The Beastie Boys: Fighting for their right since 1979
When one thinks of American hip hop music, one of the first names that usually comes to mind is The Beastie Boys. With Mike D on vocals and drums, MCA (aka Adam Yauch) on vocals and bass, and Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) rounding out the trio on vocals and guitar, this Brooklyn trio has been on the hip hop scene since 1979 and are still going strong.
When they first got together in 1979, the Beastie Boys were a punk band. They released their first EP, entitled Polly Wog Stew, in 1982 after appearing alongside other articles on a compilation album called New York Thrash. They followed up Polly Wog Stew with an experimental hip hop record called Cooky Puss, which afforded them a certain degree of success. Because of the success of that album, the Beastie Boys forayed fully into the world of hip hop in 1984. They released a string of singles in the run up to the release of their smash-hit debut album, Licensed to Ill, in 1986. It was this album that gave The Beastie Boys International fame! Now, 25 years after the release that album, they continue to be ranked among the most popular names in hip hop music.
The idea to form the group was the brainchild of a teenage Adam Yauch. The idea came to him after seeing Black Flag play at the Peppermint Lounge in New York. He pitched the idea to buddies John Berry, Kate Schellenbach, and Michael Diamond. The friends agreed and the group was formed. Originally, there was was Adam Yauch on bass, Kate Schellenbach on drums, John Berry on guitar and Michael Drummond on vocals. They decided on the name Beastie Boys, which they said stood for “Boys Entering Anarchistic States Toward Internal Excellence.” They played their first gig on August 5, 1981.
The band began to open up for bands like Bad Brains, The Dead Kennedys, The Misfits and Reagan Youth and that same year they recorded their EP “Polly Wog Stew.” The EP was recorded at 171A studios and it would become one of the pioneering examples of hardcore rap to come out of New York.
In November of 1982, the Beastie Boys played during Philip Pucci’s birthday, a performance that was to be included in Pucci’s concert film “Beastie,” which would be the band’s first one-screen appearance in a published motion picture. Pucci’s goal for the film was to hand out cameras to various audience members so that they could capture footage of the band from an audience member’s point of view. At the same time, a master sync sound camera would be filming from the balcony of the theater where the performance was held. A one-minute clip of Pucci’s movie was used by the Beastie Boys in the “Egg Raid on Mojo” part of their long-form home video entitled “Skills to Pay the Bills.” That video was released by Capitol Records and would go on to earn the band the Recording Industry Association of America’s award for gold sales, awarded for sales in excess of 500,000 copies.
In 1983, John Berry left the Beastie Boys and was replaced by Adam Horowitz. Horowitz had been the guitartist for another band called The Young and the Useless,a band whose members had become close friends with the Beastie Boys. With their new configuration, the band recorded their first hip-hop track, a song entitled “Cooky Puss.” The back story for the song was based on a prank call the group had made to a Carvel Ice Cream store in 1983. The song became a massive hit after it dropped and enjoyed a lot of airplay in the underground dance clubs and night clubs of New York.
The success of “Cooky Puss” inspired the band to start incorporating more rap music into their performance sets. They added a DJ to their stage show, a student at New York University named Rick Rubin. Rubin began to produce records and formed the now-famous record label, Def Jam Recordings. He approached the Beastie Boys to produce them for his new label. The band release their 12″ EP “Rock Hard” in 1985 on the Def Jam Recordings label. At this same time, band member Schellenbach began to experience creative friction with the other band members and with Rubin. Rumors swirled that Rubin believed Kate did not fit the image he had for the hip-hop band and, in 1991, Kate left the band to join Luscious Jackson.
In 1986, the band recorded “Licensed to Ill,” an album they released at the end of that year. The album was met with widespread approval, receiving positive reviews from Rolling Stone magazine. One such article about the band was entitled “Three Idiots Create a Masterpiece.” Licensed to Ill becamse the best-selling rap album of the 1980s and the very first album in its genre to shoot right to the top of the Billboard album chart. It kept a strangle h old on the number-one spot for an impressive five weeks and it also reached Number 2 on the Urban album charts. The album affoded Def Jam Recordings a measure of success too, it was the company’s fast-selling debut record, selling over five million copies. The band’s now-iconic song “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” made its appearance on that album, reaching number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 list and becoming a fixture on the MTV circuit. Another of the band’s iconic songs, “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” was released in 1987.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the band firmly took their place in music history, gaining a massive, dedicating following. They broke through rap-music stereotypes and redefined what a rapper looked and sounded like with their unique mix of rap and punk. Their first massive hit, “Fight for Your Right (to Party),” they introduced rap music to a whole new audience. The album on which “Fight for Your Right” appears, License to Ill, became the biggest-selling rap album of the 1980s, giving the band widespread success.
What made the Beastie Boys so popular, and why do they continue to have such a massive following? It’s simple: They were original. They brought to the music world something it hadn’t seen before, something refreshing. And their landmark hit continues to be the anthem for rebellious teens everywhere who want nothing more in the world than to fight for their right to … well, you know.