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Beastie Boys

+ {BS 2000}

White-boy hip-hop was virtually unheard of until the inception of mid-80s DIY post-punk-cum-rappers, the BEASTIE BOYS. Middle-class mashers, “Mike D” (aka Michael Diamond), “MCA” (aka Adam Yauch) and “Ad Rock” (aka Adam Horovitz), were literally all the rage when their obnoxious, riff-tastic teen anthem, `(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)’ smashed into the charts. Controversy surrounding their use of sexist lyrics and a mountain of metal samples were rife during this period of their career, but the trio battled on through bitter lawsuits to establish themselves as stalwarts among the hip hop fraternity.
It was a long way from their NYC-based hardcore punk incarnation in ’81, when bratty jokers Diamond and Yauch had formed the “band” as a quartet alongside guitarist John Berry and drummer Kate Schellenbach (later of LUSCIOUS JACKSON). Independently issued on Rat Cage Records, the `Polly Wog Stew’ EP was this line-ups only release; a short-sharp-shock of moronic rock’n’roll noise, featuring several speedy tracks lasting around the minute mark.
Ad Rock (son of Jewish playwright Israel Horovitz) was duly drafted into the slim-line trio, and, after another EP, led by The Jerky Boys-esque `Cooky Puss’, the underground group looked to in-thing rap/hip-hop for motivation.
In 1984/85, the trio came to the attention of DJ producer, Rick Rubin, who, in turn, led them to his Def Jam, run by him and his metal/hip-hop associate, Russell Simmons. The Rubin/BEASTIE BOYS partnership was a match made in heaven, or hell, if you were unfortunate enough to own a VW/Volkswagen, as designer emblems started to disappear from cars and as insignia on and around the necks of BB’s growing fanbase. However, the boys were still without a hit, as single after single couldn’t emulate rivals RUN-D.M.C. and their collaborative “meets-AEROSMITH” interpretation of `Walk This Way’.
All that was about to change via the release of their chart-topping debut album, LICENSED TO ILL (1986) {*9}, the first proper attempt to create a white-boy rock-centric take on Afro-American hip hop. At turns hilarious and exhilarating, Rubin and the BEASTIEs’ shared taste in classic metal was evident with samples from the likes of BLACK SABBATH, LED ZEPPELIN and The CLASH (on opener `Rhymin & Stealin’) along with the theme tune, among a raft of others (AC/DC, LED Z, et al, on `Time To Get Ill’) from American TV show, Mister Ed. With snotty rapping and riff-heavy rhymes, tracks like the aforementioned `Fight For Your Right’ and `No Sleep Till Brooklyn’ (guitar licks supplied by SLAYER’s Kerry King) stormed the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, the album becoming the fastest selling debut in Columbia’s long history. The record turned the band into a phenomenon and in 1987 they undertook a riotous headlining tour, coinciding with hit re-promotion of former flop 45s, `She’s On It’, `Brass Monkey’, plus the double-A `Girls’ and `She’s Crafty’.
Courting controversy wherever they played, the BEASTIE BOYS were savaged by the press, a dispute with Rubin not helping matters one iota. Despite all the upheaval, by the release of the much-delayed PAUL’S BOUTIQUE (1989) {*9}, the group’s profile was negligible and the album was more or less passed over by their impatient overseas fanbase. A tragedy, as it remains one of hip hop’s lost gems, a widescreen sample-delic collage produced by the ultra-hip DUST BROTHERS. Bypassing the obvious guitar riffs for samples of The BEATLES, CURTIS MAYFIELD and PINK FLOYD along with a kaleidoscopic array of cultural debris and hip references, the album was a funky tour de force. Cranking up the raunchy rhythms really high, its only hit came by way of `Hey Ladies’ (a UK flop), while the off-kilter kitsch kicked in through `Johnny Ryall’, the Blaxploitation-esque `Shadrach’, `Egg Man’, plus `The Sounds Of Science’ and `High Plains Drifter’.
After another extended sabbatical during which the group relocated to California, The BEASTIE BOYS returned in 1992 with CHECK YOUR HEAD {*8}. Adding proper live instrumentation to the equation (again), and keyboards from 4th member Money Mark, hipness and attitude were still there in abundance, but although two hits (`Pass The Mic’ and `Jimmy James’) became minor British hits, sales of the US Top 10 set, failed to emerge. Despite veering from all out thrash to supple, METERS-esque funk, the record was a critical success and only the BEASTIE BOYS could get away with a TED NUGENT collaboration: `The Biz Vs. The Nuge’.
