Who would have thought that a punk band thrown together for its bass player's 17th birthday party would evolve into one of the most influential and groundbreaking successes of its time? Certainly not the then-teenage Beastie Boys, yet the band's 25-year-and-counting career has logged 40 million in sales, two Grammy awards, the MTV Video Vanguard Lifetime Achievement award, four #1 albums--including the first hip hop album ever to top the Billboard 200, the band's 1986 debut full length, Licensed To Ill, countless sold out world tours, magazine covers & TV appearances.
Yet it was in 1981 that Beastie Boys--then consisting of Adam Yauch (a/k/a MCA) on bass, drummer Kate Schellenbach (later of Luscious Jackson), guitarist John Berry (of Big Fat Love), and Mike Diamond (a/k/a Mike D) on the mic--debuted at Yauch's birthday party. By 1982, the band had played its first public gigs opening for the likes of Bad Brains and Reagan Youth at venues including CBGB, A7, and--by a hair--Max's Kansas City, where they played on the last night of the club's existence.
Beastie Boys' debut EP, the Pollywog Stew vinyl 7" was released that year. Recorded at Jerry Williams' 171A, the same place as Bad Brains' legendary ROIR sessions, it is also the first ever release on Dave Parsons' Ratcage Records, a tiny hardcore label operated from an East Village storefront of the same name. The band's first foray into hip hop, the Cooky Puss 12" (also on Ratcage), followed in 1983, with Young & The Useless guitarist Adam Horovitz (a/k/a Adrock) replacing John Berry. "Cooky Puss" would be the first B Boys record to receive play at NYC clubs like Danceteria as the band played its first shows outside the city.
The Mike D/MCA/Adrock Beastie Boys lineup debuted in 1984 with the "Rock Hard"/"Beastie Groove" 12." Produced by Rick Rubin a/k/a DJ Double R, hired by the group as their DJ because he owned a bubble machine, it is the second record to come out on Def Jam. The three hone their skills opening for the likes of Kurtis Blow, spitting rhymes from the DJ booth at the legendary Disco Fever, and even sharing a bill with the Disco Three the night they announce their name change to the Fat Boys.
The "She's On It"/ "Slow And Low" 12" (the first Def Jam/Columbia joint release) followed in 1985. Beastie Boys support Madonna on the entire North American "Virgin Tour." Another 12", "Hold It Now, Hit It" makes waves at urban radio as the Boys support Run-DMC, Whodini, LL Cool J and the Timex Social Club on the groundbreaking Raising Hell tour, where many of those listeners learn that Beastie Boys are white (giving rise to the quote "I never knew you guys were a bunch of Joeys."). The "Paul Revere" / "The New Style" 12" hit not long after.
Licensed To Ill dropped in fall 1986 and became the first Beastie Boys album--and the first Rap album ever--to go #1. Fueled by "Fight For Your Right," "No Sleep Til Brooklyn," "Brass Monkey" and "Posse In Effect," it remained at #1 for seven weeks and simultaneously reached #2 on the urban chart, becoming the fastest selling debut to date for Columbia and the first hip hop record to break 5 million.
1989's Paul's Boutique saw Beastie Boys resurface with a new deal (Capitol), a new home (Los Angeles) and a new array of styles. Produced by Beastie Boys and the Dust Brothers, Paul's Boutique laid down the blueprint for a generation of emergent genres and went over the collective head of a nation. The likes of "Shake Your Rump," "Lookin' Down The Barrel Of A Gun," "Car Thief," Shadrach," and the hip hop "suite" "B-Boy Bouillabaisse" contained lyrical and musical references too plentiful and diverse for the average mind to compute in one sitting. Nevertheless, Paul's Boutique elevates Beastie Boys to a new level of critical respect: thumbs up from Robert Christgau, four stars from Rolling Stone, and the classic quote hailing it as the "Pet Sounds or Dark Side Of The Moon of Hip Hop" depending on which magazine you're reading.
Check Your Head (Grand Royal / Capitol), released in 1992, heralded the return of live instrumentation into the B Boys mix. With Mike D on drums, Yauch on bass and Adrock on guitar, Check Your Head's creation would commence in Adam Horovitz's Hollywood apartment before being temporarily aborted following repeated threats from a downstairs neighbor. The band then relocated to its own G-Son studios (with the parquet floor) in Atwater Village, CA. Produced by the band and Mario Caldato Jr. (who first worked with B Boys as engineer on Paul's Boutique), Check Your Head would yield a watershed of new B Boys staples, including "So Whatcha' Want," "Pass The Mic," "Gratitude" and "Jimmy James." With the assistance of Keyboard Money Mark and assorted percussionists, Beastie Boys returned to the touring circuit and Check Your Head hit double platinum.
