Arts Post
Posted at 03:34 PM ET, 05/04/2012

Adam Yauch dies: remembering MCA of the Beastie Boys

Has any group in the history of pop ever projected a sense of camaraderie as strong as the Beastie Boys?

Yes, the trio’s 1986 album “Licensed to Ill” helped hip-hop colonize suburbia. Yes, their sample-happy 1989 disc “Paul’s Boutique” was dizzyingly innovative. Yes, 1992’s “Check Your Head” and 1994’s “Ill Communication” brought some levity to the grouchy alterna-years.

But through all of those musical twists and turns, the Beastie Boys’ defining trait was the giddy, goofy sense of friendship between Yauch, Michael “Mike D” Diamond, and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz. And they invited us all to be a part of it. They turned inside jokes into out-sized rhymes — and it resulted in era-defining music.

Over the years, Adam Yauch — the B-Boy known as MCA who died of cancer Friday at age 47 — quietly began introducing Tibetan Buddhist ideas to the trio’s lyrical volleyball matches. That fact that he pulled it off without sounding ponderous or self-important was testament to his affable charm and his skill as an MC. It also dissolved the beer-swilling image the Beasties earned with “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” and helped made them one of most widely-respected groups of their day.

A dig into the Washington Post archives illustrates that transition. Below, read three feature stories from the Beastie Boys’ breakout years, as well as a profile from 1992 where the group reflects on its changing ways.

Beauty & the Beasties

By Richard Harrington

Sunday, May 26, 1985

Definition of a good break for an unknown band: becoming the opening act in 35 cities on Madonna's "Virgin Tour."

Which is the case with New York's Beastie Boys, the first successful white rap group and purveyors of such underground hits as "Beastie Revolution." They'll do the honors at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday.

The four Beasties have been enjoying their 20 minutes in the spotlight and, according to Adam Yauch, some of Madonna's fans have, too. "The reaction has been mostly good," Yauch says. "Usually they love it or they hate it. There's always been a reaction, I'll say that."

"It's not like bland Muzak," adds Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz, son of playwright Israel Horovitz. "It's real obnoxious, and it rubs you, either the right way or the wrong way."

The same could be said of a 1981 hard-core punk incarnation of the Beastie Boys. Inspired by a Black Flag performance and convinced they could be just as bad, they pursued a brief career on the CBGB circuit. Two years later, they ended a recording session with a rap parody titled "Cookie Puss," and within another year they had abandoned their instruments for the standard rap lineup of turntable-deejay-triple rappers. The other rapper is Michael Diamond (Mike D), while Rick Rubin (Double R) handles the deejaying.

There's still a strong element of parody at work in the Beastie Boys, though Yauch insists that "we've been playing so long that it's hard to just keep making jokes. Some of our songs are serious, but I don't think we could ever be too serious about it."

Next, they may incorporate Madonna's boyfriend into a band. There's been some backstage talk that actor Sean Penn may front a group in New York in the fall with several Beastie Boys picking up their instruments again.
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The Beasties’ rap bonanza selling & setting records

By Robert Lloyd - Special to The Washington Post

Sunday, February 22, 1987

LOS ANGELES -- Young master Adam Horovitz, age 20, alias King Ad-Rock, rolls over on his bed and groans. Faint obscenities sneak softly through his teeth.

Stretched out on the sofa, Adam Yauch, 22, known to his fans as MCA, asks, "Who was that on the telephone?"

Ad-Rock and MCA, along with Mike (Mike D) Diamond, 21, constitute the Beastie Boys, the phenomenally successful all-white rap-cum-metal-cum-punk trio out of New York City whose recently released "Licensed to Ill" is the fastest selling debut album in the history of Columbia Records -- over 2 million sold, and more moving at the rate of 200,000 every week. It may currently be found resting comfortably at No. 2, with a bullet, on the Billboard charts.

"Rrrrrrgggggh," says Ad-Rock.

