In memory of the great Adam Yauch, we bring you Danny "Shredder" Weizmann's terrific LA Weekly interview with the Beasties from September 1989. MCA R.I.P.——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
"Real life is much stranger than fiction, man." Mike D speaks from the turntables in the den of King Ad-Rock's Hollywood apartment. He haphazardly scratches a reggae dub record, repeating the same section over and over. "Jamaica, Jamaica ... J-J-Jamaica, Jamaica … Jamai-ca, Ja-mai-ca …" the record blurts over the loudspeakers. "Much stranger than fiction."
For Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA, known collectively as the Beastie Boys, the cliché about real life is an understatement. From the eye of the hurricane they have witnessed the 1980s' most intense and unpredictable phenomenon. Irreverent, obnoxious and masterfully creative, the Beastie Boys are perhaps the only recording artists to cause international chaos among press, fans and parents alike since the Sex Pistols and punk rock.
The group's first LP, Licensed to Ill, went quadruple platinum as it transformed the face of hip-hop. Nobody could have predicted the impact the Beasties would make, turning white America and the rest of the world on to rap music and jacking up the sales of baseball caps and heavy-duty car speakers. More importantly, they lived the dream of more than one pop-aspirant: they became extremely popular, as Ad-Rock puts it, for being themselves. All in wild, three-part rhyme.
Part of the appeal of the Beastie Boys is that they really didn't seem to give a hoot as they screamed about the day's adventures. In the prefab, pressure-cooked synth-fake '80s they were, and are, an isolated example of truth in artistry. After Licensed to Ill, after the controversial tours (featuring inflatable penises and girls in cages on stage) and the lawsuits from the press and the record companies and their own management, the Beasties disappeared as quickly as they exploded. It seemed that, like the Sex Pistols, they had taken their own brand of madness as far as it could go.
Today, just as they were being written off by many as a sort of comical one-line event, they're ready to explode all over again. Their new LP, Paul's Boutique, is an astonishing departure from their last, as exotic as Licensed to Ill was blatant, yet just as captivating. And it's already been seen darting up the charts. The second act of the madness is about to begin.
MCA: It's like we were the big shit, right, and then like Bon Jovi and U2 and those motherf--kers got big and we rolled up to this U2 party and they wouldn't even let us in and we said: "F--k this, man, we've gotta make another record, otherwise how we gonna get into all these U2 parties?!"
AD-ROCK: I told the doorman at the U2 party: "Why are you such an ASSHOLE?!"
MCA: There were, like, all these cameras and videos and news stations and police and hundreds of people and we pull up in this limo and they won't let us in right front of everybody.
MIKE D: There's a lot of shit we wanna do right now. It's just a matter of time.
AD-ROCK: When the shit hits the fan, I'll be under the table.
MCA: When the shit hits the fan, I won't be scraping it off the walls. I'll tell you that much ... there won't be any umbrellas, man.
AD-ROCK: Yauch [MCA] has just been on Clump Avenue all day.
Met a girl at a party and I gave her my card/ You know that it said, Napoleon Bonaparte/ Peepin' out the colors I be buggin' on Cezanne/ They call me Mike D, Joe Blow the Lover Man/ Your face turns red as your glass of wine/ That you spilled on my lyrics as you wasted my time/ Girl you should be with me you should drop that bum/ 'Cause I got more flavor than Fruit Striped Gum — 'B-Boy Bouillabaisse'
Like their surprise return and the barrage of freaky samples and name droppings on Paul's Boutique, the one guideline the Beasties seem to operate on is "No guidelines". Ad-Rock can appear in a fairly serious movie about teenage isolation like Lost Angels and still sing along with a Debbie Gibson video using nothing but expletives. The group can go out looking like the Bowery B-Boys and return to the public with the 'Hey Ladies' video, which displays them strutting in mid-'70s disco gear on Saturday Night Fever-like sets. It's a funny, funky kind of anarchy, much more palatable than their punk-rock roots ever were, but just as spontaneous.
WEEKLY: Do you think you'll play your instruments on this tour?
MIKE D: We bust out and jam ALL THE TIME, man.
MCA: Any requests from the hardcore set?
WEEKLY: What about some Germs?
MCA: We could do 'Lexicon Devil'. Darryl Jennifer of the Bad Brains used to always say that Mike D sounded like Darby Crash.
AD-ROCK: Darryl Jennifer of the Bad Brains must be really pissed off that his last name is Jennifer.