By 1993, the G-Son complex constructed for the recording of Check Your Head had expanded to house the band's record company, Grand Royal. The label's first independent release, Luscious Jackson's In Search Of Manny, and the first issue of Grand Royal magazine debuted that same year. Originally conceived as a newsletter to answer fan correspondence, the magazine soon took on a life of its own. Co-edited by Beastie Boys and friends, the Fall/Winter 1993 debut issue featured a Bruce Lee cover story, original artwork by George Clinton, interviews with Q-Tip, Coxsone Dodd, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and more. Subsequent cover subjects include Lee "Scratch" Perry, the history of the Moog synthesizer, and Miami Bass.
In the summer of 1994, Ill Communication (Grand Royal/Capitol), also produced by the band and Mario Caldato Jr., entered the charts #1 as the band was out slaying 'em nationwide on Lollapalooza. The album's first video, "Sabotage," directed by Spike Jonze, inadvertently gave rise to international scandal when top honors at the year's MTV Video Music Awards went to R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" and Yauch's intoxicated uncle, Nathanial Hornblower, stormed the Radio City Music Hall stage in protest. A drained wineskin was later discovered on the premises.
Royalties from two songs on Ill Communication --"Shambala" and "Bodhisattva Vow"--were donated to found the Milarepa Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting awareness and activism regarding the injustices perpetrated on native Tibetans by Chinese occupational government and military forces. In May 1994, Beastie Boys played three shows--one each in New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC--donating proceeds to Milarepa. These shows would pave the way for the Tibetan Freedom Concert series, which would stage some of the most significant benefit shows of the decade.
Ill Communication was supported by Beastie Boys' first arena headline tour since the '80s: The Quadraphonic Joystick Action arena tour, which sold out NYC's Madison Square Garden and Chicago's Rosemont Horizon in half an hour each, Massachusetts' Worcester Centrum in approximately 20 minutes, and Detroit's Cobo Arena in nine. One dollar from each ticket sold on the tour was donated through Milarepa to local charities in each city on the tour. The band continued to expand its touring universe with treks through South America and Southeast Asia. Following the tour's conclusion, Beastie Boys recorded and released Aglio e Olio through the independent Grand Royal pipeline. Consisting of eight songs clocking in at 11 minutes, the EP recalls the vintage hardcore punk of the band's infancy. Aglio's release is commemorated by a handful of unannounced club gigs over the following months.
The first Tibetan Freedom Concert took place June 15 and 16, 1996 at the Polo Fields in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. 100,000 people attend the weekend event, making it the single biggest benefit concert on U.S. soil since 1985's Live Aid. Joining Beastie Boys for the historic weekend: A Tribe Called Quest, Beck, Bjork, Cibo Matto, De La Soul, Foo Fighters, Fugees, John Lee Hooker, Pavement, Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Yoko Ono and Ima, Buddy Guy, Biz Markie, Skatalites, Richie Havens, Chaksam-Pa, and guest speakers Tibet House founder Robert Thurman and Palden Gyatso, a Tibetan monk who endured 33 years of torture and imprisonment for nonviolent protest.
The same year, The In Sound From Way Out!, originally serviced as an extremely limited promotional compilation of Beastie Boys instrumental cuts, was made commercially available through Grand Royal/Capitol due to popular demand.
A second two-day Tibetan Freedom Concert took place June 7 and 8, 1997 at New York's Randall's Island, featuring Beastie Boys, U2, Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Rancid, KRS-One, the Patti Smith Group, Alanis Morissette and a host of others, and was documented on a three-CD Tibetan Freedom Concert collection released that fall. Having moved back to NYC, Beastie Boys spent the remainder of the year working on their studio tan.
One year later, tickets to the third Tibetan Freedom Concert would sell out within one afternoon. Over 130,000 attend the event over the course of June 13 & 14, 1998 at Washington DC's RFK Stadium. On thebill are Beastie Boys, Radiohead, Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, R.E.M, Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, Sonic Youth, Luscious Jackson and a surprise finale' by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others.
Barely a month later, Hello Nasty was released (July 14, 1998) on Grand Royal/Capitol. Spurred by the monster (no pun intended, well, maybe) success of the "Intergalactic" single and video, the record clocked first week sales of nearly 700,000 in the U.S. and went straight in at #1 in England, Germany, Australia, Holland, New Zealand and Sweden, #2 in Canada and Japan, and Top 10 in Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Finland, France and Israel. Sick! That same month, the 360-degree In The Round tour would be unveiled July 31 at Seattle's Key Arena. The tour's turntable stage set put every attendee in the official "Beastie Boys Winners Circle," offering unobstructed sightlines from every seat in the house, while a specially designed circular P.A. gave new dimension to the term "Surround Sound."
Early in the tour, Beastie Boys made live tracks available for free download to fans unable to attend the shows-and were blindsided by their label pulling the tracks down. The struggle to keep the tracks up on BeastieBoys.com was documented in a Wall Street Journal cover story-which featured one of those cool little stipple drawings of Mike D. The rest of the group was insanely jealous and vowed one day to have their own little drawings as well.