It's almost noon, but the surrounding disarray -- the unmade bed, scattered newspapers, balls of laundry plopped like errant tumbleweeds of T-shirts and sweat shirts and jeans -- the gray light of a cloud-slung sky filtering in from the balcony and the strange, unshakeable sensation that a massive hangover lurks close by conspire to make the hour seem earlier. A sluggish calm suffuses the hotel room. This might be the Sargasso Sea, if it weren't West Hollywood.

MCA sits up slowly. "You were drinking champagne with Molly?" There's an empty bottle on the coffee table.

"Yeah," says Ad-Rock. "It was the worst champagne I ever had in my life."

"It's really expensive."

Ad-Rock punches a button on his blaster. The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" pours suddenly out, loud and gruesomely distorted.

"Could you turn that up a little?" asks MCA.

The doorbell rings and in walks Mike D, the b-boy fashion plate. Hung from a hefty chain around his neck is an insignia off the hood of a Volkswagen. The duck-billed cap on his head is lettered "GUCCI." His sneakers have no laces.

"I think I figured it out," he says. "The girl in the next room wants to sleep with me, so she took my L.A. Times this morning so I couldn't get my own review, and now I've got to go knock on her door to get it back."

"Mike, nobody wants to sleep with you except me and Ad-Rock. The Elephant Girl wouldn't sleep with you."

"Elephant," murmurs Mike D. "Elephant, elephant."

Two nights earlier, before an audience composed of willingly collusive teens white, black, Latino and otherwise, in an atmosphere several trillion times more hectic than that of Ad-Rock's hotel room, the Beastie Boys played their first show as headliners in Los Angeles. They've been here twice before, as a notoriously ill-received curtain raiser for Madonna and as part of an all-rap extravaganza starring their good friends Run-DMC, which collapsed in unfortunate violence. Any reprise of that, they promised the crowd, "and none of us are ever coming back here again."

Not to worry. With no sacrifice of pandemonium, the show at the Hollywood Palladium ran like a dream, albeit a fever dream. It was a party any kid not completely out of touch with his or her baser instincts would have been proud to throw or thrilled to attend.

"We get a good mix," MCA will say later, "a lot of people from different cultures. A lot of black kids will come up to me and say, 'It's really cool that you play music for black kids.' That's the way they see it. And the white kids go, 'It's good that there's finally a white rap band,' and they sort of identify with you. The interesting thing is that they all think they're the ones the music is for."

Some features of a Beastie Boys performance: Eloise, a former Times Square "exotic" dancer, gyrating in a giant bird cage. Hurricane, the Beastie Boys' deejay, mixing and scratching at a brace of turntables set atop a two-story six of Budweiser (a corporate sponsor). Copious supplies of genuine brew, no can of which is opened before being thoroughly shaken, and as much of which ends up on the audience or on the band as in anyone's mouth. And a seemingly inexhaustible reserve of rude, crude, house-rocking, postadolescent energy -- "We drink and rob and rhyme and pillage|" is their chanted credo -- all of it freely spent.

The cherry on this sundae two nights ago was the surprise guest appearance of Run-DMC, with which the Beastie Boys share management, a record label (Def Jam, distributed by Columbia), a producer (Rick Rubin -- often, and to the group's continued annoyance, called Svengali) and a penchant for mixing rap with hard rock. That's the formula that's made both bands the forces they are today. Run-DMC's bestselling hip-hop remake of Aerosmith's heavy '70s classic "Walk This Way" drove rap's first wedge into white radio. When they performed it at the Palladium, the ground trembled for blocks around.

All that could follow it, and follow it did, was the headliners' own near-archetypal brat anthem "Fight for Your Right (To Party)," a megaton cruncher that pulled fists into the air, girlfriends onto boyfriends' shoulders and the irresistible chorus out of the mouth of every patron not yet too blitzed to form words.

