In 1986, my freshman year in high school, a friend let me borrow a copied cassette tape. When I got home and threw it in my tape player, I was introduced to the Beastie Boys, “Licensed to Ill.” A middle class white kid from the suburbs had a hip hop group to grab hold of. The Beastie Boys brought rock and rap together like no group had ever done before.
The news of the death of Adam Yauch ( Beastie Boys MCA ) from cancer on Friday hits my generation pretty hard. While his death wasn’t as shocking as John Lennon’s murder or Kurt Cobain’s suicide, it was still jarring for a generation whose members have not yet starting dying at a regular rate.
I’m doing my best to not overstate the importance of the Beastie Boys on teens in the late ‘80s, but it’s proving difficult. LL Cool J said that he owes his career to the Beastie Boys for putting his music in producer Rick Rubin’s hands. Chuck D credits Public Enemy’s success to the Beastie Boys allowing them to open for them in 1987.
Their influence on dozens of musical groups throughout the years is obvious. From Rage Against the Machine to Limp Bizkit to Linkin Park to Sublime, a genre has taken a loss today.
Music has changed in recent years, and the younger generation doesn’t connect to bands/groups/singers like we once did. It’s not a condemnation, just a fact. My cousin Aaron was talking with his 18-year-old step-son, Josh, about how the news about the Beastie Boys’ MCA affected him. Josh remarked that there’s not really any groups like that these days – or at least none that would affect him this way in 20 years. It’s true — and it’s sad.
If Parents Hate It, It Must Be Good
My aunt used to hate that we listened to the Beastie Boys – and my other uncle even banned it from his house. I can’t say that I blame them, looking back on it, considering their lyrics were rough and the innuendo was even rougher. But for teenagers, it’s all about anti-establishment.
It’s understandable why parents hated the Beastie Boys, especially if you read some of their lyrics. And the fact that they’d bring up a huge blow-up penis onto the stage for some concerts didn’t make things easier for kids trying to go to their shows.
But the baby boomers had The Beatles to connect with — a great band that wrote great songs with a perfect mix of members. British rock ‘n roll in the ‘60s was influenced heavily from American blues music, and the British invasion caught hold of American teenagers.
As silly as it is to say, the Beastie Boys were my generation’s Beatles. A group of white kids whose sound was flavored with “music for black people” connected us to an entire genre of music. They forged their way into a relatively non-diverse musical culture, and they brought us along for the ride.
It was socially acceptable for us to like Run DMC, LL Cool J and Eric B. and Rakim. But we could LOVE the Beastie Boys. Not because they were white and we could only love white music, but because they made it OK for white guys to love rap. And their music was certainly welcome among other cultures, if only as a way for more albums to be sold of other groups.
They took a lot of heat through the years from non-Beastie Boys fans because they didn’t play music for the most part, and they sampled most of what they sang to. But the band could play instruments (they were members of punk rock bands in the early ‘80s), but this genre of music didn’t need them for that. They were emcees. That’s like saying Eddie Van Halen isn’t that good because he wasn’t the lead singer. Why doesn’t Jay-Z ever catch crap for not playing an instrument? When the group finally did pick up their instruments and play for the “Check Your Head” album – fans like me complained that it wasn’t Paul’s Boutique.
Then, in 2008, they released a completely instrumental album called, “The Mix-Up” — of which they won a Grammy for. That shut up the people that complained about them not playing instruments.
Growing up B-E-A-S-T-I-E
Granted, the 2000s version of the Beastie Boys isn’t the same as our ‘80s version – but are any of us the same people we were in the ‘80s? Yauch was involved in the movement to free Tibet, and only a few years ago, the group took a few shots at George Bush. And at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, the group addressed all of the sexual assaults and rapes at Woodstock ’99. I remember thinking, I don’t need to hear this from the guys that talk about doing it “with a whiffle ball bat.”
But that’s what happens with our heroes. They realize their influence and they change. As a generation, we changed too, so standing up for adult causes made sense – but it just sounded weird coming from their voices.
There are still moments when I have to finish a Beastie Boys lyric if I hear a certain string of words. I’m sure it’s similar to many Bob Dylan fans.
And I completely understand why older generations are sickened by my generation comparing the Beastie Boys to The Beatles or Bob Dylan, both of whom meant more to Americans than just music during a time when America’s minds seemed to be up for grabs.
But I’m sure our parents were ridiculed for their love of a rock group like The Beatles. And I already know that I rip nearly everything non-Jay-Z in the current hip-hop community. But it’s the right of every generation to choose their voices.
For my generation, I nominate the voices of Adam Horovitz, Adam Yauch and Mike Diamond. The serpentine lyrics of the Beastie Boys (MCA, Ad Rock and Mike D) will be on a constant loop in my head for the rest of my life.
And who didn’t waste a phone call to Brooklyn for the best in men’s clothing, asking for Janice at (718) 498-1043. (Just tried again – there’s no room right now to record my message. We’re gonna miss you, MCA.)
Below is a video done in 2011 as a promo for “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two,” and it really is a great piece, packed with nothing but superstars, including two sets of celebs playing the Beastie Boys. Elijah Wood, Seth Rogen and Danny McBride get into a classic hip-hop dance contest against Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Jack Black … and there’s about 20 other great stars in it too. Awesome.
My Top 21 Beastie Boys Songs of All-Time
21. Hey Ladies – (Paul’s Boutique)
20. Ch-Check It Out – (To the 5 Boroughs)
19. Make Some Noise – (Hot Sauce Committee Part Two)
18. Fight For Your Right — (Licensed to Ill)
17. Pass the Mic – (Check Your Head)
16. Time to Get Ill – (Licensed to Ill)
15. Rhymin’ and Stealin’ – (Licensed to Ill)
14. She’s Crafty – (Licensed to Ill)
13. Girls — (Licensed to Ill)
12. Body Movin’ – (Hello Nasty)
11. So What’cha Want – (Check Your Head)
10. Sure Shot – (Ill Communication)
9. Shadrach – (Paul’s Boutique)
8. The New Style – (Licensed to Ill)
7. High Plains Drifter — (Paul’s Boutique)
6. Brass Monkey — (Licensed to Ill)
5. Shake Your Rump – (Paul’s Boutique)
4. Intergalactic Planetary – (Hello Nasty)
3. No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn – License to Ill
2. Sabotage – (Ill Communication)
1. Paul Revere – (Licensed to Ill)
My cousin Aaron used to listen to the Beastie Boys with me all the time. It was the soundtrack to our lives. I asked him for his Top 10 Beastie Boys songs – and he gave me this playlist:
10. I Don’t Know (Hello Nasty)
9. Rhymin and Stealin’ (License to Ill)
8. Car Thief (Paul’s Boutique)
7. Stand Together (Check Your Head)
6. Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun (Paul’s Boutique)
5. Brass Monkey (License to Ill)
4. Paul Revere (License to Ill)
3. Sabotage (Ill Communication)
2. High Plains Drifter (Paul’s Boutique)
1. No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn (License to Ill)