Beastie Boys pushed the envelope of music and pop culture

By Tony Scott Zubia

IT’S ABOUT 1 A.M., AND I’M HEADING HOME, having left what I’d felt to be a very successful recording session. In a profession within the recording industry, at least within the realms of popular music, it never fails that the topic of conversation in the recording studio is always about the music world’s controversial events. Tonight’s main topic of discussion: the 2012 nominees for induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. As we tossed around our opinions — who was nominated, whether their nominations were overdue, if they were warranted and who else should have been included — we concurred that one of this year’s inductees, The Beastie Boys, was well warranted and way overdue.

Who can describe The Beastie Boys in a nutshell? It’s pretty much impossible, in my opinion. And I can remember when, as a kid in the mid-’80s, I’d heard the first recording by the Beastie Boys. It was the song “She’s On It” that was performed in the film and included on the soundtrack for the 1985 Hip-Hop culture movie “Krush Groove.”  I’d come from the first generation of hip-hop kids, and at that time, I’d never heard, and moreover, never seen a “white” rap group. In retrospect, The Beastie Boys seemed to fit their small part in the movie very well, so much so that we really didn’t even mention the fact that they were “white boys” as we discussed the movie and blared the soundtrack. We just enjoyed the film and played “She’s On It” like it was going out of style (which music tends to do naturally, anyway). Living in Los Angeles, we hadn’t realized that The Beastie Boys had already established themselves as a forthcoming powerhouse in the hip-hop music scene out of New York. It wasn’t until the following year, when out of the clear blue sky fell what would become one of the most influential records in popular/urban music. It went on to set standards in the mainstream, became an icon of what hip-hop music would be and is measured by to this day: “Licensed To Ill.”

Traveling back — before Def Jam’s 1986 release of the Beastie Boys’ debut album, “Licensed To Ill”; before the 1985 motion picture soundtrack that hosted the group’s first internationally released recording — there were three musicians, three pop-culture artisans, three massively creative guys from the brownstone borough of Brooklyn.   The late Adam Yauch (aka MCA), Michael Diamond (aka Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (aka Ad-Rock) make up one of the most influential cross-genre recording acts of all time and one of the most notable trios in the last half century.  Starting late in the 1970s, The Beastie Boys (at that time without Horovitz) were a mainstay in the hardcore punk scene of New York City as they made their brand of thrash-punk rock heard throughout the five boroughs.  In 1982, The Beastie Boys released the regionally notable EP “Polly Wog Stew” — a rough-cut punk record that would come to set a standard for New York City-based thrash-style punk rock. It was the group’s first and last rock-genre recording for many years. The Beastie Boys were busy experimenting in the fast-growing “urban” genre of hip-hop/rap music, which motivated a musical crossing-over that literally made music history. After several local successes with 12-inch singles, including the group’s first experimentally recorded rap song, “Cooky Puss,” The Beastie Boys’ transition into hip-hop music quickly became official.The group got noticed by Def Jam Recordings founder Rick Rubin, along with co-founder Russell Simmons, who signed the group to the then-fledgling but successfully growing “hip-hop only” record label, Def Jam. With Rubin behind the board as producer, The Beastie Boys recorded the 1985 EP “Rock Hard.” This, along with the group’s inclusion in the “Krush Groove” project, served to bequeath the world with what would later be considered the label’s first masterpiece …

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Getting back to 1986: The Beastie Boys’ first official full-length album,  “Licensed To Ill” hit broadcast venues and retail markets with such a smack, it won’t soon be forgotten by the hip-hop community, the music-loving public and the international recording industry for a long, long time to come.

“Licensed To Ill” was a gateway, a Stargate, a portal, if you will. It opened not only ears, but it played a major role in opening the eyes of those music consumers and the music industry “powers that be,” who continued to punish hip-hop/rap music and condemn it as valuable only to the underprivileged, undereducated and over-looked ‘urban’ communities. Middle-class America now had its first personal association with the draw that hip-hop culture was manifesting through a popular culture that was quickly growing colorblind.

After the massive success “Licensed To Ill,” The Beasties followed up with the powerful and acclaimed sophomore release, 1988’s “Paul’s Boutique,” under the umbrella of a new record label.  Parting ways with Rubin and the Def Jam conglomerate for undisclosed personal and creative reasons, The Beastie Boys signed with Capitol Records, where the group established itself  further as one of music’s most diverse and artistically challenging entities.