Only days before the city of San Diego had canceled a sold-out Beastie Boys concert, perhaps in overreaction to reports of onstage exhortations to riot, flying beer cans and the much-discussed (by journalists, if by no one else) sociopathic cant of the group's Howitzer raps. But, Mike D points out, "We played L.A. and it was completely peaceful."

It is true that the Beastie Boys' songs have much to do with wholesale sex, drink, fast food (White Castle is several times praised), trash culture (snatches of the "Mr. Ed" and "Green Acres" themes have been scratched into the album's closing moments) and a cartoony sort of pistol-packing mayhem, equal parts Sergio Leone and Wile E. Coyote ("Because mutiny on the Bounty's what we're all about|"), with precious little thought paid to the consequences. And it is true that the three have been banned for life from a certain English hotel chain for enlisting bits of furniture in the service of an impromptu indoor cookout, and from the offices of CBS, parent of their record company, for that business of the missing camera, and then there was the sad affair of the executive whose wig or toupee or whatever it was fell off, or was pulled off.

But these are things, they feel, that could have happened to anybody| Really, they are not wholly irresponsible. For it is also true that a rider in the Beastie Boys' contract calls for their dressing room to be stocked not just with pretzels, beer, tequila, Jack Daniels and chocolate milk, but with a "rainbow assortment of condoms" as well. You could call that responsible, or at any rate careful.

"I've only been hung over once this tour," Mike D is saying. He's slouched into a low, thick armchair.

MCA, from the sofa, says, "I was hung over yesterday."

"Oh, yesterday|" says Ad-Rock, splayed out on the floor.

"Yesterday," Mike D reconsiders, "I was in bad shape."

"I got clobbered at the show," says MCA. "I started drinking at sound check was my main problem."

"Me too," says Ad-Rock. "I am so tired."

"What time did you get in?" Mike D asks.

"I was out until 4 in the morning."

"You should have come to the barbecue," says MCA. "The barbecue was so good."

"I had sushi," says Ad-Rock.

"Molly Ringwald took you to have sushi."

"The whole time -- "

"And drove you in her BMW."

"The whole time I was going {in the voice of a Valley Girl}, 'It's like sushi, don't ya know?' And she was like, 'Tsk.' I kept going, like, 'This is so great. I can't believe it. I'm actually in the Valley, and I'm eating sushi'"

"With Molly Ringwald."

"With Molly Ringwald. That's right."

"Did you get her to let you drive her car?"

The Beastie Boys don't own a car, though they plan to acquire motorcycles as soon as they're home long enough to acquire anything. For a long while their necessarily preferred mode of urban transit was this: Mike D would ride his bicycle and pull Ad-Rock and MCA, on skateboards, along behind him. "Mike was on this exercise trip," says MCA, "and we said, 'Yo, Mike, if you're going to bother to go to the gym and ride the bogus bicycle, why don't you just ride around and pull us?' It worked better for everybody."

Those were the days they shared an apartment in New York's Chinatown, beneath a sweatshop and over a whorehouse. It was a hovel, but the tenants could play music all night long as loud as they wanted -- and they wanted it loud. The Beastie Boys began, in fact, as a hard-core punk band (and those are very loud), originally called the Young and the Useless. They plan eventually to reintroduce musical instruments into their performances. Meanwhile, they are quick to mention that with only a couple exceptions, they play everything on the album.

"We're still a hard-core band," Mike D maintains.

