Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Brat-rock/rap trio formed in New York '81-2 by Mike D (b Mike Diamond, 20 November 1965) and MCA (b Adam Yauch, 15 August 1967; d of cancer 4 May 2012), then Ad-Rock (b Adam Horowitz, 31 October 1966) replaced John Berry and Kate Schellenbach (later in all-woman quartet Luscious Jackson). They overcame the seemingly insurmountable obstacles of being white, Jewish and middle-class (parents including a playwright and music industry people) to become one the most enduringly successful and influential hip-hop acts.

Their ramshackle punk beginnings on a Ratcage label gave way to tentative rap with 'Cookie Puss' EP '83; they signed to the fledgling Def Jam label '85. With the help of label boss/producer Rick Rubin and some of Run DMC's old songs they fashioned a deliberately irresponsible fusion of heavy metal and rap, cleverly adopting all the paraphernalia (baggy jeans, baseball caps etc); first album Licensed To Ill '86 was no. 1 in USA for seven weeks, winning over both the white MTV rock audience and their rap rivals on Def Jam. 'Fight For Your Right (To Party)' became an all-time idiot youth anthem, but their purposely hooligan image went out of control on a UK tour '87; Ad-Rock was forced to appear in court after a fan was injured by a bottle in Liverpool. They moved to L.A. after a split with Rubin over royalties and teamed up with the Dust Brothers production team for the surprisingly complex and subtle Paul's Boutique '89 (top 50 USA album, top 20 UK); David Sinclair in The Times described it as 'strewn with foul language and lewd innuendo; it shamelessly glorifies all manner of deviant, violent and criminal behaviour ... It is also very funny ... [They] have recaptured the essence of rock as the perfect adolescent vehicle for the flaunting of outrage.'

Their mass fanbase was initially scared off by real instruments (Mike D on drums, MCA on bass, Ad-Rock on guitar/keyboards) but gradually got the idea; they added Mark 'Ramos' Nishita (keyboards) for Check Your Head May '92 and bewildered slow-witted critics with a crazy jazz/funk/punk/rap/metal crossover, but the album gradually sold into seven figures worldwide. They renounced guns and sexism and consolidated their eminence with Ill Communication '94. By '96 they were bosses of global Grand Royale fashion/record empire; Mike D married film maker Tamra Davis, Ad-Rock wed actress Ione Skye and Yauch embraced Buddhism. They headlined Tibetan Freedom Festival mid-'96 in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and started a magazine, also called Grand Royale, said to be eclectic and fun, with an article about how to build a theramin, interviews with Appalachian mountain dancer Jesco White, Al Yankovic and the Dalai Lama. Aglio E Olio '98 on Grand Royale was an EP of eight songs in eleven minutes, recapturing the energy of punk. The Beasties Hello Nasty '99 was followed by something called Hello Nasty Instrumentals 2003.

Grand Royal had issued albums by other artists; At The Drive-In was a hard-rock band from El Paso TX who seemed promising: they had signed with Gary Gersh and John Silva at Digital Entertainment Network, and when that company went bust Gersh and Silva came to Grand Royal as label managers, bringing the band with them. One album was successful but the band suddenly broke up; in 2004 the remains of Grand Royal were for sale, incuding some CDs and cassettes and tank-tops bearing the Luscious Jackson logo, but none of the Beastie's masters, all owned by Capitol. Lawyers were anxious to talk to several people including Gersh, Silva and Diamond about where all the money had gone. A new Beasties album was due out summer 2004.