Ch-Ch-Check It Out, The History of The Beastie Boys
Posted: Mar 18 2022
The group that started out as a punk hardcore group managed to do a full 180 on their sound when they instead decided to become the group that is known today as Beastie Boys. In 1983 they kicked their new hip hop sound off with a comedy single, somehow then toured with Madonna, released their debut album and found an eclectic sound that is impossible to be recreated. Since their inception, the group have sold 20 million records in the US alone and have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The story of their rise to fame was and still is unique but has undeniably cemented them in music’s history.
Before the Beastie Boys were the Beastie Boys
Prior to forming Beastie Boys, Michael Diamond was part of a number of bands such as the Walden Jazz Band, BAN, and the Young Aborigines. Formed in July 1981 when the Young Aborigines bassist Jeremy Shatan left New York City for the summer and the remaining members Michael Diamond, John Berry and Kate Schellenbach formed a new hardcore punk band with Adam Yauch. The name was a suggestion of Berry but it wasn’t till much later that the band stated it was an acronym, "Boys Entering Anarchistic States Towards Inner Excellence.” Performing as a hardcore punk band the group supported the likes of Bad Brains, The Dead Kennedys and The Misfits. In 1982 they released their first EP Polly Wog Stew. In the same year, Berry left the group and was replaced by the group’s close friend Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz. This is when they marked a turn towards hip hop performing their first hip hop song, ‘Cooky Puss’ which would become the new line ups first EP under the same name which incorporated underground rap sound, a phenomenon taking over New York. Off this EP ‘Beastie Revolution’ was sampled on a British Airways commercial who the band sued for $40,000 in royalties. This made the band rethink their sound permanently and the group pivoted permanently to hip hop and brought in a DJ , New York University student Rick Rubin.
"I thought he was an arrogant asshole. Through spending time with the Beasties I grew to see that they had this great sense of humour. It wasn't that they were assholes, and even if it was, they were funny with it.,” says Rubin.
Rubin formed Def Jam with fellow NYU student Russell Simmons and they approached the Beastie Boys about producing their new sound. Alongside the changes the band fired Kate Schellenbach and hired Michael “Mike D” Diamond on drums.
Rock Hard and Licensed to Ill
Released in 1984, The Beastie Boy's first single on Def Jam was ‘Rock Hard’ and only two years later the band opened for John Lydon's post-Sex Pistols band Public Image Ltd and supported Madonna on her North American The Virgin Tour. They followed this up with a spot on the Raising Hell tour with Run-DMC, Whodini, LL Cool J, and the Timex Social Club. Thanks to this exposure, 'Hold It Now, Hit It' charted on Billboard's US R&B and dance charts. Licensed to Ill was released in 1986, the band's first album, Licensed to Ill was reviewed positively by many outlets including Rolling Stone and became on the best selling rap albums of the 80s. It was the first ever rap album to go to number one on the Billboard chart and it also topped the R&B album chart. It was and still is Def Jam;’s fastest selling debut album selling over nine million copies world wide. The fourth single, ‘(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)’, reached number 7 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Another song from the album, 'No Sleep till Brooklyn', peaked at number 14 on the UK Singles Chart. The group toured the album the following year, a tour which was followed by lawsuits and arrests after they were accused of provoking the crowd. It ended with a notorious gig at Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool, England which ended in a riot 10 minutes into the performance as well as the arrest of Adam Horovitz. In 1988 after Def Jam stopped paying them for work they'd already done even though they were owed money for, Beastie Boys left Def Jam and signed with Capitol Records.