MCA (on the broken shards of watermelon on Ad-Rock's street): Is that a whole watermelon or a half one that you threw?
MIKE D: I heard if you break watermelon open like that it f--ks with the ozone.
MCA: What is up with the ozone?
MIKE D: We have ROCKED the ozone radically, man. They could probably fix the ozone if everybody stopped what they were doing and they put some cement up there.
MCA: We're gonna do a Bowling for Dollars-type thing, but it'll be Breakdancing on Cardboard for Yen for the Ozone Layer so it'll be called Breaking in Space.
MIKE D: Like, you remember positive f--king at Woodstock and all the people were like "No more rain!" and it stopped raining.
MCA: Now it'll be help John Ozone.
MIKE D: It's an underrated and forgotten pastime.
Yeah we've got beef chief we're knockin' out teeth chief/ And if you don't believe us you should question your belief Keith/ Like Sam the Butcher bringing Alice the meat/ Like Fred Flinstone driving around with bald feet — 'Shake Your Rump'
Hip-hop and rap music thrives and survives on newness at an exasperating rate relative to most pop music. Last week's jam might be ancient history next week. Thus the term fresh. Uncannily, the Beastie Boys have moved from the ultimate hip-hop producer of the mid-'80s, Rick Rubin, who gave Licensed to Ill some of its blasting hard-rock edge, to the ultimate hip-hop producer of the late '80s, Matt Dike, who discovered and recorded both Tone Loc and Young MC, and who, along with John King and Mike Simpson, gives Paul's Boutique some of its infectious funkiness.
A testament to the Beasties' good ear: they chose to work with the three producers, who call themselves the Dust Brothers, before the Brothers had multiplatinum sales with Tone Loc's debut album. "Yauch and Mike Simpson went to school together in New York years ago, but we didn't even know he was in the Dust Brothers," says Mike D. "We met Matt Dike way back at Power Tools … "
"When we met him, Matt was dressed in a f--king witch's costume … it was a week before Halloween and my man just busted out with full witch gear — the hair and the pointed hat and a short black dress," adds MCA.
In many ways, Paul's Boutique almost sounds like a debut, crossing hip-hop terrain never before imagined. The album includes a question-asking mix which the Beasties answer, and a 15-minute opus of song snippets, a la the last part of the Beatles' Abbey Road. Lyrically, the album is similarly advanced, with mind-boggling imagery such as "Over-ripe fresh skweezed California females/ With three-inch cherry red press-on Lee nails," and poetic haiku blurts like: "The trigger/ I pulled/his face/ The yoke" from 'Egg Man', a raucous ode to egg wars. It's a long way from "I got a hat not a visor/ I drink Budweiser."
AD-ROCK: You know how there's all these rappers like Mike D and King T and Ice T and Cool C or something like that? Well, on Mayberry, on Andy Griffith, they had Aunt B. She's down with this shit.
MCA: New Kids on the Block are trying to MC now. They've got that song, 'Hangin' Tough,' and then the one guy goes: "And it ain't over till the fat lady sings!"
AD-ROCK: They are SO crazy-looking. They have these Bruce Willis haircuts and in this one video you see them all standing in a "Drug-Free Zone".
MCA: And it ain't all over till the fat lady douches!
Smoked up a bag of elephant tranquilisers/ Because I had to deal with a money-hungry miser/ Had a 'caine-filled Kool with my man Russ Rush/ Saw all my teeth fall in the sink when I started to brush — 'Car Thief'
As with all Beastie endeavors, the release of their new album is already surrounded by major controversy and chaos. After claiming they didn't get paid for Licensed to Ill, they broke their contract with Def Jam, moved to Los Angeles to record with the Dust Brothers and signed a monumental deal with Capitol. Meanwhile, Russell Simmons, president of Def Jam, may release a new Beastie Boys album of his own this summer, using outtake tracks from old sessions and new backing tracks, tentatively titled 'White House'.
WEEKLY: Have you heard 'White House'?
MIKE D: No-one's heard it.
MCA: The only reason he's doing it is to hassle us.
AD-ROCK: It's garbage, it's trash.
MCA: They're talking about using vocal tracks sampled into House music, and apart from the fact that we're not fond of House music … it's just weak to have … I can't even figure out what he's using … all he has is a couple of lines or some shit.
MIKE D: It's not like he has huge vaults filled with master tapes of us. It's just every musician's nightmare. Not only your past coming back to haunt you but your past in songs you know you won't like.