"We started doing rap in our shows," says MCA. "We'd put down the instruments and rap for half the show. Then we just decided it would be kind of exciting to be an all-rap band. And we met Russell Simmons {of Def Jam Records and the Beastie Boys' manager}, and he was like, 'Oh, this is really cool. A white rap group's really cool.' So he wanted to get down with it. And when we found out he was Run-DMC's manager, we thought, 'Wow.' "

"Russell was the first person to take us to black clubs," says Mike D, "where virtually no one had seen a white person rap before, and we were going in front of the worst b-boy crowds. This was real hard-core b-boy, up in the Bronx and the worst part of Queens. It was intimidating at first, but once our singles started to come out, and they began to know us, it was like we were just another rap group. It was almost like, 'Oh, those are those ill white kids.' "

Not only ill, but in the argot chill, fresh and definitely def. The elements of hip-hop are by now familiar to anyone who's spent more than two hours in front of a TV set -- it seems to have become the music of choice for ad jingles -- but not until the ascendance of the Def Jam boys has rap been so primed to explode into the general culture. It's the most potent youth music now going, and even given the eternally transient nature of pop, this party is far from over.

The Beastie Boys, for all the torpor of this morning after, are just getting warmed up. They'll make their second screen appearance in the forthcoming Run-DMC film "Tougher Than Leather" (their first was in 1985's "Krush Groove," the source of their first important single, "She's on It"), and by the end of February will have finished writing their own first feature, "Scared Stupid." They hope to begin production by the end of June, upon returning from Europe and Japan -- and a Washington stop this spring. "We're talking to {Monty Python's} John Cleese about directing it," says Mike D, "except that he says he wants to take a seven-year hiatus from the film industry."

And there's more:

"We're going to write our own book," says Mike D. "We wrote the Spin magazine Beastie Boys {March} cover story. That was the start of our literary career."

"I want to open a restaurant," says Ad-Rock, now back on the bed.

"I can't wait until you open your restaurant," says MCA. "It's going to be really cool."

"It really is going to be the best," says Ad-Rock.

"It's either going to be the best or really disgusting, or both at the same time," says Mike D.

"I'm going to come over and eat at your restaurant all the time," says MCA. "And I hope you let me eat for free."

"You know what the best thing about the restaurant's going to be? The bathrooms. You never go to a restaurant and have a good bathroom."

"The only thing I'm afraid of," says MCA, "is that you really have no taste in good food."

"No, you're wrong, man, because I like good food."

"You like the worst food."

"Yes, but then again, I like really good stuff, too. It's going to be a cre-perie with White Castle cre-pes."

"We'll keep writing songs," Mike D foresees, "so we'll keep making records, and we'll keep making records, so we'll keep touring, and as long as we keep on writing movies, we're going to keep on making movies."

"As long as we keep on selling records," says MCA, "we're going to keep on selling records. And as long as we keep on being famous, we'll be famous."

"We could be as rich as the Rolling Stones if we sold as many records," says Ad-Rock.

"We might even sell more records," says MCA, "because we don't have as many points. Figure if we sold twice as many records as the Rolling Stones, we'd be as rich as they are."

"Figure if we sold twice as many records as the Rolling Stones," says Mike D, "your lips might get as big as Mick Jagger's."

"That," says MCA, standing, "is another story unto itself."
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Duty and the Beast — the Boys face parents at show

By Joe Brown

Monday, April 6, 1987

Hands in pockets, sheepishly mischievous looks on their scruffy, unshaven mugs, the three big, bad Beastie Boys stepped into the Capital Centre's Quiet Room before last night's controversial concert. They made their surprise appearance to reassure about 120 parents waiting there that despite the concern over the group's widely publicized deportment, the Beasties weren't really so beastly, and that for this engagement the usually R-rated show would be toned down to a G rating -- no breast-baring girls, no altered lyrics, no cursing or beer spraying.

And from all appearances, the Boys found it much tougher than facing the 10,000 screaming teen-agers waiting in the arena.

Butinstead of angry questions, the Beasties were besieged by autograph requests.

"So, was Dr. J ever in the Quiet Room?" asked MCA, a k a Adam Yauch, as the trio walked in to face the music.

"It's awfully quiet in here, isn't it?" said King Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) on entering the Quiet Room.

"This was a dumb idea," mumbled Mike D (for Diamond), surveying the friendly-suspicious eyes of the parents.