The second Beastie Boys album, Paul's Boutique, was released on July 25, 1989. Produced by the Dust Brothers, it blends eclectic samples and has been described as an early work of experimental hip hop. It failed to match the sales of Licensed to Ill only peaking at number 14 on the US album charts. It wasn’t till many years later that it attracted wide acclaim, including Rolling Stone ranking it number 156 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The group's third studio album Check Your Head was recorded in California and had the band playing instruments, Mike D on drums, Yauch on bass, Horovitz on guitar and Mark Ramos Nishita ("Keyboard Money Mark") on keyboards. It was released in 1992 and was certified platinum in the US. The album was a bit more experimental than their previous work with the album's first single, 'Pass the Mic', peaking at number 38 on the Hot Dance Music chart. The band returned to their hardcore punk roots for the song 'Time for Livin', a cover of 1974 Sly and the Family Stone song. The addition of instruments and the harder rock sound of the album could be considered a precursor to the nu metal genre of music to come out in the latter half of the 1990s. In 1992 the group also set up Grand Royal Records and signed on a very eclectic group of artists to the roster. It included Luscious Jackson, Sean Lennon, and Australian artist Ben Lee. They also published a magazine with the same name releasing the first edition released in 1993 with Bruce Lee on the cover and interviews with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and A Tribe Called Quest's 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 band's 1994 song, ‘Mullet Head’. That term was not heard in the 1980s, even though that decade has retroactively been hailed as the mullet's peak in popularity. The OED says that the term was "apparently coined, and certainly popularised, by US hip-hop group Beastie Boys". Grand Royal Magazine is also responsible for giving British band Sneaker Pimps their name.
In 1994, Beastie Boys released Ill Communication which saw them return to the top of the charts once again, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200. The group contained one of the group’s most recognised singles, ‘Sabotage’ and ‘Get It Together’ which charted in the top 10. Following the release, they went on to headline Lollapalooza with The Smashing Pumpkins. Using their success they also plated three headline shows to raise funds for the Milarepa Fund, as well as donating the royalties from ‘Shambala’ and ‘Bodhisattva Vow’ from the Ill Communication 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 organised the largest rock benefit show since 1985's Live Aid – the Tibetan Freedom Concert, a two-day festival at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco that attracted over 100,000 attendees. The following year the band’s success was cemented when the tickets to their US arena tour went on sale and sold out in 30 minutes, with one dollar of each ticket going again to Milarepa.
Beastie Boys started work on their next album which was a shift in sound for the group and saw the addition of Mix Master Mike. The album included bombastic beats, rap samples and experimental sounds. Released in 1998 Hello Nasty went straight to number one in the US, UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden. As well as top ten chart positions in Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Finland, France and Israel. In 1999 the group won two Grammy Awards 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 2008, the only time that a band had won awards in both rap and alternative categories. 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’. Beastie Boys used both appearances at the Video Music Awards to make politically charged speeches of considerable length to the sizeable MTV audiences. At the 1998 ceremony, Yauch addressed the issue of Muslim people being stereotyped as terrorists and that most people of the Muslim faith are not terrorists. These comments were made in the wake of the US Embassy bombings that had occurred in both Kenya and Tanzania only a month earlier. At the 1999 ceremony in the wake of the horror stories that were coming out of Woodstock 99, Adam Horovitz addressed the fact that there had been many cases of sexual assaults and rapes at the festival, suggesting the need for bands and festivals to pay much more attention to the security details at their concerts. In September 1999 they were invited to join Elvis Costello to play ‘Radio Radio’ on the 25th anniversary season of Saturday Night Live. Wrapping up the year, they released The Sounds of Science, a two-CD anthology of their works in 1999. Booked to play a co-headline festival with Rage Against The Machine in 2000 the tour was cancelled when drummer Mike D was in a serious bicycle accident. The official diagnosis was fifth-degree acromioclavicular joint dislocation; he needed surgery and extensive rehabilitation. By the time he recovered, Rage Against the Machine had disbanded, although they would reunite seven years later. Under the name Country Mike, Mike D recorded an album, Country Mike's Greatest Hits, and gave it to friends and family for Christmas in 2000. Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz's side project BS 2000 released Simply Mortified in 2001.
To The 5 Boroughs
In 2002, Adam Yauch started building a new studio facility, Oscilloscope Laboratories, in downtown Manhattan, New York and the band started work on a new album there. They released a protest song, ‘In A World Gone Mad’, against the 2003 Iraq war as a free download on several websites. The 19th and 20th Tibetan Freedom Concerts were held in Tokyo and Taipei, Beastie Boys' first Taiwan appearance. Beastie Boys also headlined the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival the same year. Their single ‘Ch-Check It Out, debuted on The O.C. in 'The Vegas' episode from Season 1, which aired April 28, 2004. The album To The 5 Boroughs was released in June 2004 and was the first album produced entirely by the band themselves. It reached number one on the Billboard charts and the first single from the album, 'Ch-Check It Out', reached number 1 in Canada and on the US Modern Rock Tracks chart. The album was the cause of some controversy with allegations that it installed spyware when inserted into the CD drive of a computer. The band denied this allegation, defending that there is no copy protection software on the albums sold in the US and UK. While there is Macrovision CDS-200 copy protection software installed on European copies of the album, this is standard practice for all European releases on EMI/Capitol Records released in Europe, and it does not install spyware or any form of permanent software.