The Beastie Boys’ unique brand of hip-hop remained the foundation of the group’s musical stamp in the recordings and the albums to come. With the third full-length release, 1992’s “Check Your Head,” the group showed its roots with a hardcore punk cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Time For Livin’” on what was mostly a hip-hop laden recording. Then, as The Beastie Boys had once done in the beginning, the group successfully crossed back over to represent the other facet of their musical canvas. After releasing the single “Sabotage” off of the 1994 “Ill Communication” album, The Beastie Boys caught the ear and the audience of the modern rock genre. The group gained notoriety throughout alternative rock radio and became a staple (as well as headliners) on major rock-veined music festival tours, including Lollapalooza, and sold out its own headlining tours internationally for the very first time. The Beastie Boys never fully stepped away from the hip-hop genre that, in essence, made them. With the popularity and the resurgence of mainstream punk rock brought upon by groups such as Green Day, The Beastie Boys released a supplemental eight-song, 11-minute-long punk rock EP in 1995 titled “Aglio e Olio.” The group’s fan base was criss-crossing, as each genre’s fans seemed to be openly accepting of the other.

Hip-hop aficionados were now not only listening to The Beastie Boys but could be heard sampling the likes of groups such as Anthrax, and alternative rock enthusiasts were found dipping and dabbling in the Wu-Tang Clan. The impact that The Beastie Boys had on popular music — and the notoriety of the group’s ability to remain true to whatever sound it was craving to express — was publicly and officially acknowledged at the 1999 Grammy Awards ceremony. The group made music history when it became the first recording act to ever receive Grammys for categories in two separate genres of popular music: Best Alternative Music Album for their 1998 release “Hello Nasty” and Best Rap Performance by a Group for  “Intergalactic,” a song from that same album. In the past two-and-a-half decades, The Beastie Boys have continued to push out cutting-edge hip-hop and alternative music for a liege of extremely loyal fans.

As a recording act that came out of the MTV era, The Beastie Boys’ contribution to music and pop culture is not solely within the music. When it comes to the visual aspect of music, The Beastie Boys have set many standards and protocols for video entertainment. From as early as the “Sabotage” video to last year’s video for “Make Some Noise,” The Beasties’ music video roster has continuously wowed fans and impressed the recording industry.

Beastie Boys Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

While The Beastie Boys’ musical styles have continued to evolve, The group’s lineup has been quite stable with Adam Yauch, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz.

The “Sabotage” video was the first of its kind, using a parody style that seemed it only could have been masterminded by the illustrious and almost Salvador Dali-like eclecticism of director Spike Jones. You’ll remember it by its hilarious spoof on circa 1970s cop shows, with each of the three guys perfectly overemphasizing the cliché fashion and style of the era, right down to sweeping sideburns and push-broom mustaches. While the video was nominated in 1994 for five MTV Video Music Awards, unfortunately, it didn’t win any. Although “Sabotage” lost out on the glory that year, The Beastie Boys’ creative efforts didn’t go unnoticed.

In 1998, MTV awarded The Beastie Boys with its prestigious Video Vanguard Award for the group’s pioneering contributions to the art of music video. In 2009, MTV honored The Beastie Boys and “Sabotage” with a special award in a new category: Best Video That Should Have Won A Moon Man.

Like other great music icons throughout recording industry history,  Yauch, Diamond and Horovitz have used their popularity for good, making their presence felt in the realms of philanthropy and activism regarding world dilemmas and global humanitarian concerns. The group has tackled issues including refraining from stereotyping all Muslims as terrorists, addressing the problem of inter-audience sexual assaults by increasing security during major music festivals, showing support for humanitarian relief by participating in concerts such as the Tibetan Freedom Concerts and becoming heavily involved in relief efforts during and after the 9/11 attacks in New York City by organizing the New Yorkers Against Violence Concert just one month after the disaster. All proceeds from that concert went to aid disaster relief for victims and other efforts.

The Beastie Boys have had their share of miscellaneous “firsts,” such as being given credit for coining the term “mullet” to describe a popular ’80s style haircut. The group was also one of the earliest, if not the first, recording artists to offer fans and consumers MP3 downloads of Beastie Boys music via their website.

So I ask myself once again: Is The Beastie Boys’ induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame overdue? Hell yeah. And is their induction justified? Hell to the yeah.

MCA, Mike D and Ad-Rock have contributed a lifetime’s worth of music and entertainment, giving themselves artistically, creatively and selflessly to their fans. With their constant rebirth and regeneration, The Beastie Boys kept our ears and our expectations fresh and fulfilled … and that, is the beauty of The Beasties. But, they did it their way, and in their time, and they did it all with their rhyme … and that, is the Beastie.

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