. And Horovitz finds things like BS 2000, which is all over the place.
Lennon: Grand Royal is run kind of like a summer camp. Contracts will be written on napkins and shit. Mike Mills (graphic designer): They don’t even send me copy for the shirts and posters typed out, they just tell it to me over the phone. It could be a little more bureaucratic.
Bernard: Bikini Kill were doing a fanzine that they’d hand out at concerts and the Beasties thought that was cool. So they kind of bit the idea for Grand Royal from that. At first the magazine was just to keep fans updated with what they were up to, but then it turned into this completely other thing.
Eric Gladstone (former editor, Grand Royal): In the beginning, it was Bob Mack and one computer in a broom closet. It was very punk.
Mack: We wanted to do something that the kids would be interested in that wasn’t just a toot on the Beasties’ own horn. The fans expected a lot of the band, and this would let the Beasties turn the kids on to what they were into.
Mike Watt (Columbia recording artist): When they toured with me, they noticed I always protected my knees. I was born with bad knees and had to have surgery in my 20s. They wanted to know the whole story, so I turned in 10,000 words about my knees.
Mack: Yauch didn’t want any guns in the magazine, or any glorification of violence. He was going through a Pharcyde layout [in the first issue] and he noticed that one of the guys was flashing a gun. We hadn’t even noticed, but he was like, “What the hell is this?”
Gladstone: The other guys withdrew, but Mike was very hands-on. He has an incredibly good journalistic instinct.
Frere-Jones: The magazine’s huge cover story on Lee Perry was one reason why there was a resurgence of interest in him. The Beasties have become avatars of cool, which is not a bad thing, because they happen to have good taste. If you’re young and trying to figure out what you like, the Beasties step up to the bat. There’s a whole generation of kids who’ve grown up thinking about music through the filter of the Beastie Boys.
Yauch: After Lollapalooza, we got involved with different things, like the Aglio e Olio EP, the hardcore tour, and the Tibetan Freedom Concert.
Paula Heredia (film editor): Tho first cut of the FreeTibet [concert film] was horrible. Yauch and I started from scratch and put together something we felt good about, but we realized that we had lost the feeling of Tibet at the end — that something was missing. There was a moment where he was saying good-bye to the monks and one of them came up to him and cried. Yauch was very concerned about not glorifying himself, but we knew that moment was the resolution.
Fogelnest: I was at the Tibetan concert in D.C. this summer, watching Herbie Hancock, when all of a sudden I hear this weird crash. Lightning had struck the field Security guards cleared the stadium and all the rock stars crowded into Beck’s tour bus. Everyone just felt so bad for Yauch.
Potts: The Tibetans who come to the concerts don’t know the music and when people ask who their favorite band is, they all say the Beastie Boys. There’s a huge following now in India and Nepal and, I think, in Tibet, though we have no evidence of bootlegs there yet.
Horovitz: It’s been four years between records, but it wasn’t like we were sitting at home. We basically saw each other almost every day.
The Captain: I think they decided to go back into an old-school direction on Hello Nasty because Horovitz was more behind it. He’s always been into the beats-and-rhymes thing.
Caldato: Yauch didn’t really want to rap. He doesn’t want that heightened energy or something. They also recorded a country album-with Mike singing.
Fogelnest: A Japanese woman named Toco used to work for their publicity company, Nasty Little Man. She wouldn’t answer the phone like, “Nasty Little Man, may I help you please.” She’d just say, “Hello Nasty” with this thick accent.
Gabby Glaisr (mombor, Luscious Jackson): The songs are really complicated but still make you move. You can hear the early-’80s hip-hop thing again, but you can also hear how far they’ve come as a band.
Joey Garfield (sea monster, “Intergalactic” video): During the “Intergalactic” shoot, the giant robot and I could barely see. At times we were really beating the shit out of each other. One time he dotted me in the eye and I tried to hit back, but the fucking thing was stepping on my flipper. I was yelling, “This is real now! This is real!” If there’s an “Intergalactic 2: Electric Boogaloo,” that robot’s going down.
Adams: Now that they’ve gotten older, Mike is the business guy, Yauch is the social-causes guy, and Horovitz is the music guy. They all have these totally different worlds.
Madonna: I see Mike at the yoga center all the time.
The Captain: Yauch’s wedding was crazy. It was the Jews from Brooklyn meet the Buddhists from Tibet [Yauch’s wife, Dechen, is Tibetan-American]. Things like the Jews dragging the Tibetans out onto the floor to do “Hava Nagilah.” And then a traditional Tibetan band played and they dragged all the Jews out to do this weird chanting-stomping thing. Her family got up and gave very regal, kind of Zen speeches. And then Yauch’s family got up and embarrassed the fuck out of him.
Bernard: His relatives were referencing Licensed to Ill. Two or three people somehow worked “Fight for Your Right to Party” into their toasts. Sean Lennon was like, “Don’t these people know they recorded other albums since then?” Yauch’s parents rapped. It was really cute.
Simmons: Yauch and Horovitz are more spiritual and a little more sensitive to things that Diamond’s not interested in. Diamond likes being a rock star. I would say that the other two are the ones who bring in the elements that make the Beasties new and original. They’re the craziest and the most artistic. And Diamond is the glue that holds them together.
Rubin: Yauch embraced that out-of-control, rock’n’roll thing more than anyone else. Looking back, I think he was searching for who he was, and now he’s found that person. It makes perfect sense to me that he was the way he was and ended up the way he is.
Diamond: Obviously there are moments that you look back at and cringe — things in the past involving violence or disrespect to women or disrespect to other people that are so far away from what I want to put out there now. But it’s actually a privilege to be able to change and be making records that reflect that change.
Serch: Now, in retrospect, I think they’re brilliant orators and storytellers. If we ever do a new 3rd Bass record, I might have to put an apology song on there.
Frere-Jones: There’s now an entire genre of Beasties-inspired music, from Beck to Cornelius to all the Limp Bizkit-type bands referencing Licensed to Ill. You even hear tons of Beasties samples in big beat and jungle.
Q-Tip: For me, it’s the Beastie Boys, L.L. Cool J, and KRS-One, and that’s about it. And I definitely consider the Beastie Boys hip-hop artists, because they can’t sing.
Additional reporting by Matt Diehl and Steve Appleford
This story originally ran in the September 1998 issue of SPIN.