Beastie Boys were one of my earliest introductions to hip-hop. I still remember borrowing Beastie Boys tapes from my cousin and playing the songs over and over again to memorize the lyrics. Beastie Boys actually formed as a hardcore punk band featuring Adam Yauch (MCA), Michael Diamond (Mike D), and two other members. They opened for bigger acts like the Misfits, Reagan Youth, and the Dead Kennedys, and played venues like New York’s famous punk club CBGB. Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) later joined the band when guitarist John Berry left. At this point, the Beastie Boys recorded and performed a hip-hop track called “Cooky Puss,” based on a prank call to Carvel Ice Cream. The track became a hit, and the Beastie Boys transitioned from punk to hip-hop.
In 1986, Beastie Boys released their first hip-hop album, Licensed to Ill, which became an immediate success and inspired a famous Rolling Stone headline: “Three Idiots Create a Masterpiece.” The album was the very first rap album to hit the number one position on the Billboard charts, and it stayed there for five weeks. The group set off on an international tour that resulted in a number of lawsuits and arrests, and even a riot at their show in Liverpool, England. The controversy only made them even more popular.
Beastie Boys returned to the studio in 1988 to record Paul’s Boutique, which was one of the first rap albums to rely heavily on techniques like layering and sampling, which are now common in hip-hop. Some critics even maintain that Paul’s Boutique is the trio’s best album, and Rolling Stone ranked it number 156 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The album was not an immediate commercial success but eventually sold more than a million copies.
The next two Beastie Boys albums received both commercial success and critical praise. Check Your Head went double platinum and Ill Communication debuted at number one on the Billboard charts.
When the Beasties next returned to the studio in 1997, they brought DJ Mix Master Mike, who provided them with an even more energetic sound. The resulting album, Hello Nasty, reached the number one position in the United States, the United Kingdom, and several other countries. Hello Nasty won two Grammy Awards: Best Alternative Music Album and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.
In 2004, the group released To the 5 Boroughs, the first self-produced Beastie Boys piece of work. After To the 5 Boroughs, Beastie Boys became a bit more experimental; their next album, The Mix-Up, was totally instrumental. Their last album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, included samples of their live performances and some “pretty obscure records,” as MCA described it during an interview with the BBC at the time.
Sadly, right after the release of Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, MCA passed away after a battle with cancer, and Mike D and Ad-Rock have since announced that they won’t continue to work under the Beastie Boys name, out of respect for MCA. But even if the Beasties won’t be putting out new music, fortunately, we can still look forward to an autobiography of the group that will be published in 2015.