ILL COMMUNICATION (1994) {*8} developed this strategy to stunning effect. From the irresistible funk of `Sure Shot’ and `Root Down’ to the laid back swing of `Get It Together’ and `Flute Loop’, this was the group’s most mature and accomplished work to date. The hardcore was still there through `Tough Guy’ and `Heart Attack Man’, but it was offset by the sombre strings of `Eugene’s Lament’ and the mellow `Ricky’s Theme’. The double A-side of the aforesaid `Get It Together’ and the screechingly brilliant hardcore-punk of `Sabotage’ (complete with sublime cop-pastiche video) quite rightly returning them into the UK Top 20. From the artwork to the meditative feel of the music (well ok, maybe not the punk numbers) it was no surprise that Yauch had become a Buddhist and the band subsequently played a high profile benefit for the oppressed nation of Tibet.
Ever industrious, the group also started their own label and fanzine, Grand Royal, signing the likes of LUSCIOUS JACKSON and the now “Big in Japan”, BIS. Between development on their magnum-opus comeback, the BEASTIE BOYS dabbled in more electronic/hardcore-punk/instrumental tomfoolery via three mini-albums/EPs, ROOT DOWN (1995) {*4}, `Aglio E Olio’ (1995) and the groovy instrumental compilation, THE IN SOUND FROM WAY OUT! (1996) {*4}.
1998’s `Intergalactic’ single (along with bizarre Power-Rangers-esque video) led the way for the release of the eagerly-awaited 5th set proper, HELLO NASTY {*8}, an uncompromising, no-holds barred 23-track blinder. With reviews getting near perfect results it was inevitable that the BEASTIEs would have their first transatlantic chart-topper. The band had not lost their tongue-in-cheek attitude despite their recent shifts to a more harmonic religion. Such examples of this would be in further UK hit singles, `Body Movin’’ and `Remote Control’, while there was merit in groove-tastic dub-jazz cuts like `Sneakin’ Out The Hospital’, `Dr. Lee, PhD’ and `Instant Death’.
Meanwhile, in between meditating and free-styling, Horovitz collaborated (from the east side of America) with the BEASTIE’s live drummer Amery Smith on the West Coast to create an album of sheer lunacy under the mysterious guise of BS2000. An eponymous BS 2000 {*7} album was issued in 1997 on limited vinyl release through Grand Royal’s website and immediately became an underground classic amongst the DJs and the B-Boyz of Brooklyn. Mixing thrashing electronica with phat beats, cheesy hooks and throbbing bass, the set sat on the line between genius masterstroke and faltering mess. Imagine if Aldous Huxley and Albert Einstein had both taken mescaline and turned their mathematical theories into music. The side project returned three years later with the more musically accessible SIMPLY MORTIFIED (2000) {*6}. Much the same fare, but with distorted vocals, fantastic scratching and less songs, at least the passion was all there even if the pair’s brains were somewhere else. Many would’ve liked to dismiss BS2000 as a sad joke or just another example of the BEASTIEs ever-increasing oddness – and perhaps it was, but that still didn’t diminish the fact that it was as zany, as lo-fi and as nuts as anything to grace the underground indie scene that year. When the original Caucasian B-Boys finally got around to releasing a follow-up some six years later, EMINEM had long since had the monopoly on petulant sneer, and the American cultural landscape had changed almost beyond recognition. Rather than kowtowing to contemporary production – not that they’d ever done that anyway – TO THE 5 BOROUGHS (2004) {*7} found the trio reliving the thrill of misspent youth through the prism of middle age. As the follow-up to their debut that never was, “5 Boroughs” revelled in some of the oldest skool rhymes and beats (check out `Triple Trouble’) to ever top the American charts. In terms of sheer, in your face directness, honky funk and sibling joie de vivre, it also sparked a fading memory of how great hip hop could really be, even with the – admissible in the circumstances – politicised overtones.
Due to circumstances that would become apparent when Yauch announced in 2009 that he’d been diagnosed with salivary gland cancer, the Beastie men schedule was put on hold until his recovery from surgery and radiation treatment. Finally unveiled in 2011, HOT SAUCE COMMITTEE PART TWO {*7} – part one having been shelved – went straight to No.2 on its release. Featuring the presence of SANTIGOLD (aka Santi White) on lead single, `Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win’, and NAS (aka Nasir Jones) on `Too Many Rappers’, the East Coast rappers were still willing to stitch up their rhymes with inventive grooves and samples. Sadly, it was the swansong for Adam Yauch, who went to his own “boutique” in the sky on May 4, 2012.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/BG-GRD / rev-up MCS Dec2012

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