Rap, Buddhism And Broken Radiators: The Beastie Boys Have A Story For Everything

Oct 29, 2018
Originally published on October 29, 2018 8:34 am

It's interesting to read how the members of Beastie Boys came to know each other as teenagers and create the trio's sound. But if the new music memoir Beastie Boys Book aims to answer anything, it's this: Have the Beastie Boys grown up? The answer is sort of.

Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz, better known as Mike D and Ad-Rock, co-author the new Beastie Boys Book, which comes out Oct. 30. In the book, the guys reflect on living and breathing hip-hop, the lost art of mixtapes and what it was like pioneering such a jovial, and somewhat juvenile, sound in rap. That sound was part of the Beastie Boys' initial allure. In the early 1980s, these guys were breaking all the rules. They were punk teenagers running around Manhattan, going to clubs they shouldn't have been in and making music that wasn't supposed to be for them.

"People taking us seriously wasn't really a consideration for us," Diamond says. "The second we heard rap music, it wasn't like anything else that we had heard before."

Covering the good, the bad and the cringeworthy, Beastie Boys Book looks back on some of the Beastie Boys' regrettable decisions too, like the group's misogynistic lyrics early on. "It used to be all of the bit of me that'd cringe," Horovitz admits about listening to some of the group's old material. "And now, there's definitely a bit of me that cringes. It's very cringey."

But Horovitz and Diamond say that Adam Yauch, a.k.a. MCA, the third Beastie Boy who died of cancer in 2012, would always guide them in the right direction and lead by example. In the group's 1994 song "Sure Shot," Yauch openly apologized to women, rapping, "The disrespect to women has got to be through / To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends / I want to offer my love and respect to the end."

Yauch was the guy pushing the other two in new directions. "Everything made sense with him and everything between the extremes made sense," Diamond says.

"But he was also ... if you were like, 'Oh man, the radiator broke in my apartment,' he'd be like, 'Oh, I'll fix it.' And then he'd just fix it," Horovitz adds.

Between the constant ribbing and inside jokes, Horovitz and Diamond share sincere moments of reflection about their music, their friendship and the guy who taught them to fix radiators, to care about human rights, to own up to mistakes and to grow up.

Listen to the entire interview at the audio link.

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAUL REVERE")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Rapping) Now here's a little story I got to tell about three bad brothers you know so well.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We know them as the Beastie Boys.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAUL REVERE")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Rapping) Way back in history with Adrock, M.C.A and me, Mike D.

GREENE: All right. So their real names are Adam Horovitz, Adam Yauch and Michael Diamond. Yauch died of cancer in 2012, and the two surviving members, Horovitz and Diamond, have now published a collective memoir, simply called, "Beastie Boys Book." They spoke to Rachel Martin about it.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: It's interesting to read about how the Beastie Boys came to know each other when they were teenagers and find their sound. But, honestly, what drew me to this book was the idea of these guys, now men in their 50s, reflecting back on their life. And I really had one main question. Had the Beastie Boys actually grown up? And as you will hear in the following exchange, the answer is sort of. Here's Adam Horovitz reading an excerpt from the book about the lost art of mix tapes.

ADAM HOROVITZ: (Reading) I'm not trying to be all, well, back in my day, we had to carry blocks of ice up a mountain made of shards of broken glass just to get a drink of a hatful of rain. But it's true that the physical relationship to music was different. There was more touching, holding, caressing and finessing.

MARTIN: Hmm.

HOROVITZ: Mike? Mike.

MICHAEL DIAMOND: Well, I never - up until that moment, Adam...

HOROVITZ: I'm still reading.

MARTIN: Oh, my...

DIAMOND: Like, it's a very...

HOROVITZ: Wait. Where am I reading till?

DIAMOND: That was a very sort of...

HOROVITZ: Wait. Am I still...

DIAMOND: ...Sensual...

MARTIN: You're still reading.

DIAMOND: ...Description of cassettes.

MARTIN: Mike, shh.

You're just going to have to trust me when I tell you that the two of them interrupted each other throughout our conversation with inside jokes. And by this point, I had earned that shush. But that was their allure, right? In the early 1980s, the Beastie Boys were breaking all the rules. They were these punk teenagers running around Manhattan, going to clubs they shouldn't have been in, making music that wasn't supposed to be for them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRASS MONKEY")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Rapping) Brass monkey. That funky monkey. Brass monkey junkie...

MARTIN: Rap was black music. It was underground music. It wasn't something, like, teenage white guys did. So why? What made you think that people would take you seriously?

DIAMOND: Well, people taking us seriously wasn't something that was really a consideration for us.

MARTIN: You didn't care.

DIAMOND: (Laughter). The second we heard rap music, it wasn't like anything else that we'd heard before it. So that was, like, that's what we wanted to do. And, probably like so many other teenagers at the time, whatever rap 12-incher would've come out we would put on and just play over, and over, and over and memorize every single word. Then you just feel like, I can rap now 'cause I know every word to Jimmy Spicer's "Super Rhyme."

