An Oral History of the Beastie Boys: “The Story of Yo”
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.
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.