MCA: If he puts it out, we've got a video of him getting boned in the ass and we're gonna put that out.
MIKE D: We can probably stop it … stranger things have happened … They ripped us off and it sucks.
WEEKLY: Were you ever tired of having to be Beastie and playing a role?
MIKE D: Yeah, man, it wasn't about having to do a job and having to play live. But after a while Russell would be sticking beer in our hands and saying "GO … this is what you get paid to do."
MCA: That's bullshit. Russell never put shit in my hands.
AD-Rock: No, I remember it. You guys were there and we got into a big argument. He said: "You didn't drink beer last night. At least go out there and tap a beer, catch a beer."
MIKE D: We were like: "F--k you, Russell, that's not what we're about." In England we were depicted as larger-than-life villains, and by the time we got to Liverpool those people weren't there to see the music. They were there because of what they'd heard about it and they were psyched to f--k shit up on a Saturday night, and the people we were working with could've steered us away from that but they didn't and only now can we look back and see that certain things had led us to that point. But you can't control it … life is way stranger than fiction.
AD-ROCK: Had we made another record then, we'd be over now. But that whole shit was so much fun for the first couple of months. People got into the record and we didn't have to play f--ked-up clubs. It got big, and it was really fun and then it got so wack.
MIKE D: I mean, I feel bad even just saying these things and depicting it like … It wasn't some plan, it was this spontaneous thing, but it became a job.
WEEKLY (to Ad-Rock): How do you feel about your dad [playwright Israel Horovitz] calling Paul's Boutique a homophobic record?
AD-ROCK: I don't know what you're talking about … actually, I do know what you're talking about.
MIKE D: It was this little quote in Us magazine.
AD-ROCK: I don't know where they would've called my dad and asked him about the record.
MCA: He said that about this record? I can't figure out why he would say that.
AD-ROCK: I don't think he ever said it.
WEEKLY: Would Us just outright lie like that?
AD-ROCK: Oh, yeah. They had a quote of me the next month saying I don't like pretty girls. Why would I? They just make things up. People write all kinds of things about us, weird things. In England it was so crazy, it was like cover stories like "Pop Stars Sneer at Dying Children" and "F--k Off, Cripples." One was hilarious: "Beastie Boy Mike D Kidnapped Me and Forced Me To Smoke Pot."
MCA: All the papers there are like on the National Enquirer trip. They had a picture of us and it said: "We hate England"!
The Beastie Boys' split from Def Jam and Rush Management, both headed by Russell Simmons, is significant not only in terms of a legal battle, but in relation to their status as a hip-hop act. Rush handles almost every rap outfit you've ever heard of, from LL Cool J to Run-DMC to Public Enemy to De La Soul. In early 1987, the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC toured, ironically under the banner "Together Forever". The Beastie Boys also claim to have discovered Public Enemy and brought them to Def Jam, and it is likely that Public Enemy's first album was funded by money from Licensed to Ill.
WEEKLY: What about what's going on with Public Enemy?
MCA: They f--ked around and wound up with a bald skinhead.
MIKE D: It's a hard call because I can't really tell what went on from what I read.
MCA: If the whole anti-Semitism thing is true then that's pretty f--king scary … fighting for one thing and …
AD-ROCK: It's like, why do you have to disrespect someone to gain respect?
MCA: It's crazy because we brought Public Enemy on the road and showed them to America.
Rat soup-eating test-cheating no-business punk/insecure born in the junkyard with the junk/ You've gone wet-look crazy and messed with your head/ You f--ked around and wound up with the bald skin head/ You're all mixed up, like pasta primavera/ Yhy'd you throw that chair at Geraldo Rivera? — 'What Comes Around'
MIKE D: The thing I feel really good about is not selling records but I was walking down the street in Pasadena the other day, this conservative nice street in Pasadena and I see this car with like eight guys in it, and they're screaming and blasting the new album.
WEEKLY: How do you like living in Los Angeles?
AD-ROCK: It's cool … new scenery.
MCA: I'd just like to say that everyone should do their best to stop being bullshit artists and yes-men and I would like to lodge a formal complaint to everyone in LA to start a petition to re-erect the Beastie Boys flag over Capitol Records.
Outside, night is falling over Hollywood and the lights of the city are turning on. In a matter of weeks, the Beastie Boys are going to cut through the bullshit and the yes-men and give the pop-music world the shot in the arm it has so desperately needed. Thank God somebody has the guts to wave their freak flag high.
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