Diamond told British press in 2007 that the next album was to be called The Mix-Up, a strictly instrumental album. The band took an untraditional route when it came to touring playing at European festivals instead of headline shows. In 2008 they won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album.
Hot Sauce Committee Part 1 and 2
In 2009 Adam Yauch announced the groups next album would take them in a very bizarre direction, "It's a combination of playing and sampling stuff as we're playing, and also sampling pretty obscure records.” The album included a collaboration with Santigold who co-wrote and sang with the band on the track ‘Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win’. In June, the group appeared at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival and performed the new single from the album titled ‘Too Many Rappers’ alongside rapper Nas who appears on the track. It would be the last live performance by Beastie Boys as a trio. The group would have toured the UK later in the year in support of the new record. On July 20, Yauch announced on the band's official YouTube channel and through the fan mailing list, the cancellation of several tour dates and the postponement of the new album due to the discovery of a cancerous tumour in his parotid gland and a lymph node. The group also had to cancel their co-headlining gig at the Osheaga Festival in Montreal and also another headlining spot for the first night of the All Points West Festival in Jersey City, New Jersey. In late October 2010, Beastie Boys sent out two emails regarding the status of Hot Sauce Committee Pts. 1 and 2 to their online mailing list. An email dated October 18 read: "Although we regret to inform you that Hot Sauce Committee Part 1 will continue to be delayed indefinitely, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 will be released on time as originally planned in spring of 2011." One week later, a second email was sent out, reading as follows: "In what can only be described as a bizarre coincidence, following an exhaustive re-sequence marathon, Beastie Boys have verified that their new Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 will be composed of the same 16 tracks originally slated for inclusion on Hot Sauce Committee Part 1. The record (part 2 that is) will be released as planned in spring 2011 on Capitol. The tracks originally recorded for Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 (which now are actually back on Part 1) have now apparently been bumped to make room for the former Hot Sauce Committee Part 1 material. Wait, what? I know it's weird and confusing, but at least we can say unequivocally that Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 is coming out on time, which is more than I can say about Part 1, and really is all that matters in the end." says Adam "MCA" Yauch. "We just kept working and working on various sequences for part 2, and after a year and half of spending days on end in the sequencing room trying out every possible combination, it finally became clear that this was the only way to make it work. Strange but true, the final sequence for Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 works best with all its songs replaced by the 16 tracks we originally had lined up in pretty much the same order we had them in for Hot Sauce Committee Part 1. So we've come full circle."
The band was announced as an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in December 2011. They were inducted by Chuck D and LL Cool J on April 14, 2012. Yauch was too sick to attend the ceremony, having been admitted to New York-Presbyterian Hospital the same day, therefore the group didn't perform; instead, Black Thought, Travie from Gym Class Heroes and Kid Rock performed a medley of their songs. Diamond and Horovitz accepted and read a speech that Yauch had written. On May 4, 2012, Yauch died from cancer at the age of 47. Mike D told Rolling Stone that Beastie Boys had recorded new music in late 2011, but did not say if these recordings would be released. He also said that Beastie Boys would likely disband due to the death of MCA, though he was open to making new music with Ad-Rock and that "Yauch would genuinely want us to try whatever crazy thing we wanted but never got around to". In June 2014, Mike D confirmed that he and Ad-Rock would not make music under the Beastie Boys name again. Then in 2016, founding Beastie Boys guitarist John Berry died, aged 52, as a result of frontotemporal dementia, The first Beastie Boys show took place at Berry's loft. Yauch's will forbids the use of Beastie Boys music in advertisements. In June 2014, Beastie Boys won a lawsuit against Monster Energy for using their music in a commercial without permission. They were awarded $1.7 million in damages and $668,000 for legal fees. In October 2018, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz released a memoir, Beastie Boys Book. In 2020, they released a documentary, Beastie Boys Story, directed by Spike Jonze. The career-spanning book and documentary were complemented by the compilation album Beastie Boys Music in October 2020.