While the Boys mingled and signed their names for the folks who waited in the room for their kids, concert promoter Daryl Brooks addressed the crowd, a record number for the Quiet Room. "These kids," he said, "have been in your homes whether you know it or not. They don't have 20 foot of anything," Brooks said, referring to the 20-foot hydraulic phallic symbol the Boys usually use in their stage show. "They're just ordinary guys."

And they did look quite ordinary as they fielded questions. The Boys expressed disappointment at having to tone down their act for Washington. "We're going to do as well as we can with what we're constitutionally allowed to do," said Mike D.

Parent Adele Deery said that after reading an anti-Beastie Boys editorial, she initially refused to allow her 16-year-old son Steven to attend the show. "This is his first concert, and I was the mean old mother," Deery said. But she relented and said she was glad she still got to catch her favorite TV show, "Murder, She Wrote," on the Quiet Room's TV.

In the arena, a humming hormonal hive before the Beasties took the stage, boys wearing baseball caps and chains with VW logos shouted high-spirited propositions at girls -- who shouted right back. The men's rooms echoed with lusty, letter-perfect chants of Beastie battle cries. And Sabrina Loube, 17, and Darby Berry ("I'll be 17 on Friday") hopefully pinned their names and phone numbers to a stuffed toy monkey and tried to coax a boy into tossing it onstage during the show.

All words and no action. That's what seemed to be required of the Beastie Boys, whose Capital Centre contract called for them to bowdlerize the frat-boy bawdiness that makes up most of their act.

But though their million-selling brand of teen-age bravado-with-a beat is strictly flavor-of-the-month, musically speaking, the Beasties surprised with buckets of energy (and Budweiser, which they kept to themselves) and a bracingly professional unprofessionalism.

They raced recklessly around the stage, spraying each other with foaming geysers of beer while shouting out the rhymes to the titanic hip-hop back beat of numbers like "She's on It" and "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." The crowd, having memorized the album "Licensed to Ill," shouted every word in unison -- everyone was a Beastie Boy last night.

Also on the scene were DJ Hurricane, who, from his giant-beer-can booth manipulated the pretaped music and added a cyclonic scratching sound by wiggling records; and a volunteer go-go dancer (recruited in a local radio station contest), who gyrated enthusiastically (and fully clothed) in a giant bird cage.

The Beasties encored their 70-minute set with their biggest hit, the parental defiance anthem "Fight for Your Right (To Party)," which had the entire audience screaming along. And with the last demand to "PAAAAAAAARTY!" still echoing in the hall, the lights were snapped on, and the kids filed out to face the remainder of what was, Beastie Boys or no, a school night.
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Beastie Boys’ rap unchecked

By Joe Brown

Friday, May 22, 1992

THE LAST TIME the Beastie Boys came to the Washington, some five years ago, a flap over the then-controversial content of their R-rated show forced the bad boys of rap-rock to tone it down to a G rating. There would be no breast-baring go-go girls recruited from the audience, no obscene lyrics, no cursing or beer spraying -- and no 20-foot hydraulic phallic symbol for a stage prop.

But they faced an even tougher task than bowdlerizing their bawdy act for the 10,000 screaming teenagers waiting in the arena: The three big, bad Beastie Boys -- King Ad-Rock, Mike D. and MCA -- shuffled sheepishly into Capital Centre's "Quiet Room" to reassure about 120 parents waiting there that the Beastie Boys weren't really so beastly.

"That was really odd, pretty extreme," says Beastie Boy Mike D. (for Diamond), who "drew the short straw" and had to do the phone interviews this week. "There were other places that were equally freaked out. Hopefully we'll never have to go through anything like that ever again.

"It's kind of strange to me to look back at what we were talking about then, and to see what people talk about now on their records, and to think that people got so offended over what we said. That was only the precursor of all kinds of anger that was about to follow," Diamond says, referring to the tidal wave of violent "gangster rap" and 2 Live Crew-style raunch that broke big after the Beasties' big break.