MARTIN: (Laughter).

DIAMOND: And then I'd actually have to give our environment and our parents props in the weird way of that was this New York City thing of you can do whatever you want to do. You didn't have this thing of, oh, you can't do that 'cause you're this.

MARTIN: Right.

DIAMOND: That was definitely the atmosphere.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "(YOU GOTTA) FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT (TO PARTY)")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Rapping) Kick it.

MARTIN: Things take off in, like, a really big way. And all of a sudden, you're touring with Madonna. You're all over the place. You've got your own shows. You've got girls in cages. You've got all kinds of things happening.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "(YOU GOTTA) FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT (TO PARTY)")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Rapping) You've got to fight for your right to party.

MARTIN: When you look back at some of the videos or just the performances, is there any bit of you that cringes?

HOROVITZ: It used to be all of the bit of me that cringed. And now there's definitely a bit of me that cringes. It's very cringey.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIRLS")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Rapping) Girls. All I really want is girls.

DIAMOND: Well, I think a lot of what we did for a period of time was definitely cringe-worthy. First we started sort of making fun of something. Before you sort of know it, you're, like, oh, I'm this guy who's enjoying doing this thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIRLS")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Rapping) Girls to do the dishes. Girls to clean up my room. Girls to do the laundry and in the bathroom. Girls.

DIAMOND: And time goes by and you're like, wait; I didn't sign up to really be this person, and now that's sort of my job to be that person. And how do I change that up now?

MARTIN: Right. 'Cause it also made you real famous.

DIAMOND: Well, it made us famous, and also we were super, super fortunate and grateful, the fact that we got to sort of grow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SURE SHOT")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Rapping) 'Cause you can't, and you won't and you don't stop. 'Cause you can't, and you won't and you don't stop. Well, you can't, and you won't and you don't stop. Mike D come and rock the sure shot. I've got the brand-new doo...

MARTIN: In '94, there was a song, "Sure Shot," where Adam Yauch essentially apologizes to women.

HOROVITZ: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SURE SHOT")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Rapping) I want to say a little something that's long overdue. The disrespect to women has got to be through. To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends, I want to offer my love and respect till the end.

MARTIN: Was that earnest or was that ironic or, what was that about?

DIAMOND: No. I think he's very earnest when he says, disrespect to women has got to be through. And I actually think it's better than an apology because it's more like, this is where we're at and this is what we're saying.

MARTIN: How much of it was about Adam Yauch?

DIAMOND: I think a lot of it was about Yauch because he had this vision for things, but it was really about - for all of us, that we all felt this freedom that we're going to make what we want to make. You know, everything gets so big and so chaotic and so beyond our control, but out of all that, we realized, wait. It's just the three of us. We need to figure this out and not listen to anybody else. And that somehow served us incredibly well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INTERGALACTIC")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Rapping) Now, when it comes to envy, y'all is green. Jealous of the rhyme and the rhyme routine. Another dimension, new galaxy. Intergalactic planetary.

MARTIN: Whether it was apologizing for disrespecting women or focusing on life outside the band, Adam Yauch was the guy pushing the other two in new directions.

HOROVITZ: He just did the thing that you weren't supposed to do. You know, he was the Buddhist, Free Tibet guy that, you'd see him at the after-after party for some fashion thing.

DIAMOND: And be completely comfortable in his own skin. And everything made sense with him, and everything in between the extremes made sense.

HOROVITZ: But he was also the - if you were like, oh, man, the radiator broke in my apartment. He would be like, I'll fix it. And then he would just fix it.

DIAMOND: Very good point. He actually has installed not one but two water filtration systems for me in my home.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

DIAMOND: So that's the truth.

HOROVITZ: Well, Adam was a licensed installer.

DIAMOND: Sounds like a joke, but it's true. It's the truth.

MARTIN: Really?

HOROVITZ: Yeah.

DIAMOND: Yeah.

MARTIN: And this is what our conversation is like. Between the constant ribbing and inside jokes, there are sincere moments of reflection. They talk about their music, their friendship and the guy who taught them to fix radiators, to care about human rights, to own up to mistakes, to grow up.

DIAMOND: My friend is somebody that I loved so much and was such a huge influence on me. I miss him dearly and daily. You know, it's a nice thing. I have this little lens. Like, OK, what would Yauch say?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRIPLE TROUBLE")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Rapping) 'Cause I'm a specializer, rhyme reviser. Ain't selling out to advertisers. What you get is what you see. Come on. And you won't see me in the advertising.

MARTIN: That's Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys. Their new book is called "Beastie Boys Book."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRIPLE TROUBLE")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Rapping) If - if you - want to know - want to know - the real deal about the three, well, let me tell you, we're triple trouble, y'all. We're going to bring you up to speed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.