Having closed 1998 by accepting the Video Vanguard lifetime achievement honor at the MTV Video Music Awards, Beastie Boys rang in 1999 with Artist, Band and/or Record of the Year accolades from the likes of Rolling Stone, SPIN, The New Yorker and Playboy, among others. A month later, at the 41st Annual Grammy Awards, the now quadruple-platinum Hello Nasty took Best Alternative Music Performance, while "Intergalactic," nailed Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group--the first time an artist has ever won in both Rap and Alternative categories.
The fourth Tibetan Freedom Concert was the series' most ambitious undertaking to date. Over the course of the June 13, 1999 weekend, a lineup of multinational talent played continuously in East Troy WI, Amsterdam, Tokyo and Sydney, including Beastie Boys, Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Joe Strummer, Blondie, Run DMC, Luscious Jackson, and the Cult among others.
1999 would also see "Intergalactic" take Best Hip Hop Video honors at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, Beastie Boys and Elvis Costello "re-enact" Elvis' classic U.S TV debut for Saturday Night Live's 25th Anniversary extravaganza, backing him on "Radio Radio," and the release of The Sounds Of Science 2-CD anthology.
In 2000, longtime Beastie Boys visual collaborator Nathanial Hornblower compiled 18 of the band's videos for an addition to the Criterion Collection's portfolio of acclaimed and influential cinema. The 2-disc Beastie Boys DVD Anthology featured alternate audio remixes and alternate camera angles, making for an nfinite number of audio/video permutations. STEREO MAN magazine lauded the Anthology "the benchmark by which all other music DVDs will now be judged." The set included Hornblower's own "Alive," "Body Movin'," "Intergalactic," "So Whatcha Want," "Pass The Mic," "Shadrach" and "Shake Your Rump," as well as candid insights into the bizarre and lonely world of estranged Criterion producer Ralph Spaulding.
In the wake of September 11, 2001 the Milarepa-organized, Beastie Boys-headlined NEW YORKERS AGAINST VIOLENCE benefit was staged October 28 & 29 at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom, generating net proceeds in excess of $125,000 disbursed to the New York Women's Foundation Disaster Relief Fund and the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA) September 11th Fund for New Americans--organizations chosen for their efforts on behalf of those affected by the September 11th attacks least likely to receive help from other sources. The NYAV line-up included the Strokes, the B-52's, Cibo Matto, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Mos Def, N*E*R*D, Rival Schools, the Roots, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Saul Williams, Stretch Armstrong, Afrika Bambaata, and a surprise two-song set by Moby and Michael Stipe (featuring an impromptu cameo by Bono). Speakers at the event included Yoko Ono, Ibrahim Ramey of the Muslim Peace Fellowship, Benjamin Barber of Democracy Collaborative, Yanki Tshering of NYANA, Miriam Buhl of the NYWF, while surprise intros came from Jimmy Fallon, Sean Lennon, and others.
Not long after, Beastie Boys completed construction on a recording studio in downtown Manhattan-Oscilloscope Laboratories (with the plywood floor)-and began recording new music. In March 2003, Beastie Boys added their voice to the growing protest against the U.S. war on Iraq. Not willing to wait until their album is finished to comment on the America's imminent course toward war, they offer the new track "In A World Gone Mad" as a free download on Beastieboys.com, moveon.org, winwithoutwarUS.org, MTV.com, and milarepa.org. That same year would see the organization of the 9th and10th Tibetan Freedom Concerts, which Beastie Boys played April 19th at Tokyo's NK Hall and April 20th at Taipei's Stadium of Song-Hsan District in Taiwan-the band's first-ever Taipei appearance. En route home, B Boys headlined the Coachella festival in Indio CA, moving tens of thousands with an all hip hop set of classics, peppered by the debut of a few new numbers.
Beastie Boys' sixth studio album, To The 5 Boroughs, released in summer 2004, was the band's third consecutive #1 debut-and Rolling Stone magazine's only 5-star review of the year. A minor scandal would ensue when The New York Times ran an unsolicited review of Nathanial Hornblower's video for the record's #1 single "Ch-Check It Out," rubbing the award-winning auteur the wrong way. The Times ultimately ran Hornblower's rebuttal, in which he declared his technique "clearly too advanced for (the Times') small way of looking at it" and demanded that the paper reimburse him for a dead goat.
To The 5 Boroughs was supported by the Challah At Your Boy world tour-or as the band corrected the media, traveling pageant--supported by Talib Kweli and Bob Moore's Amazing Mongrels (yes, a live dog show, hence the pageant appellation).
Tour, pageant, call it what you will. It climaxed with a sold-out October 9 homecoming at Madison Square Garden, prior to which Beastie Boys distributed 50 cameras to audience members, who were charged with capturing the experience of a live musical performance like no film ever before. Their efforts (and herculean editing sessions) spawn the feature-length AWESOME; I FUCKIN' SHOT THAT!, which debuted at Sundance in early 2006 and was released theatrically the same year.