Just as some sites seem to have fostered Kitty Genovese syndrome on a global scale, with hordes more likely to whip out the phone to film before they’ll ever call for help, I’ve long felt that social media has a tendency to sustain grieving to the point where it simply becomes crocodile tears. If it’s not a death, it’s a birthday of a dead person, then the anniversary of that death and I felt that I’d become a little hardened to all that. After all, how can you feel real sadness for the passing of somebody you never met? Then Adam Yauch died and I felt guilty for being so cynical, because — trite as it sounds — it genuinely felt like I’d lost a mentor.
This blog can’t be neatly summarised, but I can assure you that at nearly every level, there’s some Beastie Boys influence — despite MCA’s admirable achievements as an individual, I’m afraid that I see the trio as one. Instead I treat the Beastie Boys as a leaping trinity of differently pitched sounds operating in unison. I can’t pin down the people who visit here either, but I know — from comments on skate and clothing entries in particular — that the Beastie Boys had a vast impact on them. The Beastie Boys were a conduit for pretty much every sub-cultural element I’ve ever taken an interest in. Lee Perry, John Holmes, Spike Jonze, Minor Threat, Slayer, Ben Davis (see above for evidence of that brand’s impact on me), adidas Campus, PUMA Clydes and all the rest were all interconnected by Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D’s joyous brain farts of cultural references. Let them decipher it rather than offer a simplified path — those that get it will get it eventually. ‘Grand Royal’ magazine’s frequent journalistic gems opened my eyes to the joys of self-indulgent long form writing, Todd James’ Brooklyn Dust logo is still one of my favourites, the talk of deadstock shoe sourcing (and we’ll forgive them for inadvertently spawning the crappy Sneaker Pimps) and Mike D’s involvement in X-Large is a pivotal moment in street wear.
A fair chunk of the industry I work in is the byproduct of something that the Beastie Boys contributed to significantly and I know, from Russ at Unorthodox Styles’ office on my first job interview there, that they’d made a mark on him too. So I kind of owe them for providing me with a source of income and as a founder member, Yauch can take a fair amount of that gratitude from me. If you operate in the street wear realm at any level, you’ve got to doth a snapback to the man — think back to the X-Fuct era, Nigo doing his homework by studying X-Large’s ape preoccupation (which went full circle when Ad-Rock wore Very Ape and the crew wore and collaborated with Bathing Ape) and MCA wearing a Supreme coach jacket to meet the Dalai Lama. They embraced the internet pretty early on too (I can remember thinking X-Large shunning paper catalogues for a website wasn’t going to catch on — turns out I was wrong). All that and I haven’t even mentioned the music.
From seeing the Beastie Boys get vilified on the cover of ‘The Sun’ when they toured with Madonna, I found myself festooning crudely drawn characters with equally poorly rendered VW logos at the age of 9 in every notebook at school. The Beastie Boys had strippers and the press said that they made fun of disabled kids. As a kid myself, that seemed funny. Just as the charts were riddled with comedy raps, the contents of ‘Licence to Ill’ seemed to fit in perfectly (and in retrospect, given the boys’ misunderstood self-parody, satires like ‘No Sleep Til Bedtime’ were doubly weak). Then they vanished for a minute after cropping up in a Sky Movies classic, ‘Tougher Than Leather’ (despite being regarded as a flop, an album that helped cement my love of hip-hop way more than ‘Raising Hell’ did — I know a few other rap nerds that feel the same). After ads cropped up in the specialist press and ‘Smash Hits’ alike, ‘Paul’s Boutique’ seemed to hit with a thud, despite the deserved good will it amassed later down the line. I especially like the revelation in the articles below that the Beastie Boys horror-comedy film they were meant to make with Russell and Rick — ‘Scared Stupid’— which was going to be followed up by a ‘To Catch a Thief’ remake starring Oran’ Juice Jones was deaded when Molly Ringwald talked Ad-Rock out of making it because it might harm his acting credibility.
My blood boiled when 3rd Bass took potshots at them (“Screaming ‘Hey Ladies’? Why bother?”) at the close of ‘Sons of 3rd Bass’ (Whiteboys calling whiteboys “devils” always confused me). Then the Beastie Boys owned the decade that followed and taught me that being unpleasant to ladies wasn’t that cool, growing up publicly. Not a lot of bands can do that and while the whole instrumental jam and comedy ‘Country Mike’ material never did anything for me, you had to respect the willingness to experiment. Plus they proved to we rap-loving crackers that just being your damn self and getting whiteboy wasted was the key to longevity, rather than haplessly trying to be “down”, and that through a few degrees of separation, pretty much everything was hip-hop in one way or another. I still kind of blame them for inadvertently creating Limp Bizkit and co, but despite that charmless mutant offspring misinterpreting what went before, the good far outweighs the bad.
Skipping from talk of skin colour, how many rap groups from the early 1980s are still together and more importantly, how many would you still pay to see? That’s the real mark of the Beastie Boys’ achievement. Some argued that forty-somethings spitting fly gibberish over distorted drums might have started to lose its appeal as an MP3, but live they could still crush it. Plus, they really seemed to be friends offstage — this was no marriage of convenience, which makes Adam’s passing all the more heartbreaking.
At a push, if I had to pick, MCA was the best rapper of the trio — as with the equally missed Guru, it’s mostly the voice, with those gruff tones counteracting the nasal nerdery at work. I’m particularly fond of his insanely stoned delivery on an early demo of ‘Car Thief’. Yauch’s film work (not dissimilar to George Harrison’s work with Handmade) with Oscilloscope Laboratories is significant too in supporting great output — ‘Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot’, directed by Adam, was strong. This is just a scraping of what MCA achieved too — it’s the art of turning music, art, clothing, film, sport and print into one big playroom, but somehow adding integrity into the mix too. Nobody else will ever match that, but even a handful of lessons learnt are enough to keep things moving.
Goodbye Adam Yauch — cheers for everything.
The images below are taken from this ‘Spin’ article from 1998 that’s a must-read.
Here’s the whole of ‘Tougher Than Leather’ in all its trashy glory. MCA just jeers and pulls some faces when he’s off the stage, but that doesn’t stop the Beastie Boys cameos from being excellent.