On the steam of the parental defiance anthem "Fight for Your Right (To Party)," the Beasties' first album, "Licensed to Ill," sold more than 4 million copies, making it the largest-selling rap record ever. It served as the soundtrack for countless frat parties. Onstage and off, the Beasties prided themselves on their professional unprofessionalism.

But we've all gotta grow up some time, even Beastie Boys. Since "Party," the Boys released a critically respected (and minimally selling) album, "Paul's Boutique." Adam Horovitz (a k a King Ad-Rock) began a movie career and Diamond launched a B-Boy clothing store called X-Large in Los Angeles. And on their newly released album "Check Your Head," those trendsetting Boys actually play their own instruments, which they'll prove Sunday when their tour arrives at Alexandria's Lee Recreation Center. Diamond says there won't be much reason for a conciliatory visit to the Quiet Room this time out.

"I didn't really think there was any kind of occasion for people to freak out last time," Diamond says. "Then again, I suppose my standards are different from some of those censors at large.

"We do launch Ad-Rock out of a cannon -- that's only at special selected venues," he says, ever the wise guy. "And I'm supposed to utilize my tightrope and beat-playing skills. But basically we break up the set like in quarters, a tribute to our favorite basketball team, the New York Knicks. We'll change it each night, so some nights it's like a rap quarter, playing quarter, rap quarter, playing quarter."

Diamond plays drums, MCA (Adam Yauch) handles bass and Horovitz plays guitar; the trio is augmented by Keyboard Money Mark (Mark Ramos Nishita), who played on the new record, and longtime D.J. Hurricane, who adds scratches and samples to the live mix.

Diamond says the Boys will serve up a mixed brew from all three albums. "There are some songs, like 'Time to Get Ill' from 'Licensed to Ill,' that I really don't think are appropriate to play live. I mean, if someone were to cover those songs and do a playing version, I'd love to hear it," he laughs.

"We thought for about a second of going the Bob Dylan route and just making every song a mutation, just a completely undiscernible version of the recorded song. We do that a bit, but most of them are somewhat legible."

In what may be a rock-and-rap first, the Beasties sample Dylan on the new record. "We've got another couple of Bob samples on the rap shelf waiting to go," Diamond says.

After the commercial disappointment of the funk montage "Paul's Boutique," the new, decidedly rockier record has been well received by critics and seems to be selling well. "It's strange, because we didn't know what to expect," Diamond says. "That's what's cool about going on tour, because it's such immediate self-gratification. You play, people applaud."

And audiences, he says, seem to be coming more for the music than just the beer-spraying scene. "I'm kind of surprised how many kids go to our shows and say, 'Yeah, when I was younger, "Licensed to Ill" was really a big thing. Then I was really into "Paul's Boutique." But now I'm really into your new album.' It's because we've changed so much -- my theory is we lose a portion of the audience because we change so radically each time, but then we get something new. There is a fair amount of audience that kind of grew with us."

With "Check Your Head," the Beasties launched their own record label, Grand Royal, a subsidiary of Capitol Records. The label's name comes from a longtime friend, rapper Biz Markie. "Biz was hanging around the studio doing tracks and stuff," Diamond says, "and anytime he would play a record he was really into, he'd go 'Grand Royal, guaranteed!'

"I just got off the phone with the first group we're putting out," Diamond says. "Some girls we grew up with around the neighborhood, they call themselves Luscious Jackson, after the basketball player Lucius Jackson. It's kind of part honky-tonk, part hip-hop, part their own thing. Part of that new honky-tonk hip-hop movement.

"We're in a position now where we can put out music by friends of ours that we think is good. And we have an instructional series of seven-inch vinyl records coming out -- like Horovitz teaching moshing," Diamond says. "But the most inspiring thing is when kids tell you, 'After I heard you guys, I started a band. Or a fanzine.' That really means something to us."

By  |  03:34 PM ET, 05/04/2012

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